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American Military Bases in Africa

The Pentagon is looking into reducing or even withdrawing US troops from West Africa, part of a worldwide redeployment of military forces, the New York Times reported 24 December 2019. There were between 6,000 and 7,000 US troops in Africa, mainly in West Africa but also in places like Somalia. The U.S. presence includes military trainers as well as a recently built $110 million drone base in Niger, the Times said. A withdrawal would also end U.S. support for French military efforts in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in their war along with local troops against Al-Qaeda and Islamic State group jihadists. The Pentagon supports them by providing intelligence, logistical support and aerial refueling at an annual cost to the Pentagon of some $45 million a year.

The Pentagon was looking at pulling nearly all U.S. commandos from Niger and shutting down most elite counterterrorism units across Africa, according to a September 02, 2018 report in The New York Times. US military outposts in Cameroon, Kenya, Libya and Tunisia would also be closed if Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved the plans, but the U.S. would still have a large military presence in Nigeria and Somalia. According to the Times, the move is part of a shift in U.S. strategy from battling insurgents to focusing on potential large-scale fighting. But it also came after a militant attack on U.S. soldiers in Niger last year left four Americans dead, which the Pentagon admitted was a failure on its part.

But General Thomas Waldhauser, head of the African Command, had previously told the Times the U.S. would not "walk away" and abandon its mission to train local forces in counterterrorism operations. Some U.S. defense officials oppose the plan to close down military posts in Africa, saying it could cut U.S. influence at a time when China and Russia are looking to bolster theirs. But one official told the Times that African countries have developed extremely capable counterterrorism forces and many do not need a permanent U.S. presence.

The US military looked at 11 locations for small “cooperative security locations” to help African nations fight extremist groups and other security threats, according to AFRICOM spokesman Colonel Mark Cheadle 18 May 2016. The United States currently had one military base in the east African nation of Djibouti. US forces were also on the ground in Somalia to assist the regional fight against al-Shabab and in Cameroon to help with the multinational effort against Nigeria-based Boko Haram. One of the possible new cooperative security locations was in Cameroon. The military was not looking at a cooperative security location in Nigeria, despite increased cooperation between the US and Nigerian militaries.

American Military Bases in Africa, 2012In May 2008 the United States Department of Defense said eight African countries were “very interested” in hosting the U.S. military command for the continent, known as AFRICOM. But there’s sustained resistance from the media and civil society groups in Africa to an increased U.S. military presence.

Professor Gerrie Swart, political science lecturer at the University of South Africa, says “much confusion, suspicion and mistrust” continue to characterize the continent’s reaction to AFRICOM. “We’ve had a lot of jargon that’s been bantered about. AFRICOM could be seen as a means of presenting a more approachable, humanitarian side to the U.S. military, but that has not been clearly relayed to the African continent; hence the current apprehension that exists,” explains Swar. According to Swart, Africans don’t trust U.S. officials when they deny that AFRICOM is a precursor to steadily increasing numbers of American troops on the continent and U.S. “interference” in African foreign and domestic policy.

Ezekiel Pajibo, the former head of Liberia’s Center for Democratic Empowerment and a strong critic of AFRICOM, convinced that the true drivers of AFRICOM are America’s growing need for African oil, Washington’s desire for a “new front” on which to combat terrorism and the U.S.’s wish to negate China’s increasing influence in Africa. “America’s chief interests are stopping terrorism and gaining access to African oil. Africa’s main interest at this point in time is reducing poverty and underdevelopment. They are not the same. How do they coincide? They do not,” Pajibo emphasized.

The United States Africa Command, also known as U.S. AFRICOM, is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Since the command was created, it has been widely reported that it would establish American bases in Africa. According to the Command's homepage, "The command has no plans to move its headquarters from Stuttgart and will be located here for the foreseeable future. In addition, USAFRICOM is not seeking the establishment of bases in Africa or anywhere else."

On 16 August 2004 Gen. Charles F. Wald, Deputy Commander, U.S. European Command, stated that "In Africa, we will expand our cooperative security relationships to help partners meet the challenges of ungoverned and under-governed areas. We have no plans for Main Operating Bases in Africa. Rather, with a diverse array of Forward Operating Sites (FOS) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSL), we will enhance regional training, assist partners in building capacity for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations, and maintain contingency access for remote areas."

  • Main Operating Base (MOB) is an overseas, permanently manned, well protected base, used to support permanently deployed forces, and with robust sea and/or air access.
  • Forward Operating Site (FOS) is a scalable, "warm" facility that can support sustained operations, but with only a small permanent presence of support or contractor personnel. A FOS will host occasional rotational forces and many contain pre-positioned equipment.
  • Cooperative Security Location (CSL) is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent U.S. personnel presence, which may contain pre-positioned equipment and/or logistical arrangements and serve both for security cooperation activities and contingency access.

