The United States military is a global force, with bases spanning six continents and at least 74 countries, with over 150,000 US servicemen serving there.
America is currently engaged in five wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Its forces are also involved in lesser conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. With Syria and Iraq on the radar screen, other combat actions are largely out of the news.
The US has 662 military bases around the world from which air strikes can be launched.
Special operations forces are also stationed there. As if it were not enough, the US is expanding its global operational capabilities. The one continent in which US military action rarely receives any attention for is Africa.
In recent years, the US Army has rolled out an extensive network of over 60 outposts and access points in at least 34 African countries — more than 60 percent of the nations on the continent. To compare, the US has only 50 diplomatic missions in Africa.
Niger is being turned into an important hub for military activities in the region. This year, the United States will complete the construction of military air base in the city of Agadez in the southern Saharan state of Niger. The base will be used for operations of MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are a larger and more modern than the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) deployed in other places. According to The Intercept, the base in Niger is «considered the most important US military construction effort in Africa».
The Agadez base will seemingly become the Pentagon’s second most important drone site in Africa after Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Since the US opened the Djibouti base, shortly after September 11, 2001, it has grown from 88 acres with 900 military personnel to around 500 acres with 5,000 military personnel. In May 2014, the US reached an agreement with the government of Djibouti that secures its presence through 2044 for the sum of $70 million per year. Camp Lemonnier is currently undergoing a $1.4 billion upgrade, expanding everything from aircraft maintenance hangars, ammunition shelters, and runway extensions to accommodation facilities. The runway being built will be capable of landing C-17 – the largest cargo planes in the US inventory.
About 2 thousand US military personnel are carrying out 78 missions in more than 20 African nations. American troops are carrying out almost two operations, exercises, or activities—from drone strikes to counterinsurgency instruction, intelligence gathering to marksmanship training—somewhere in Africa every day.
This year, the Pentagon announced it intends to dispatch dozens of Special Operations advisers to the front lines of Nigeria’s fight against the West African militant group Boko Haram.
American commandos and other troops make regular trips to train with Nigerien forces.
In May, the US signed a military cooperation agreement with Senegal that allows «the permanent presence» of American troops in the West African country. The deal gives US forces access to many areas in the country, such as airports and military installations.
Drone warfare is a special case as the vehicles are carrying out combat missions in peacetime. The full scope of the US UAV program has long been shrouded from view. Only sketchy details emerge off and on about individual drone strikes.
The US African Unified Command (AFRICOM) operates at least eight drone bases in Africa located in Djibouti, the Seychelles, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Niger (Niamey) base and Burkina Faso. In February 2016 The Intercept reported about yet another African drone site established by the Pentagon in Garoua, Cameroon.
On July 1, the White House for the first time released the civilian casualties of US counterterrorism strikes overseas, saying that between 64 and 116 civilians were killed in 437 U.S. strikes conducted in countries including Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from 2009 to 2015.
However, the figures have been gravely questioned.
The Somalia’s government has recently requested an explanation from the United States for an air raid that it says killed 22 soldiers and civilians in the north of the country on September 28. The Somali army had confirmed that Galmudug forces and civilians were killed in the raid, describing it as a case of «friendly fire». Protesters in Galmudug’s capital Galkayo burned US flags and images of President Barack Obama in protest.
There is a widespread perception that drone strikes have killed many civilians and that they are illegal. The law of armed conflict (LOAC) includes specific rules on targeting individuals that are intended to protect civilians. Those rules may be summarized as only permitting the targeting of combatants or civilians who are directly participating in hostilities. Targeting of other civilians is prohibited and may constitute a war crime.
The drone warfare violates Article 51 of the UN Charter that defines the rules of self-defense because the United States is not attacked. The signature tactics are inherently in violation of the principle of distinction because it fails to identify civilian or militant. Drone attacks run against the principle of proportionality concerning unintentional civilian casualties in war. They violate Article 2 of the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War by disregarding the human rights of the innocent civilians killed in the strikes. Furthermore, the US UAV tactics conflict with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits «arbitrary» killing even during an armed conflict. The executions of innocent human beings without trials constitute war crimes.
The drone attacks also violate US laws. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, says the president is authorized to use force against the planners of the attacks and those who harbor them. The Act does not cover the rebel groups operating in the «Dark Continent».
Africa is known as one of the richest parts of the world when it comes to natural resources. Not yet fully developed, it boasts many fast-growing economies. The continent is as a fertile land of opportunity. There are two great powers vying for clout in Africa: the US and China. The Chinese have voted for an economic route. It has very deep ties with African nations all over the continent. Beijing has created big public works projects that Africans can see and touch with their hands, while the US has chosen the strategy of building a vast military infrastructure to wage a drone war in peacetime and prepare for a large-scale ground war if it comes to that.
President Obama, a Nobel Peace laureate, has dramatically expanded the intensiveness of intrusions into the territory of non-belligerent states. The African continent may become the next theatre of war with US extensive involvement. America is already waging a real war in the Middle East; it is boosting its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region with tensions in Europe running high as the US increases its military presence near the Russia’s borders. Despite the failure of the Middle East policy, the United States has not abandoned its strategy aimed at global domination to be reached with the help of military might. Libya may become a bridgehead for an intervention to encompass other countries under the pretext of fighting terrorists.
With public attention riveted on the events in Syria, the next armed conflict of even larger scale may spark in Africa.
By Alex Gorka