Workers Vanguard No. 1122
17 November 2017
U.S. Troops, Bases Out of Africa!
The deaths of four U.S. Special Forces troops in Niger in early October put a spotlight on American imperialism’s shadowy wars in Africa. After President Trump responded with insulting treatment toward two black women, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson and her friend, Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, the bourgeois media did its bit for national unity by focusing attention on “Gold Star families.” But most people were wondering what the troops were doing in Niger in the first place.
Leading Senators, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chuck Schumer, feigned ignorance about the U.S. mission in Niger. Writing in CounterPunch (27 October), Jeffrey St. Clair observed that “both political parties would much rather keep the focus on Trump’s malicious Tweets and far away from the true scope of America’s vicious intrusions in Africa, where if you admit nothing, you can get away with almost anything.” The fact is that the U.S. imperialists, self-appointed cops of the world, have for the past decade steadily extended their military reach in Africa. This includes Niger, one of the 53 African countries where U.S. forces operate under the purview of AFRICOM—the U.S. Africa Command.
Established under George W. Bush, AFRICOM is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Fully operational in 2008, AFRICOM’s programs and missions mushroomed under the Obama administration. A pivotal point was the U.S.-led bombing of Libya in 2011 and the assassination of bourgeois strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi. The imperialists’ destruction of Libya’s state and social fabric set loose an array of tribalist and Islamic fundamentalist forces there and in neighboring countries, while also energizing Boko Haram in Nigeria.
By the time Obama left office, AFRICOM’s lethal tempo had escalated to 3,500 military operations a year. Many of these are meant to train the imperialists’ local henchmen to do the dirty work of repression and slaughter, with Washington handing out tens of millions in military aid to Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, to name a few. For his part, Trump has demanded that Congress grant $5.2 billion in additional funding for military operations in Africa. The U.S. is also the main financial contributor to the deployment of 20,000 UN troops in the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)—the largest UN “peacekeeping mission” ever.
Layer upon layer of secrecy and deceit keep the vast majority of U.S. military operations in Africa from the public eye. Officially, the U.S. maintains exactly one base on African soil: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a French colony until 1977. (The U.S. fittingly built the base on the site of a former French Foreign Legion outpost.) Located across the Gulf of Aden from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Djibouti has strategic importance. The Obama administration expanded drone bases there for operations in Yemen, as it did in Ethiopia in order to launch attacks against al-Shabab in Somalia. But there is much more to the U.S. military presence in Africa.
Breaking through the wall of official silence and disinformation, journalist Nick Turse has documented AFRICOM’s ever-widening reach in his 2015 book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa (Dispatch Books), and in articles in The Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com and elsewhere. Turse describes an entire network of U.S. bases across Africa, which in Pentagon double-talk are dubbed “cooperative security locations,” “contingency locations” and the like. Many U.S. military actions in Africa are conducted under the Special Operations Command, whose deployments are almost always classified. The proportion of global U.S. special forces deployed by AFRICOM soared from just 1 percent in 2006 to more than 17 percent ten years later.
The U.S. admits to having some 6,000 troops in Africa. But as Jeffrey St. Clair noted in his CounterPunch article, “this number is almost certainly low, since it doesn’t include special forces, SEAL teams, defense contractors, mercenaries, CIA operatives or drone operators in their Nevada cubicles.” Meanwhile, dozens of U.S. warships patrol the Indian Ocean off Africa’s east coast. The imperialist purpose behind the whole buildup was made clear by an AFRICOM officer cited by Turse, who described the “new normal” of “a world filled with ‘a lot of rapidly moving crises,’ requiring military interventions and likened it to the Marine Corps deployments in the so-called Banana Wars in Central America and the Caribbean in the early twentieth century.”
