March 2008

AFRICOM’s HQ in West Africa is up at the African Loft. It looks as if AFRICOM may go with a sea base for the West African regional headquarters. That way they can move it to whatever country falls within their interest.

Now that the US is exploring sea basing off West Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea, these questions posed by Africa Action’s Gerald LeMelle take on even greater urgency:

  • Who does the United States intend to stabilize by introducing more military equipment and approving more arms sales into the region?
  • How does the United States decide when to use force in “stabilizing” a conflict?
  • If people are protesting unfair corporate practices near the grounds of an oil company, will the United States use force, or encourage the use of force by African military units, to protect these corporate assets?
  • Will U.S. soldiers be accountable in any way to African governments or their citizens?
  • To what degree will the United States employ mercenaries and other contractors in Africa?
  • Will U.S. economic interests trump the rule of law, democracy and accountability in Africa?

USS FORT MCHENRY, at sea — Marines from 4th Landing Support Battalion and Sailors from Amphibious Construction Battalion 2, position a seven-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle as it is moved from the USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo, a maritime prepositioning ship, onto the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) March 21. The Marines are transferring the equipment in order to evaluate the INLS at sea and to conduct a humanitarian assistance mission in Monrovia, Liberia as part of West African Training Cruise 2008. The WATC 08 exercise began March 17 and runs through April 5 in concert with the ongoing African Partnership Station deployment with a focus on the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies to various clinics and schools here from a sea-based command. (Department of Defense photo by Marine Sgt. Rocco DeFilippis)

US Marines engaged in an exercise off the coast of Liberia to test sea basing capabilities. An AFRICOM base has not been welcomed in any African country except Liberia. The Pentagon has been planning for some time to create sea bases where they may not be welcome on the land. Implementation of sea basing has now begun. And where better to practice than offshore of a country where they are welcome, and by bringing much needed medical and school supplies.

Back in July 2007 Nick Turse wrote in Planet Pentagon:

The Pentagon is now considering — and planning for — future “sea-basing.” No longer just a ship, a fleet, or “prepositioned material” stationed on the world’s oceans, sea-bases will be “a hybrid system-of-systems consisting of concepts of operations, ships, forces, offensive and defensive weapons, aircraft, communications and logistics.” The notion of such bases is increasingly popular within the military due to the fact that they “will help to assure access to areas where U.S. military forces may be denied access to support [land] facilities.” After all, as a report by the Defense Science Board pointed out, “[S]eabases are sovereign [and] not subject to alliance vagaries.” Imagine a future where the people of countries at odds with U.S. policies suddenly find America’s “massive seaborne platforms” floating just outside their territorial waters.

That is now coming to pass:

With the help of the Navy’s Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One, 19 Marines of 4th LSB employed new concepts and equipment during the exercise designed to evaluate the progress of the seabasing model.

“This sea-basing portion is designed to take future operational concepts and execute them using today’s platforms,” said Michael Harvey, prepositioning officer, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe. “We are taking equipment that was originally designed for ship-to-shore movement and we are using it as a ship-to-ship connecter.”

Assisted by their naval counterparts, the Marines’ mission was to transfer seven Marine Corps vehicles embarked on the USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo of the Maritime Preposition Squadron One, to the Navy’s new Improved Navy Lighterage System. The INLS is a system of floating causeways designed to move equipment from ship-to-shore. After a short ride on the INLS, the Marines drove the vehicles from the INLS platforms directly into the well deck of the USS Fort McHenry, where they are being prepared for the next phases of WATC 08.

“We are dealing with multiple naval platforms during this exercise, tying in with African Partnership Station,” said Marine Lt. Col. Clarence R. Edmonds, Eurasia regional planner, Marine Forces Europe. “[The INLS] gives us the stable platform we need to offload vehicles and equipment from one ship to another at sea.”

The exercise marked the first time that the INLS had been assembled and used in an open sea environment, Edmonds said. The capabilities provided by the INLS make it possible for the Marine Corps to operate in more flexible ways.

