Does US really care about Africa's security?

China Military Online
Wang Xinjuan
2022-05-13 23:01:54

By Wang Zhongkui, Luo Zheyi, Cao Yang

The US Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF) held the 10th African Land Forces Summit (ALFS) at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, US from March 21 to 25, with senior military officials from more than 40 African nations attended.

Except for the first summit held in the US and the ninth held online because of the pandemic, all other previous ALFSs were held in African countries, such as Nigeria, Malawi, Botswana, and Ethiopia, and the next one in 2023 will be held in Cote d'Ivoire. Themed "resilient institutions build resilient leaders", this year's summit was poised to discuss Africa's security challenges and strengthen the partnership between the US and African countries. Hosted by the US, the event arranged plenty of open dialogues and private exchanges between American and African army officers in addition to the general assembly and training demonstrations.

The US Army held this summit mainly for three purposes.

First, it wants to be on good terms with African countries to ensure the "strategic access". The US Army attaches great importance to the partnership with Africa, hoping to fortify the existing relations and bring in new partners. Like the African Chiefs of Defence Conference, African Air Chiefs Symposium Africa Senior Enlisted Leader Conference African Military Law Forum Advisory Council and African alumni of US Army professional military education programs, the ALFS is yet another activity to rope in partners and enlarge the circle of friends in Africa, so the US can take stock of and make use of its resources and connections in African militaries. Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, commander of the US Army Southern European Task Force-Africa (SETAF-AF) under the USAREUR-AF, said the Army hoped to tighten the interactions with key leaders through the summit, enhance its "strategic access" and influence in Africa, and build more firm relationships.

Second, it wants to flaunt its strengths. American newspaper Stars and Stripes titled its coverage of the event directly as "America is Power". More than half of the time during the summit was demonstrations of American soldiers' training and live-fire shooting, and the US Army brought out all kinds of advanced weapons and equipment at Fort Benning exercise center to show off what it is capable of.

The third goal is a bit subtle. While providing African military chiefs the opportunity to observe at close range and showing off its arsenal, the US Army was also subtly conveying the wish for their African guests not to work with China or Russia, which was really one of the key messages of this year's summit. According to Rohling, the Chinese have largely focused their influence efforts in Africa on economic initiatives, Russia has dramatically increased its presence with mercenary fighters in several African nations; the US troops, in contrast, focus on providing Africa what they believe to be the "best possible package to strengthen security ties". He said he especially expected to field upticks in requests for Security Force Assistance Brigade soldiers across the continent.

While saying all these, did Rohling notice that several African countries that used to participate in the summit were absent this year? American military's Army Times reported that Ethiopia, the host country of the summit in 2020, wasn't invited this year, and Mali and Guinea were also kept out because their American-trained military officers waged coups to overthrow the elected governments. Colonel Assimi Goita, who was trained by the US special operations forces, launched two coups in less than a year, while Guinea's Colonel Mamady Doumbouya received the US military training at least twelve times. What's more embarrassing is that since July 2021, the coup-waging special operations forces in Guinea have been receiving training from the "Green Berets", the US Army Special Forces, and Doumbouya even started the coup during the training. He occupied the national radio and TV station, detained President Alpha Conde, abolished the Constitution, dissolved the government, closed off borders, and formed the National Committee for Rally and Development (CNRD) to take over power.

According to the statistics by American scholar Nick Turse, military officers who have received training from the US since 2008 have attempted at least nine coups (and succeeded in at least eight) across five West African countries, including Burkina Faso (three times), Guinea, Mali (three times), Mauritania, and Gambia. The latest four coups launched by America-trained officers were in Burkina Faso (2022), Guinea (2021), and Mali (2020 and 2021).

During the 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, the US has carried out a string of anti-terror and security cooperation programs in Africa, provided ceaseless capital, weapons, equipment and advisors, and sent its troops directly to curb the rise of the Islamic State group in West Africa, only to find itself facing even more terrorist forces. According to a report released by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies of the Pentagon on January 24 this year, the number of violent events related to militant Islamic groups had increased by 70% from 1,180 to 2,005 in the Sahel, setting a new record and escalating the threats to regional security.

Washington's anti-terror efforts have failed to contain the surge of Islamic extremism in West Africa, and US-trained military officers are constantly waging coups. Is that the "best possible package" that the US military is so eager to offer the African countries?

Editor's note: The authors are with the National University of Defense Technology of Chinese PLA. The article reflects the authors' opinions and not necessarily those of China Military.

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