One thing is clear about the U.S. military presence: It will only sow further instability, violence and desperation throughout Africa. It is in the interest of the multiracial American proletariat to demand all U.S. troops and bases out of Africa. While we as communists oppose everything that Islamist reactionaries like al-Shabab stand for, we recognize that every military setback to the imperialists aids the cause of the workers and oppressed peoples of the planet. The U.S. rulers’ predatory wars overseas go hand in hand with their attacks on labor, black people and all the oppressed at home. Opposition to all imperialist wars and occupations is a necessary part of the fight to sweep away the capitalist-imperialist order through workers socialist revolution.
U.S. Machinations in Africa
During the Cold War, the central preoccupation of the imperialists in Africa was to curtail the influence of the Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state. To counter Soviet economic and military aid to bourgeois-nationalist regimes like Ahmed Sékou Touré’s Guinea and Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, the U.S. propped up a host of brutal despots such as Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and Haile Selassie in Ethiopia and relied heavily on apartheid South Africa as a regional gendarme. CIA agents subverted governments and organized coups throughout Africa in the decades after World War II. Conversely, anti-colonialist leaders like Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Republic of Congo following independence from Belgium, who was assassinated in 1961 with the help of the CIA, became heroes to militants fighting against black oppression in the U.S.
The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991-92 removed what had been the only real military counterweight to the imperialists. While the U.S. rulers threw around their military might unchallenged in what they proclaimed was a “one-superpower world,” they had little interest in Africa. This was particularly the case after the humiliating defeat of U.S. troops in Somalia in 1993, centrally the incident that became known as “Black Hawk Down.” The launch and development of AFRICOM show that Washington has a new focus on Africa.
What accounts for this change was laid bare in a 2012 Congressional report, “Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa.” The report emphasized the “increasing importance of Africa’s natural resources, particularly energy resources” and expressed “mounting concern over violent extremist activities.” The report cited, in particular, oil production in Nigeria—Africa’s largest oil exporter and a large supplier to the U.S.—and the potential for deep-water drilling in the west African Gulf of Guinea.
Among the imperialists’ main concerns is the influence of the Chinese deformed workers state, which in the last decade has become Africa’s biggest trading partner (see “Hue and Cry over China’s Role in Africa,” WV No. 987, 30 September 2011). The most powerful of the remaining countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown, China is the central target of the imperialists’ global counterrevolutionary machinations. The construction of China’s first overseas military base in Djibouti, near Camp Lemonnier, points to both its growing presence in Africa and the potential for military conflict with the U.S. In any such conflict, we Trotskyists stand for the unconditional defense of China, which, despite Stalinist bureaucratic rule, is a workers state based on collectivized property.
At the same time that it seeks to counter China, Washington is mired in an ever-growing number of “anti-terror” operations in Africa. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. intervention in Africa in the name of fighting terror has caused a rapid growth of Islamist forces, and of generalized chaos. In “America’s War-Fighting Footprint in Africa” (TomDispatch.com, 27 April), Nick Turse lists several major AFRICOM campaigns, including the “shadow war” against al-Shabab, which has more recently also targeted ISIS, in Somalia; “neutralizing” insurgent forces across northwest Africa; trying to “degrade” Boko Haram in Nigeria and other countries; and combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Each of these, Turse writes, is “a long-term effort with no end in sight.”
Libya, Mali, Niger: Imperialist Mayhem
Key in Turse’s list is the continuing fallout from the 2011 NATO air war against Libya and the overthrow of Qaddafi. At the time, the International Executive Committee of the International Communist League issued a statement titled “Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack!” (printed in WV No. 977, 1 April 2011). We pointed out that prior to the air war, Libya had been wracked by a low-intensity civil war, heavily overlaid by tribal and regional divisions, between the Qaddafi regime and imperialist-backed opposition forces, in which workers had no side. But with the imperialist attack, the civil war became “subordinated to the fight of a neocolonial country against imperialism.” The statement continued: “Every step taken by the workers of the imperialist countries to halt the depredations and military adventures of their rulers is a step toward their own liberation from capitalist exploitation, impoverishment and oppression.”