"Only war-torn Liberia has offered to host an AFRICOM regional headquarters. The fourteen-nation Southern African Development Community voted expressly not to do so. Algeria and Libya unceremoniously ruled out the possibility, and Morocco--the closest ally of the United States in North Africa--has shown no enthusiasm. In December 2007, Nigeria officially rejected a request that it agree to be the venue for a regional headquarters and encouraged other African nations to follow its lead; Ghana, arguably the most pro-American country in West Africa, did so. In May 2008, AFRICOM put aside plans for a permanent regional headquarters and decided instead to place staff in embassy-based offices of defense cooperation, on an as-needed basis. "

Initially AFRICOM did not intend to place masses of troops on the continent but instead focused on continuing the missions that it has inherited from EUCOM and CENTCOM, while doing no harm. President George W. Bush said 20 February 2008 that the United States does not seek military bases in Africa and is not a fierce competitor with China on the African continent. The purpose of U.S. Africa Command is to help leaders provide African solutions for African problems, Bush said in Accra, Ghana, during a joint news conference with Ghana's President John Kufuor.

"I know there's a controversial subject brewing around that's not very well understood, and that's: 'Why would America stand up what's called AFRICOM?'" Bush told reporters during his five-nation visit to Africa. "First," Bush said, "this is a unique command structure for America. It is a command structure that is aiming to help provide military assistance to African nations, so African nations are more capable of dealing with Africa's conflicts -- like peacekeeping training. Obviously, we've got an issue in Darfur, that we've got to all work together to solve. And I'm very pleased that the AU and U.N. hybrid force should be moving in there. I'd like to see it moving quicker, but the whole purpose of AFRICOM is to help leaders deal with African problems."

Bush also stressed that the United States does not seek bases in Africa but may eventually seek administrative offices. "Secondly," Bush said, "we do not contemplate adding new bases. In other words, the purpose of this is not to add military bases. I know there's rumors in Ghana, 'All Bush is coming to do is try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. (Laughter.) Or as we say in Texas, that's bull. (Laughter.) Mr. President (Kufuor) made it clear to me, he said, look, we -- you're not going to build in any bases in Ghana. I said, I understand; nor do we want to. Now, that doesn't mean we won't develop some kind of office somewhere in Africa. We haven't made our minds up. This is a new concept."

Bush also said the United States does not intend to compete with China in Africa. "I don't view Africa as zero-sum for China and the United States," Bush said. "I mean, I think we can pursue agendas that -- without creating a great sense of competition. I mean, inherent in your question is that I view China as a fierce competitor on the continent of Africa -- no, I don't."

Ghana's President John Kufuor said "Thank you, Mr. President. Well, may I just compliment what the President has just said. I am happy, one, for the President dispelling any notion that the United States of America is intending to build military bases on the continent of Africa. I believe the explanation the President has given should put fade to the speculation, so that the relationship between us and the United States will grow stronger and with mutual respect."

On 08 September 2011, General Carter Ham, commander, U.S. Africa Command, addressed the location of the command's headquarters, stating that the headquarters will remain in Stuttgart for the foreseeable future. To a related question, he stated the United States was not seeking to establish military bases in Africa. "We do not seek bases in Africa other than one operating base in Djibouti. Large bases are not a part of our plan; they are not supportive of what we hope to do with our African partners. ... When the command was formed, it was formed out of an existing headquarters based in Germany. So it was a practical decision actually to just remain in Germany. Early on there was some discussion of the possibility of establishing a headquarters in Africa, but doing so would require a great expense, and the United States, like Algeria, like many other countries, is in a period where we have to be very careful about our expenses. So I think for the foreseeable future our headquarters will remain in Germany and it's a good location for us. It's less than two hours from Algiers, for example. ... there are no plans, no plans whatsoever to establish any bases - U.S. military bases in Africa - other than the one base we currently have that we operate in Djibouti."

Djibouti stands out as an ideal staging point for future U.S. operations. The U.S. has had military presence in the Horn of Africa in the past. These consisted of radio intercept and relay stations in Ethiopia, as well as humanitarian relief during the 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia, as well as operations in Somalia. Later the U.S. had two primary organizations operating in the Horn; Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) and Combined Joint Taskforce-Horn of Africa (CTF-HOA), the latrer stationed in a former French Foreign Legion base in the tiny Red Sea state of Djibouti.

In addition to Camp Lemonier, by 2007 three permanent contingency operating locations were up and running, two in Ethiopia (Bilate and Hurso) and one in Kenya (Manda Bay). A fourth base was established in 2005 or 2006o in Gode, Ethiopia, but it was closed as events heated up in Somalia.

