The overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 was a disaster and tragedy for not just the Libyan people, but all of Africa. This crime was carried out by the world’s self-appointed guardians of democracy combining to unleash an imperialist assault on a country under the rubric of protecting civilians in the midst of a domestic and internal crisis, while in truth exploiting said crisis to effect regime change.
As the violence and chaos that ensued from the vacuum left in Libya spread West, France had no choice than to unilaterally intervene, to save the people of Mali and secure the country.
U.S Green Beret arrived in early 2013 to help the French military that had intervened in neighboring Mali the year before. The French had moved into Mali after an Al Qaeda affiliated group and tribal groups took over the vast northern part of the country and were moving toward the capital of Mali.
As part of the U.S. effort to assist that mission then-President Barack Obama ordered 150 U.S. military personnel to set up a surveillance drone operation over Mali that would fly from Niger’s capital of Niamey.
There are 1,800 U.S troops in Niger Republic, but the vast majority of them are construction crews working to build up a second drone base in Niger’s northern desert. The rest run a surveillance drone mission from Niger’s capital of Niamey that helps out the French in Mali and other regional countries in the fight against Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and now ISIS.
A smaller component, less than a hundred, are Army Green Beret units advising and assisting Niger’s military to build up their fighting capability to counter Al Qaeda and ISIS. There are an additional 300 U.S. military personnel in neighboring Burkina Faso and Cameroon doing the same thing. They are there as part of what’s known as the mission in the Lake Chad Basin.
Niger is fast becoming an unofficial American military base. American engagement in Niger remains the second largest on the continent, after Djibouti. The US Air Force is building a $110 million drone base that is technically the property of the Nigerien military, although it is paid for and built by the Pentagon, and access for Nigerien soldiers is currently restricted.
A senior Nigerien military commander said that the American military has an expansionist agenda in the country and constantly pushes for more missions on the ground. According to a Nigerien soldier who participated in the operation on October 4, the American soldiers involved in Tongo Tongo had ignored the advice of their Nigerien colleagues, putting their unit in danger.
In Cameroon, American Special Forces work closely with the Brigade d’intervention rapide, an elite, Israeli-trained unit that fights Boko Haram. Last year, Amnesty International found that on a small base in Salak, near the border of Nigeria that the American soldiers shared with the B.I.R., at least sixty people “were subjected to water torture, beaten with electric cables and boards, or tied and suspended with ropes, among other abuses.
There is little hope that the US will stop putting heavy emphasis on military solutions in West Africa. In fact, Niger has become a key staging ground for American and French drone flights.
The gap left by the US’s (and, to some extent, Europe’s) lack of economic and political engagement with Africa has led the continent to turn its attention elsewhere for trade and investment. Essentially, the entire non-military agenda in Africa of Africa’s outside partners has been ceded to China. Africa needs investments, not military bases.
The continuous building of drone bases in West Africa ( to fight terrorism ) should keep Abuja up at night. We’ve seen this before, most recently in Yemen and Pakistan, where a drone program that started as ‘defensive’ wound up striking people simply because their behavior ‘looked’ suspicious. Hundreds of innocent men, women and children were killed as a result.
A Niger-ien civilian who works on the drone base was asked what the forces there think about their mission.
“The American soldiers themselves don’t know why they’re here,” she said, but the local population is anxious about whether the US will make the same mistakes in West Africa as they have elsewhere in the world. “The Americans are on a balance,” she said. “It’s up to them as to which way they will tip the scale.”
While America with her counterpart France are busy militarising the region and forging strategic military engagements that potentially morphs into a proxy for foreign policy run by the Pentagon, China is doing business.