Once again, imperialist war created bedlam, with Islamist and tribal factions competing for control of Libya’s oil wealth. Among their first acts as they seized areas formerly held by Qaddafi’s forces was to unleash lynch mob terror against black Africans. The Qaddafi regime had for years controlled the spigot of emigration in league with the imperialists. But now there was a desperate exodus of black people trying to reach Europe. NATO dispatched warships to the coast of Libya, ostensibly to deter “people smugglers.” The real purpose was to prevent refugees from reaching racist “Fortress Europe.”
The devastation didn’t stop there. At the end of his second term as Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama oversaw a renewed American air war in Libya, “Operation Odyssey Lightning.” The U.S. carried out nearly 500 air strikes against ISIS in the last five months of 2016, supplementing drone and special ops attacks. For their part, Libyan tribal forces claiming adherence to ISIS have carried out such atrocities as the February 2015 beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian migrant laborers in the city of Surt and a subsequent massacre of Ethiopian Christians.
The destruction of Libya led directly to the 2012 intervention in Mali by some 2,000 French troops. In the “Juniper Micron” operation, which included airstrikes, troops from France and several of its African neocolonies sought to “stabilize” the former French colony following a coup led by a U.S.-trained officer. The coup was intended to smash a rebel movement of the semi-nomadic Tuareg people. Armed with weapons seized from the collapsed Libyan state, the Tuaregs had taken control of much of northern Mali in league with Islamist forces, who subsequently turned on them.
Calling for all French troops out of Africa, our comrades of the Ligue trotskyste de France issued a leaflet that noted the real purpose of the imperialist intervention: “to maintain French imperialist domination in the entire region—and especially to protect the profits of the Areva company, which exploits enormous uranium deposits in neighboring Niger” (see WV No. 1016, 25 January 2013). Still smarting from the attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya, Obama supported the French intervention in Mali but refused to contribute troops. He felt no such compunction the following year, when the U.S. and France sent troops to the Central African Republic (CAR).
Niger, site of the recent killings of the Special Forces troops, is a key strategic location for predatory U.S. interests in the region. Landlocked and dirt-poor, despite its mineral wealth, Niger borders seven countries, from Algeria and Libya in the north to Nigeria in the south. Having operated in Niger for years, the U.S. military currently stations 800 troops in the capital, Niamey. A $100 million drone base is under construction on the outskirts of the city of Agadez.
The expanding American footprint in the region harks back to the “scramble for Africa”—the carving up of the continent by the European powers at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference. Rival European capitalist states shaped the current borders in Africa, while tearing apart tribal structures and agrarian societies. From King Leopold’s killing fields of the Belgian Congo to Britain’s concentration camps in Kenya and France’s bloodbaths in Algeria, the record of the Western imperialists is one of mass murder, slave-like labor and brutal repression of both independence movements and workers’ struggles. The precursor to such barbarism was the kidnapping of millions of Africans who were shipped across the Atlantic to the slave plantations of the U.S. and elsewhere.
Poverty, famine and religious and ethnic bloodletting—in Africa and elsewhere—are hallmarks of the capitalist system in its epoch of imperialist decay. That system is dominated by a handful of advanced capitalist states that wage wars of plunder and compete against each other to control the world’s resources, markets and labor forces. What is needed is revolutionary proletarian opposition to both imperialism and local capitalist rulers. The way forward is shown by the program of permanent revolution, developed by Leon Trotsky and verified by the Russian October Revolution. Trotsky recognized that in backward, semicolonial countries, the achievement of modernization and liberation from the imperialist yoke requires smashing capitalist rule, which would open the way to socialist development.
As underdeveloped as Africa remains under imperialist domination, the continent is home to crucial proletarian concentrations: in Egypt and other North African countries and in South Africa with its combative workers movement; in the oil fields in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea, in the ports of Kenya and in mining operations in many countries. The task of Marxists is to forge Trotskyist vanguard workers parties—sections of a reforged Fourth International—that would link the struggle for workers revolutions in Africa to the fight for proletarian revolution in the U.S., France and other imperialist centers. With the proletariat in power on a global scale, technology and industrial development will be tapped to lift the world’s masses out of want and misery on the road to building a classless communist society.