The U.S. military, rogue soldiers and broken lives in Africa
When President George W. Bush contemplated the invasion of Iraq, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned him that an armed intervention that would make conditions in that country worse would be held to the Pottery Barn Rule: “If you break it, you own it.” This caveat was essentially ignored by President Bush in Iraq, and since that time, the U.S. military establishment has, to its detriment, disregarded that warning in Africa.
The U.S. faces a continuing dilemma in Africa. On the one hand, it desperately wants to ensure that U.S.-based corporations have access to not only the continent’s oil but also to a wide variety of minerals and metals. These include: coltan (an essential component of cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices), gold, tin, tungsten and other resources that are vital to an ever-growing electronics industry, all of which can be found in abundance in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On the other hand, the U.S. knows that against a historical backdrop of the slave trade, colonialism and CIA crimes in Africa, it would be a diplomatic and political fiasco to order U.S. troops into Africa for the express purpose of taking control of natural resources.
The U.S. has attempted to avoid direct military engagement by using African proxies. Through U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and other military projects, African soldiers have been trained and indoctrinated to carry out missions that are in the interest of U.S. foreign policy, leaving the U.S. military with the option of claiming non-involvement. It is a high risk strategy because a significant number of U.S.-trained African soldiers have gone rogue.
In Mali, a U.S.-trained military officer led a coup that destabilized not only Mali but significant portions of the surrounding region. Even more disturbing, however, are recent reports that U.S.-trained members of Congo’s military have been accused by the United Nations of mass rape. It is claimed that at least 126 women were raped by members of Congo’s army as they fled from a battle with a rebel group called “M23.”
Reuters news service quoted a U.N. official as saying: “We do know in the U.N. which are the two battalions [involved in the rapes]. Interestingly, one of them was trained by the Americans — that’s what the American ambassador himself told me.” AFRICOM reportedly acknowledged that the U.S. trained a Congolese light infantry battalion in 2010.
Reports say that at the time of the assaults, the soldiers were leaderless, embarrassed and angry about having been defeated by M23, and they descended into a drunken rampage of killing, rape and looting. In the wake of the allegations, a Congolese soldier stepped forward to confess his guilt to the British press. He said: “Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it. I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.”
A woman assaulted by three soldiers said: “My head is still not right. I thought I had AIDS, and now my husband mocks me. He calls me the wife of a soldier; he has rejected me.”
If a shopper can’t pay for the pottery he breaks, he should stay out of the Pottery Barn. Because the U.S. military would claim that it can’t afford to destroy so many innocent African lives, it should simply stay out of Africa.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about armed conflicts in Africa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org