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The U.S. military is not really out of Africa

Mark FancherBy Mark P. Fancher

Hilary Clinton may not have been the only one who got grilled about the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Apparently, questions were asked about why there were no U.S. troops in place and ready to respond immediately when the attacks began. It didn’t take long for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to do something about that. There is now a special strike force that can presumably swing into action when a crisis arises.

There is nevertheless something remarkable — even bizarre — about this new military unit that is charged with responding quickly to emergencies in Africa. It is not based in Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana or some other African country. It is based in Fort Carson, Colo. The only thing stranger is the fact that AFRICOM itself, which is focused exclusively on Africa, is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

Why base these military operations outside of Africa? In its decades-long quest for geo-political advantage and access to Africa’s oil and other natural resources, the U.S. has at particular historical moments: destabilized African governments with the CIA; stood as an obstacle to the elimination of apartheid in South Africa; backed insurgent forces that have challenged legitimate, popular governments; and ignored egregious human rights violations committed by “friendly” neo-colonial dictators.

Because of this record, there are many in Africa who are suspicious of U.S. motives and plans whenever there are suggestions that the U.S. military become involved in African affairs. When AFRICOM was first established during the George W. Bush administration, there was an almost unanimous refusal among African governments to host the military command’s headquarters. Since that time, the U.S. military presence in Africa has been heavy and growing. But for symbolic reasons, AFRICOM headquarters have remained in Germany with no plans to relocate to Africa.

With respect to the new rapid reaction force, the absurdity and impracticality of having it based in Colorado has not been lost on those involved. The publication Stars and Stripes reported: “Former special operators say they don’t expect the new rapid reaction force to spend much time in the U.S., as the long travel times to Africa would make the team ineffective as crisis responders. While AFRICOM says the unit will be based in Fort Carson — home to the 10th Special Forces Group — it is more likely that the team of operators will spend most of its time forward-deployed in Africa.”

As more than 3,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed to the African continent during 2013, the U.S. will no doubt insist that because its military headquarters are elsewhere, the U.S. military is not really in Africa. But for the people of that beautiful continent the reality will be hard to miss. Misguided and misinformed U.S. military policy makers must learn at long last that armed troops only fuel resentment that festers and later shows itself in terrorist acts. Unless the U.S. is willing to replace soldiers with battalions of medical doctors, engineers, teachers and others sincerely committed to Africa’s health, development and self-determination, it is best for AFRICOM and all under its command to stay out of Africa.

Mark P. Fancher can be contacted at mfancher@comcast.net

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