“What’s the US military doing in Africa?”: What U.S. Africa Express doesn’t want you to know

What’s the U.S. military doing in Africa? It’s an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, straight-jacketed in secrecy, and hogtied by pink tape. Or now now not now now not up to it’d be if it were up to the Pentagon.

Ten years in the past, I embarked on a quest to reply that request at TomDispatch, chronicling a growing American military presence on that continent, a make-up of every logistical capabilities and outposts, and the risk that far extra became once occurring out of seek for. “Maintain your survey on Africa,” I concluded. “The U.S. military is going to obtain information there for years to come.”

I knew I had a story when U.S. Africa Express (AFRICOM) failed to reply in style questions the truth is. And the expose’s response to the article told me that I moreover had a new beat.

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No longer long after e-newsletter, AFRICOM wrote a letter of complaint to my editor, Tom Engelhardt, attempting to discredit my investigation. (I spoke back point by point in a apply-up portion.) The expose claimed the U.S. became once doing tiny on that continent, had one measly base there, and became once clear about its operations. “I would support you and folks that possess interest in what we obtain to overview our Web bother, www.AFRICOM.mil, and a new Protection Department Special Web Document on U.S. Africa Express at this link http://www.protection.gov/dwelling/aspects/2012/0712_AFRICOM/,” wrote its director of public affairs Colonel Tom Davis.

A decade later, the link is ineffective; Davis is a functionary at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona; and I’m light keeping an survey on AFRICOM.

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About a months in the past, in truth, I revealed the existence of a beforehand unknown AFRICOM investigation of an airstrike in Nigeria that killed better than 160 civilians. A beforehand secret 2017 Africa Express doc I obtained called for an inquiry into that “U.S.-Nigerian” operation that became once never disclosed to Congress, worthy much less the public.

Since then, AFRICOM has steadfastly refused to offer a substantive touch upon the strike or the investigation that adopted and received’t even convey if this can inaugurate related paperwork to individuals of Congress. Closing month, citing my reporting, a neighborhood of lawmakers from the newly fashioned Security of Civilians in Warfare Caucus called on Secretary of Protection Lloyd Austin to turn over the files on, and reply key questions about, the attack. The Pentagon has up to now kept mum.

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Has AFRICOM then, as Davis contended goodbye in the past, been clear? Is its internet bother the poke-to situation for information about U.S. military missions on that continent? Did its operations there remain few and innocuous? Or became once I onto something?

A Kinder, Gentler Combatant Express

From its inception, according to its first commander, Total William Ward, AFRICOM became once intended “to be a distinct kind of expose”: much less hardcore, extra Peace Corps. “AFRICOM’s focal point is on battle prevention,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Protection for African Affairs Theresa Whelan stated in 2007, “rather than warfighting.”

In 2012, Ward’s successor, Total Carter Ham, told the Dwelling Armed Providers and products Committee that “small groups” of American personnel were conducting “a big fluctuate of engagements in strengthen of U.S. security interests.” Years later, retired Military Brigadier Total Don Bolduc, who served at AFRICOM from 2013 to 2015 and headed Special Operations Express Africa unless 2017, would offer some clarity about these “engagements.” Between 2013 and 2017, he explained, American commandos observed combat in now now not now now not up to 13 African countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, and Tunisia. U.S. troops, he added, were killed or wounded in action in now now not now now not up to six of them.

Between 2015 and 2017, there were now now not now now not up to 10 unreported assaults on American troops in West Africa on my own. A month after that January 2017 Nigerian air strike, in truth, U.S. Marines fought al-Qaeda militants in a war that AFRICOM light received’t admit took situation in Tunisia. That April, a U.S. commando reportedly killed a member of warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Military in the Central African Republic. The next month, during an show, support, and accompany mission, 38-one year-feeble Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken became once killed and two other Individuals were wounded in a raid on a militant camp in Somalia. That identical one year, a Navy SEAL reportedly shot and killed a person outdoors a compound flying an Islamic Scream (ISIS) flag in Cameroon. And that October, AFRICOM became once finally forced to abandon the fiction that U.S. troops weren’t at battle on the continent after ISIS militants ambushed American troops in Niger, killing four and wounding two extra. “We don’t know exactly the place we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing,” stated Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, then a member of the Senate Armed Providers and products Committee, after meeting with Pentagon officers about the attack.

