Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's a Sensitive Issue

We are sending 300 troops to Cameroon to provide drone support for local forces involved in the fight against Boko Haram, which is centered in Nigeria, and other jihadis. Even 300 troops are a sensitive issue.

Recall our decision to send troops to Cameroon. We'll be there operating from a "location" with "improvements," but don't dare call it a "base:"

“We’re not building any bases, but there is a location, and part of the deal will be that we will make some improvements,” said Charles Prichard, an AFRICOM spokesman. “Some life support things to make sure servicemembers have what they need. Food, water, shelter. That is part of the initial push.” ...

AFRICOM declined to name the exact location where U.S. forces will be operating, citing force protection concerns. However, the facility is to be a temporary base of operations.

That sensitivity has been a problem for AFRICOM, which has a very small footprint on the continent. Suspicion of a permanent American base--whether from worry about being seen working with us, losing autonomy, or attracting violent groups that might attack those bases--colors judgment of our help to Africans.

One problem is that American forces outside of the very large continent have difficulty getting to locations in Africa quickly in a crisis.

One solution is to have places where African governments say we can land to refuel planes flying from Europe:

U.S. crisis-response forces can now reach hot spots in western Africa in a matter of hours thanks to a collection of military outposts established since the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya exposed capability gaps, U.S. Africa Command’s Gen. David Rodriguez said.

Senegal, Ghana and Gabon are playing key roles as hosts to so-called cooperative security locations, which function as bare-bones launching pads for quick-reaction troops called upon to secure U.S. diplomatic facilities in the broader region, Rodriguez said.

There are a total of 11 across Africa, the article reports, with basically just equipment in warehouses that we can use when we land to leap forward from that "cooperative security location."

Of course, that requires the host government to allow this use. And it requires that the equipment be there (not stolen by crooks or destroyed by enemies) when we get there.

We have to rely on these work-arounds because of the lack of actual bases on the ground and because the Navy doesn't routinely commit amphibious warfare assets to AFRICOM that could put sovereign American steel off shore to project power.

The article also notes the exception to the rule in Djibouti where we have had forces deployed there throughout the war on terror to battle jihadis, and which now hosts an American Army infantry battalion that can react to crises if it has the transportation, staging areas, and warning time to move. Like I said, it's a big continent.

I missed that article when it was written in the spring. But it is interesting.

I'm glad we have this arrangement. But it does have limits. One day, African governments may not be so sensitive about American bases. Perhaps when the Chinese military is a common sight along with Chinese economic penetration, the value of our presence will be easier for African governments to see and justify.

UPDATE: This can't hurt our efforts to convince people in Africa that our presence on the continent isn't so bad:

This year's Confucius Peace Prize has gone to Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe for “injecting fresh energy” into the quest for peace, as the 76- member judging committee stated.

This year's Confucius Peace Prize has gone to Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe for “injecting fresh energy” into the quest for peace, as the 76- member judging committee stated.

Let's review who the Chinese Communist Party has honored and is honoring with the award:

The annual prize was started in 2010 to exemplify distinct "Asian values." Not coincidentally, that same year the Nobel Peace Prize went to jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo. Since then, the Chinese prize has gone to figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin – praised for his intervention in Chechnya – and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Among China scholars and Confucius experts, the prize and its recipients have stirred disbelief and dismay. Initial reports on the prize going to Mr. Mugabe, who is widely accused of stealing elections, wrecking the economy, and turning the breadbasket of Africa into a net importer of food, were treated as a media spoof.

Perhaps in his old age, Mugabe has tired of turning Zimbabwe into a Heck Hole and so that counts as "injecting fresh energy" into the ever-elusive peace quest there.

At this point, I assume the White House lobbied heavily to avoid getting the prize for his potential to promote Asian values--like bestowing territorial waters around submerged rocks turned into islands.