© Jacob Silberberg/PANOS Heavily armed soldiers ride a patrol boat in the Niger Delta region.

On February 6 of this year the US announced the creation of the US Africa Command. On April 6 of this year the US Navy convened a Riverine Warfare Conference in Annapolis. At the same time, the Navy is putting energy and money into its new Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, designed to operate in brown and green water. Personnel are lining up to join it.

Coincidence? One definition of coincidence (I believe I read this in a book by John Brunner) is coincidence means you are not paying attention to the rest of what is going on.

The Niger Delta in the Gulf of Guinea is a large riverine environment that is currently becoming increasingly militarized and unstable. The Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea are where the US plans to get a lot more of its oil. If the US wants to use its military there, it will need a force trained and equipped for the riverine environment.

From several pages I’ve linked from navy.mil, plus some other articles, I was able to collect the following information.

Now, the Navy is spending $200 million on the new Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), reinventing its conventional riverine capability, which has been dormant since the Vietnam War.
. . .
“Once trained, we will be the Navy’s face in the global war on terrorism.”

A major portion of the mission of the Riverine Squadron is:

. . . to conduct port security, coastal surveillance and interception as necessary, as well as protect any maritime asset and infrastructure that we may be tasked,” . . . “This includes ships, submarines, piers, ports, oil platforms or a new beach head for delivering supplies to support humanitarian assistance.” . . . (and includes) anti-terrorism and force protection in harbors and coastal waterways in the continental United States and overseas locations such as Korea, the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa region.

And in a related article:

. . . these forces provide harbor defense, port security, high value asset escorting, and littoral surveillance support operations . . . They accomplish their mission by locating, identifying, and neutralizing potential threats and maintaining security throughout areas of operation. . . . (they) will help expand the Navy’s inshore war-fighting capabilities, and allow safer travel for U.S. and allied vessels through foreign coastal waters, harbors and rivers.”

“The enemy is definitely going to frown when they hear the U.S. Navy is going into the brown and green water. They are not going to like that,” he said.
. . .
In a written response to questions from National Defense, a Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman said that the riverine force will cover more conventional types of operations, but that the riverine and special operations forces will train and fight together. (emphasis mine)

There remains some awareness and discussion that you can’t operate without some positive interaction with the citizens of the country where you are operating. From the report on the Riverine Warfare Conference:

. . . “riverine warfare … is not control of just the rivers and canals, it is control of the whole area, and that takes more than just boats.” Said Captain Hock, “You have to become part of the culture. You have to integrate.”
. . .
And for riverine work to really work . . . “you have to get off the boat.” Civilian assistance—providing medical aid, delivering essential supplies, and any other type of goodwill initiatives—has to be perceived as a crucial part of the mission. Not only are you doing a good deed, . . . but “you’re taking those villages away as bases of operations” for the bad guys.

No mention is made in any of these articles about the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea. There was mention of Iraq, where there is some riverine activity, and some mention of fighting drugs in Central and South America, especially along Peru and Columbia. I don’t think riverine warfare is a major part of US operations in Iraq. And the drug war has been going on for decades and has achieved nothing that resembles success. Oil in the Gulf of Guinea is the primary motive for Africa Command and this renewed interest in riverine warfare.

Because of the situation in the Niger Delta, I have described here and here, among other places, the US is cruising for more than a bruising in the Delta. Unless the Nigerian Federal and State governments share oil resources with the citizens of the oil regions, there is no chance for peace or safety. The place is too big, and too heavily populated. It is not possible to fight everyone in their own country (a lesson the US seems to have a lot of trouble learning).

Remember these statistics on Nigeria originating from the World Bank:

80% of oil wealth is owned by 1% of the population; 70% of private wealth is abroad whilst 3/4 of the country live on about $1 a day – at least 15 million of those live in the Niger Delta

Unless this inequity can be addressed, and there are suggestions for how to do that here, the only alternative is to defoliate the place, and kill the 15 million people who live there, or fight for many decades killing many people on both sides, and achieving little or nothing except vast suffering. A military force cannot address the political and diplomatic problem. That problem requires leading with political and diplomatic skills. A few smiles, handouts, and a visiting doctor or two will make no difference. For the US Africa Command to try and work with the Nigerian government to “control” the problem by force, without addressing the profound and fundamental inequity that feeds the source, is simply to advise the oppressor that when he grinds people under his heel, he should twist his foot more to the left, or more to the right.