In the 2010s, I would, in truth, succor expose that the U.S. had performed now now not now now not up to 36 named operations and activities in Africa — better than anywhere else on earth, including the Heart East. Amongst them were eight 127e purposes, named for the budgetary authority that permits Special Operations forces to use international military objects as surrogates in counterterrorism missions. More currently, I would document on 11 of these proxy purposes employed in Africa, including one in Tunisia, code-named Obsidian Tower and never acknowledged by the Pentagon, and another with a notoriously abusive Cameroonian military unit related to mass atrocities.

Five of these 127e purposes were performed in Somalia by U.S. commandos training, equipping, and directing troops from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda as section of the fight against the Islamist militant neighborhood al-Shabaab. In 2018, 26-one year-feeble Alex Conrad of the Military’s Special Forces became once killed in an attack on a small U.S. military outpost in Somalia.

Such outposts possess long been a point of contention between AFRICOM and me. “The U.S. maintains a surprising sequence of bases in Africa,” I wrote in that initial TomDispatch article in July 2012. Colonel Davis denied it. “Other than our base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti,” he claimed, “we obtain now now not possess military bases in Africa.” I had, he insisted, filed that article earlier than AFRICOM may possibly gather me further outpost materials. “If he had waited, we would possess supplied the information requested, which can possess better informed his story.”

I had begun requesting information that May possibly possibly well fair, called in further questions in June and July, and then (as requested) achieve them in writing. I adopted up on the 9th, mentioning my looming deadline and became once told that AFRICOM headquarters may possibly need some answers for me on the tenth. That day came and went, as did the 11th. TomDispatch finally revealed the portion on July 12th. “I respectfully submit that a piquant free press can’t be held hostage, waiting for information that may possibly never advance,” I wrote Davis.

After I later adopted up, Davis became out to be on recede, but AFRICOM spokesperson Eric Elliott emailed in August to convey: “Let me glance what I will be able to give you in response to your request for a total list of facilities.”

Then, for weeks, AFRICOM went darkish. A apply-up electronic mail in insensible October went unanswered. Another in early November elicited a response from spokesperson Dave Hecht, who stated that he became once handling the request and would provide an update by week’s finish. I’m determined you received’t be skittish to learn that he didn’t. So, I adopted up yet again. On November 16th, he finally spoke back: “All questions now possess answers. I moral need the boss to overview earlier than I will be able to inaugurate. I am hoping to possess them to you by mid next week.” Did I gather them? What obtain you think?

In December, Hecht finally spoke back: “All questions were answered but are light being reviewed for inaugurate. Confidently this week I will be able to ship everything your manner.” Did he? Hah!

In January 2013, I got answers to some questions of mine, but nothing about these bases. By then, Hecht, too, had disappeared and I became once left dealing with AFRICOM’s Chief of Media Engagement, Benjamin Benson. When asked about my questions, he spoke back that public affairs couldn’t provide answers and I’d also light instead file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

To recap, six months later, Benson suggested I begin again. And in accurate faith, I did. In 2016, three and a half of years later, I finally got a partial response to that FOIA request: one page of in part redacted — now now not to point out ineffective — information about (yep!) Camp Lemonnier and nothing else.

I would utilize years investigating the bases Davis claimed didn’t exist. Using leaked secret paperwork, I clarify a network of African drone bases integral to U.S. assassination purposes on the continent in addition to the existence of a secret network of Nationwide Security Company eavesdropping outposts in Ethiopia. Using beforehand secret paperwork, I revealed an even better network of U.S. bases all over Africa, again and again. I outdated tiny-observed originate-source information to spotlight activities at these facilities, while helping expose kill and torture by native forces at a drone base in Cameroon built-up and frequented by Individuals. I moreover spotlighted the growth of a $100 million drone base in Niger; a beforehand unreported outpost in Mali it appears to be like overrun by militants after a 2012 coup there by a U.S.-trained officer; the growth of a sad drone base in the Horn of Africa and its position in lethal strikes against the Islamic Scream in Iraq and Syria; hundreds of drone strikes from Libya to Somalia and the resulting civilian casualties; and the flailing, failing U.S. battle on awe all all over Africa.

