TAKORADI, Ghana, (Nov. 28, 2007) Lt. j.g. Erica Goodwin visits the children going to school next door to Essikado Hospital in Takoradi, Ghana. Members of Africa Partnership Station (APS) visited the school while working at the hospital to assess the possibility of working on the school during a future community relations project. The APS volunteers spent three days at the hospital building shelves, benches, laying concrete, painting and fixing the ambulance. 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 2nd Class Elizabeth Merriam, 071128-N-0193M-401 Released) A cheerful picture, regardless of doubts about the APS.

We can learn a lot about AFRICOM by observing US military activity in the Philippines, particularly if we understand the thinking behind it. Much of the military planning of the Bush administration has been done by participants in PNAC, Project for the New American Century. PNAC has been around since the early 90s and includes Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and just about all the other neocon “thinkers” who wanted to invade Iraq since the early 90s, caused the invasion in 2003, and got it so wrong. They are the same ones who have been threatening Iran on the basis of information they know to be false. They used 9/11 to implement plans they had been discussing for years, taking advantage of the attack to push an increasingly aggressive militarism on the US and the world.

The self-avowed aim of the US is to perpetuate its position of being the world’s sole superpower in order to re-order the world. Its strategy to perpetuate its status is to prevent the rise of any rivals. To do this, it is seeking the capacity to deter and defeat potential enemies anywhere in the world by retaining and realigning its “global posture” or its ability to operate across the globe through its worldwide network of forward-deployed troops, bases, and access agreements. Today, the US believes that, of all its potential rivals, China poses the greatest threat and must therefore be contained before it becomes even more powerful. [1]

As well as calling for “regime change” in Iraq, some PNAC neocons have called for “regime change” in China and describe: “the defining military conflicts of the twenty-first century: if not a big war with China, then a series of Cold War-style standoffs that stretch out over years and decades.”

Although at present: “China lacks the military capacity to compete with the United States; neither does it appear to be seeking to.”[1] I am sure the neocons imagine many of their “Cold War-style standoffs” taking place in Africa, over African resources, especially oil.

In the guise of fighting terrorism, but in fact to “contain” China, US is unofficially reclaiming the Philippines as a military base of operations. The Philippines is generally friendly to the US, and strategically placed near China. The methods used in the Philippines look a lot like what the USS Fort McHenry is doing as the African Partnership Station along the Gulf of Guinea, or like what is happening in Djibouti.

Two articles detail how the US is reclaiming the Philippines as a military base, and also reveal a great deal about what all the AFRICOM talk about partnerships, aid, and development mean. The first of these:
At the door of all the east: the Philippines in United States Military Strategy by Herbert Docena, ISBN 978-971-92886-8-8 [1]
is extensively and meticulously documented, and in more abbreviated form:
How the US got its Philippine bases back by Herbert Docena in Asia Times [2]

The US closed its bases in the Philippines in 1991-2, but since 2001, a constant and increasing stream of US military personnel has been rotating in and out. No individuals, or individual units are there for long, but new units are constantly arriving.

For those who have been reading about AFRICOM, this should sound familiar:

Recognizing constraints posed by political realities (a population hostile to American military bases), the US has since been seeking access in ways that would be able to overcome domestic opposition by taking gradual and tentative but incremental steps, publicly justifying them in ways that are more acceptable to the public – i.e. as part of the “war on terror”, to help modernize . . . etc.
. . .
. . . few are the days or weeks when there would be no US troops somewhere in the country giving lectures to . . . troops, participating in large-scale maneuvers, joining command exercises, simulating war games, or taking part in other related activities. . . .

Largely presented as efforts to modernize the . . . armed forces, the objectives behind the exercises are manifold and overlapping. First, the exercises allow the US military to be more familiar with the capabilities, organization, doctrines, and other characteristics of military forces . . . which they may have to fight against or fight alongside with in the future. . . . “[G]iven that these . . . militaries may well be U.S. partners or adversaries in future contingencies, becoming familiar with their capabilities and operating style and learning to operate with them are important.”
. . .
“Maintaining an active program of military-to-military contacts . . . (so that) when the need arises, US military forces can find adequate access to perform their missions both quickly and safely.”
. . .
Implicit in the relationship – as has been the case in previous US-led wars – is that the US will retain over-all command of any coalition in war. Hence, the goal behind the efforts to build ties with, train, strengthen, and develop the capabilities of local militaries is actually to de facto subsume and subordinate them under the US military organization.