As early as 2005 it was reported that American troops were deployed to Lamu, Kenya, as part of the 1,500-strong Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. With the Somali border with about 100 kilometers north of Lamu, US officials were eager to accept Kenya's invitation to bolster their sea and land defenses. At times American troops marched in full combat gear through Lamu's narrow lanes in a show of force. The coastal town of Lamu is frequently the site of large joint Kenyan-US military exercises. The US has built a military air base at Manda Bay in Kenya. US troops are stationed inside Camp Simba, a Kenyan naval base located on that country's sandy coast.

The US is building drone bases in locales throughout Africa. A report from the Washington Post on 20 September 2011 revealed that the United States is expanding its controversial drone program into Africa, building bases throughout the continent in order to run unmanned planes over al-Qaeda territories in the ongoing War on Terror. In the Post’s report, an unnamed source close to the operation confirmed that the CIA is currently working on a secret base in the Arabian Peninsula in order to send more spy planes into Yemen. Bases were also said to be either in operation or under construction in Ethiopia, and another on the island of Victoria in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles in operation since September 2008. Both Seychelles and the United States had acknowledged the base in the past, but reported then that it was only there to track area pirate operations. The officials cited in the Post report, however, say that the increase in drone operations is being used to target al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, as the US builds up its drone bases despite continuing criticism of the competency of the spy planes.

The US Air Force has spent millions of dollars to upgrade the airfield. Master Sgt. James Fisher, a spokesman for the 17th Air Force, which oversees operations in Africa, said that an unspecified number of Air Force personnel are working at the Ethiopian airfield “to provide operation and technical support for our security assistance programs.” Captain John Kirby, a US defence department spokesman, said "There are no US military bases in Ethiopia. It's an Ethiopian airfield."

In December 2010 Intelligence Online, a Paris Web site that specializes in global intelligence, reported that the US Army Corps of Engineers was seeking "expressions of interest" in building a military airbase in a "North African country," indicating the Americans may be planning to take a more active role in the regional war against al-Qaida. The request was issued 02 December 2010, but did not specify which country the Pentagon might have in mind. The report stressed that "the project is lacking both authorization and funding at the moment, and there's nothing to say that (the airbase) will ever be built." U.S. military planners had been interested in establishing an airbase at Algeria's Tamanrasset facility in the Sahara Desert.

According to the BBC, as of 2007 the US was building a naval base in Sao Tome and Principe to protect its oil interests. In October 2011 President Obama said he was sending 100 American troops to Uganda to help and advise forces fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army. One article in 2007 reported that "Despite Ghanaian Defence Ministry officials debunking the claim that Washington is not building military base in Ghana, some Ghanaians, with their high conspiracy theory syndrome, belief that there is a US military base and that the US has built a secret tunnel from the new US Embassy complex to the Kotoka International Airport in Accra.... According to the Nigerian Prof. Toyin Falola, Professor of history at the University of Texas in Austin, USA, today, the United States has over 175 military bases in Africa..."

On 19 December 2011 Agence France-Presse reported that US special forces had set up a base in the Central African Republic as part of their regional hunt for fighters from the Ugandan-born Lord's Resistance Army group. "The deployment of this contingent, the size of which is unknown, was carried out very discreetly with Ugandan military aircraft," a Central African military official said on condition of anonymity. The US troops set up a base in Obo and were expected to coordinate their efforts with local government forces and Ugandan soldiers. Besides Obo, the US forces also have a forward base in South Sudan. They began deploying to Uganda in early December 2011.

The Washington Post reported 21 September 2011 that the U.S. was building a new military installation to host the unmanned aircraft in Ethiopia, where drones can more easily attack members of the militant group al-Shabab that is fighting for control of neighboring Somalia. The United States is reported to be expanding a secret drone program in east Africa and the Arabian peninsula in order to gather intelligence and strike al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia and Yemen. The report also said the U.S. has re-opened a drone base in the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of "hunter-killer" drones resumed operations this month after a test mission determined that aircraft based there could patrol Somalia.

In his 2015 article for TomDispatch.com, Nick Turse, disclosed that there are dozens of US military installations in Africa, besides Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. These numerous cooperative security locations (CSLs), forward operating locations (FOLs) and other outposts have been built by the US in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda. According to the American journalist, US military also had access to locations in Algeria, Botswana, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Zambia and other countries.

Chebelley, Djibouti Bizerte, Tunisia
Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti Arlit, Niger
Entebbe, Uganda Dirkou, Niger
Mombassa, Kenya Diffa, Niger
Manda Bay, Kenya Ouallam, Niger
Liberville, Gabon Bamako, Mali
St. Helena, Ascension Island Garoua, Cameroon
Accra, Ghana Maroua, Cameroon
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Misrata, Libya
Dakar, Senegal Tripoli, Libya
Agadez, Niger Baledogle, Somalia
Niamey, Niger Bosasso, Somalia
N’Djamena, Chad Galcayo, Somalia
Kismayo, Somalia
Mogadishu, Somalia
Wajir, Kenya

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