No longer surprisingly, AFRICOM’s internet bother never had worthy to convey about such reporting, nor may possibly you poke there to find articles like:

“The AFRICOM Recordsdata: Pentagon Undercounts and Ignores Military Sexual Assault in Africa”

“Pentagon Document Shows U.S. Knew of ‘Credible’ Reviews of Civilian Casualties After Its Assaults in Somalia”

“Unique Information Shows the U.S. Military Is Severely Undercounting Civilian Casualties in Somalia”

“Pentagon Stands by Cameroon — Despite Forensic Prognosis Showing Its Soldiers Executed Ladies folks and Children”

“U.S. Troops in Africa Would be in Menace. Why Is the Military Trying to Conceal It?”

You Know You’re on Target When You’re Getting a Lot of Flak(s)

In the years since, a parade of AFRICOM press officers came and went, replying in a by-then-acquainted model. “Slice, we’re now now not going to reply to any of your questions,” Lieutenant Commander Anthony Falvo, head of its public affairs branch, told me in October 2017. Did he, I asked, imagine AFRICOM needn’t address questions from the press in general or simplest from me. “No, moral you,” he spoke back. “We don’t maintain in mind you a sound journalist, genuinely.” Then he hung up.

That identical month, I became once inadvertently ushered behind the closed doors of the AFRICOM public affairs situation of business. While attempting to hold up on me, a member of the personnel by chance achieve me on speakerphone and without warning I discovered myself listening in to the goings on, from banal banter to shrieking outbursts. And, imagine me, it wasn’t comely. While the expose usually claimed its personnel had the utmost admire for their native counterparts, I discovered, as an illustration, that now now not now now not up to certain press officers seemed to possess a remarkably low opinion of some of their African companions. At one point, Falvo asked if there became once any “new intelligence” regarding military operations in Niger after the 2017 ambush that killed these four American soldiers. “You can’t achieve Nigeriens and intelligence in the identical sentence,” spoke back someone in the situation of business. Laughter adopted and I revealed the sordid small print. That very month, Anthony Falvo shipped off (literally ending up in the public affairs situation of business of the USS Gerald Ford).

Today, a new coterie of AFRICOM public affairs personnel discipline questions, but Falvo’s successor, Deputy Director of Public Affairs John Manley, a genuine professional, appears to be like to be on name every time my questions are especially problematic. He swears this isn’t comely, but I’m determined you received’t be skittish to learn that he fielded my queries for this article.

After Col. Tom Davis — who left AFRICOM to join Special Operations Express (the place, in a non-public electronic mail, he called me a “turkey”) — failed to reply to my interview requests, I asked AFRICOM if his defer-and-negate machine became once the finest manner to inform the American public. “We’re now now not going to touch upon processes and procedures in situation a decade in the past or provide opinions on personnel who worked in the situation of business at that time,” stated Manley.

“Our accountability is to provide timely, moral, and clear responses to queries got from all individuals of the media,” Manley told me. Certain, me, the reporter who’s been waiting since 2012 for answers about these U.S. bases. And by AFRICOM requirements, possibly that’s now now not genuinely goodbye, given its endless screw ups in quelling terrorism and promoting steadiness in places like Burkina Faso, Libya, and Somalia.

Unruffled, I give Manley a kind of credit rating. He isn’t thin-skinned or skittish to talk about and he does offer answers, although once in some time they appear up to now-fetched that I will be able to’t imagine he uttered them with a straight face. Though he agreed to talk about about his replies further, I doubted that badgering him would gather either of us anywhere, so I’ll moral let his closing one stand as a digital monument to my 10-one year relationship with AFRICOM. After I asked if the public affairs situation of business had in any admire times been as forthcoming, forthright, and invaluable with my queries as imaginable, he unleashed the finest capstone to my decade-long dance with U.S. Africa Express by offering up moral one lone be conscious: “Certain.”

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