The USS Fort McHenry in Dakar Senegal. This picture was attributed to a US Navy photographer by the State Department. Then later MSNBC attributed it to an AP photographer, Rebecca Blackwell. As per a comment from b real, this change in attribution looks rather like state propaganda.

Also from the State Department: Africans will be ferried to their floating school, the USS Fort McHenry, via a high-speed Swift boat. (U.S. Navy)

Africa Partnership Station (APS), embarked aboard amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), escorts news media into a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), while the Senegalese navy displays their training.
DAKAR, Senegal (Nov. 7, 2007) – Africa Partnership Station (APS), embarked aboard amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), escorts news media into a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), while the Senegalese navy displays their training to enhance regional and maritime safety and security. APS is scheduled to bring international training teams to Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe, and will support more than 20 humanitarian assistance projects in addition to hosting information exchanges and training with partner nations during its seven-month deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class R.J. Stratchko (RELEASED)

At a military ECOWAS meeting in Liberia:

West African military chiefs charged that the United States has failed to adequately consult with countries that will be affected by a planned American military command for Africa.
. . .

“The heads of state should be fully briefed; the heads of state should ask pertinent questions that will give them the direction to cooperate fully,” said Col. Toure Mahamane, head of political affairs, peace and security with the commission of the 15-member Economic Community Of West African States, or ECOWAS.

He said the U.S. had neglected such procedures in a disregard for common “due process” on the continent.

Meanwhile the USS Fort McHenry is off the coast of West Africa, and has begun its training mission off the coast of Senegal. For an excellent summary of the history of AFRICOM, and how the AFRICOM spending is being planned see:

Africom: The new US military command for Africa by Daniel Volman.

. . . the difference between Africom and other commands—and the allegedly “unfounded” nature of its implications for the militarization of the continent—are not as real or genuine as the Bush administration officials would have us believe. Of course Washington has other interests in Africa besides making it into another front in its Global War on Terrorism, maintaining and extending access to energy supplies and other strategic raw material, and competing with China and other rising economic powers for control over the continent’s resources; these include helping Africans deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other emerging diseases, strengthening and assisting peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts, and responding to humanitarian disasters. But it is simply disingenuous to suggest that accomplishing these three objectives is not the main reason that Washington is now devoting so much effort and attention to the continent. And of course Washington would prefer that selected friendly regimes take the lead in meeting these objects, so that the United States can avoid direct military involvement in Africa . . . The hope that the Pentagon can build up African surrogates who can act on behalf of the United States is precisely why Washington is providing so much security assistance to these regimes and why it would like to provide even more in the future. Indeed, as argued below, this is actually one of the main reasons that Africom is being created at this time.
. . .
U.S.S. Fort McHenry amphibious assault ship will begin a six-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea in November 2007. The ship will carry 200-300 sailors and U.S. Coast Guard personnel and will call at ports in eleven countries (Angola, Benin, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo). Its mission will be to serve as a “floating schoolhouse” to train local forces in port and oil-platform security, search-and rescue missions, and medical and humanitarian assistance. According to Admiral Ulrich, the deployment matches up perfectly with the work of the new Africa Command. “If you look at the direction that the Africa Command has been given and the purpose of standing up the Africom, you’ll see that the (Gulf of Guinea) mission is closely aligned,” he told reporters.

The perfect match Admiral Ulrich describes is also a perfect match for training African surrogates to act for US interests. Volman provides some breakdown of AFRICOM related budget appropriations and requests. According to the figures he provides, it looks like a lot more is being spent on military arms and equipment than on any “humanitarian” endeavors. What is also interesting is the money that was not requested:

African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program)

This program provides specialized equipment (such as patrol vessels and vehicles, communications equipment, night vision devices, and electronic monitors and sensors) to African countries to improve their ability to patrol and defend their own coastal waters and borders from terrorist operations, smuggling, and other illicit activities. In some cases, airborne surveillance and intelligence training also may be provided. In FY 2006, the ACBS Program received nearly $4 million in FMF funding, and Bush administration requested $4 million in FMF funding for the program in FY 2007. No dedicated funding was requested for FY 2008, but the program may be revived in the future.

What appears to me to be the current greatest threat to civil society along the coast of West Africa is organized crime, and right now the cocaine trade is the major problem for Ghana. There is also heroin, illegal oil bunkering, and human traffiking, and illegal fishing. And all of these (including the fishing?) are one and the same with the arms trade. Illegal goods are used to pay for arms. And arms are used to pay for illegal goods. The African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program) sounds like it would help African countries protect themselves. Protecting themselves is one of the reasons AFRICOM spokesman Theresa Whelan has given for the command. As the State Department article puts it:

The USS Fort McHenry arrived off the coast of West Africa in November to lead an international team of experts that will train African sailors to confront the daily challenges of illegal fishing, piracy, drug trafficking and oil smuggling.

It is easy to add this lack of a funding request to the list of behaviors that make it look like the US is training Africans to act in US interests, and not in their own interests. Although I am profoundly skeptical about US military assistance in Africa, this is the area where it could conceivably be helpful. The US war on drugs has been a resounding failure. The US training for Latin American military has been a breeding ground for coups and crime. So maybe Africa is better off without that kind of help. But the fact that no 2008 funding was requested for this program is worth noting.

It does not look like any country is turning down the training the US is offering. I think it would be foolish to do so. It is always useful to see first hand what your “neighbors” are doing and planning, particularly if they are concealing their motives and intentions.

Before Bush, US military training was the best in the world. Now, with the Bush administration reliance on mercenaries, and with the US military increasingly deployed in Iraq without adequate protective gear, training, or rests between deployments, the US military is in serious trouble. What effect this will have in Africa remains to be seen. Oversupplies of arms and mercenaries look like the biggest danger.