. . .
Access over time can develop into habitual use of certain facilities by deployed US forces with the eventual goal of being guaranteed use in a crisis, or permission to pre-position logistics stocks and other critical material in strategic forward locations.”

As US troops come and go in rotation for frequent, regular exercises, their presence – when taken together – makes up a formidable forward-presence that brings them closer to areas of possible action without need for huge infrastructure to support them and without inciting a lot of public attention and opposition.

. . .

“A cooperative security location can be a tucked-away corner of a host country’s civilian airport, or a dirt runway somewhere with fuel and mechanical help nearby, or a military airport in a friendly country with which we have no formal basing agreement but, rather, an informal arrangement with private contractors acting as go-betweens … The United States provides aid to upgrade maintenance facilities, thereby helping the host country to better project its own air and naval power in the region. At the same time, we hold periodic exercises with the host country’s military, in which the base is a focus. We also offer humanitarian help to the surrounding area. Such civil-affairs projects garner positive publicity for our military in the local media… The result is a positive diplomatic context for getting the host country’s approval for use of the base when and if we need it.”

This is what has been going on in the Philippines, and this is what the AFRICOM training, partnerships, aid and development are all about. It brings the words of Nigeria’s General Victor Malu into sharper focus (though this was some years earlier):

To make matters worse, even when we have reluctantly accepted because of the pressure from our Commander-in-Chief, to allow the Americans to train us, the Americans insisted they must live in the barracks with the soldiers. I left Abuja and flew to Sokoto to go and meet the governor, to plead with him to give us an area outside the barracks we would prepare it for the Americans. The governor accepted to do that. But the Americans turned it down insisting that they must live in the barracks with soldiers. I asked General Danjuma who was my GOC as far back as 1970, I said sir, you are my GOC in 1970, would you have allowed any army of any other country to come and stay with your own troops in the barracks? Well, at a point I didn’t know whether he understood me or not, but this was the type of argument that was going on.

The other thing that is happening in the Philippines is that US is making special forces a more permanent presence, although one of which both the US and the Philippine public are not really aware.

Since 2002, a unit now called the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) has been deployed to . . . the southern Philippines. (T)his unit has continuously maintained its presence in the country for the past six years.

. . .
US troops belonging to the unit have characterized their mission as “unconventional warfare”, “foreign internal defense” and “counter-insurgency”.
. . .
As Colonel Jim Linder, former head of JSOTF-P, has stated, “We’re very much in a war out here … We’ll spill American blood on Jolo. It’s only by luck, skill and the grace of God we haven’t yet.”
. . .
In terms of profile and mission, the JSOTF-P is similar to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-Horn of Africa), which was established in Djibouti in eastern Africa in 2003 and also composed mostly of Special Forces. Like the JSOTF-P, the CJTF-Horn of Africa has also been conducting “humanitarian” missions and aid projects. Similar to the Philippines, Djibouti has also seen a dramatic increase in the amount of military aid it receives from the US. As a sample of the US’s new austere basing template, the CJTF-Horn of Africa has been described as the “model for future US military operations“.

And the infrastructure and humanitarian projects all have military significance. All of this is relevant to AFRICOM:

But it is not just military assistance per se that has military dimensions. Economic aid, development projects, or other forms of indirect compensation . . . may also be given with military considerations in mind. For example, for the past few years USAID has been constructing dozens of roads, piers, wharfs, bridges, and other infrastructure projects in the very areas where US troops have been deployed. As of 2006, USAID had finished 558 small infrastructure projects and 20 larger ones in Mindanao. As previously mentioned, many of these infrastructure projects support US military mobility; at the same time, they have also proven very useful in gaining local public acceptance for US military presence. For the Special Forces, especially, the infrastructure and humanitarian projects are seen as instrumental in “winning hearts and minds” in the aim of getting what they call “actionable” intelligence. As Army Captain Steve Battle of the JSOTF-P admitted, “I have a military objective behind my projects.” Former JSOTF-P commander Col. Jim Linder said, “To do my job right, I am embedded inside USAID.”

It is important for us all to be aware of what is really going on. There is much more in both these articles worth considering, with implications for all of Africa.