“The sea-basing environment gives us the opportunity to offload select equipment, materials and supplies to conduct arrival and assembly operations at sea,” Edmonds said. “This gives us multiple capabilities to execute a mission ashore, within a very limited time frame and with a very limited footprint [ashore].”

The mission was welcomed in Monrovia:

MONROVIA, Liberia (March 27, 2008) (linked page by Marine Sgt. Rocco DeFilippis no longer available)– The streets were lined with hundreds of smiling faces and thumbs-up signs. Happy shouts of “Marines!” were directed towards a humanitarian assistance convoy of two seven-ton trucks and several humvees laden with thousands of dollars worth of hospital and school supplies making their way slowly through the city of Monrovia, Liberia.
. . .

The supplies consisted of multiple disposable medical supplies, furniture, text books and other school supplies. The total value of the items to be delivered over the two days is $58,000.

“Today is a day that the Lord has made, because we have been long awaiting these supplies to come in,” said Rev. Elwood Jangaba, director of Agencies for Holistic Evangelism and Development International associated with the Logan Town clinic. “I think they are going to make a great impact to the community when we see the health care delivery system in this community brought to life.”

“We are working to establish those friendly relationships while at the same time exposing the Marines to a new and different culture,” said Maj. Jason Smith, convoy commander and a Marysville, Wash., native. “I wouldn’t call (the supplies) luxury items, but these supplies will provide a definite improvement to the quality of life at these facilities.”
. . .
“It’s not only a great training exercise, but it’s a good opportunity to experience something new working with another country in peace-time environment,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon S. Malone, 4th LSB heavy equipment operator and Vienna, Ohio native.

. . .

“Because of the magnitude of the exercise, the Marines knew that preparation for this mission would be key,” Smith said. “All of the Marines have put a lot of time into this outside their own regularly scheduled training. All of the Marines were really excited once they got this opportunity.”

The convoy fits into the larger picture of WATC 08, by serving as a component of a sea-basing exercise. During the first phases, equipment aboard Maritime Prepositioning Ships USNS 2nd Lt John Bobo and USNS Lance Cpl. Roy M. Wheat was linked up with forces from aboard the USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), assembled at sea and then transferred between the naval platforms using the Improved Navy Lighterage System. Using the causeways and ferry system that makes up the INLS, the Marines were capable of moving vehicles from ship-to-ship in open seas for the first time.

“The importance of this phase for the Marine Corps is two fold,” said Lt. Col. Roy Edmonds, exercise support team officer-in-charge and native of Dallas. “Not only does it show that we can operate from a sea base, transit through an austere port and execute a humanitarian assistance mission; but it also gives us an opportunity to conduct security cooperation with the Armed Forces of Liberia and establish positive relations through good will.”

You can find pictures of the exercise and more at the Photo Gallery – African Partnership Station

I am very glad the US brought medical and school supplies to Liberia. I think the US owes Liberia a lot more than it has begun to deliver. But all of West Africa should take notice of this initial exercise in sea basing. AFRICOM is a combatant command. US assistance to Africa in recent years has mostly been massive military investment and transfer of arms and weapons, primarily to those countries that produce oil. A sea base provides far more freedom, flexibility, and access to interfere in the sovereign affairs of African countries. At this point, this is particularly true for West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. The dangers have just gone up.

AFRICOM has raised the interest in African languages such that they have appointed a new head of the Defense Language Institute who is a specialist in African languages:

Appointment of an old Africa hand as commandant of the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey seems to reflect the emerging importance of that continent to U.S. military thinkers and planners.

Army Col. Sue Ann Sandusky took command of the language school in October, the same month that the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) — a unified combatant command of the Defense Department headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, and responsible for U.S. military operations in, and military relations with, 53 African nations — was established.

The command is responsible for all of Africa, except Egypt.

Sandusky, 55, has served as a defense and Army attaché in U.S. embassies in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. She completed the French language course at DLI in 1992, and her first assignment to Africa was as a student at the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Staff College.

Prior to her appointment as commandant of the language school, she was director of African studies at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

AFRICOM will provide “a single focus on the continent of Africa” and be dedicated full time to the military aspect of U.S. policy there, she said.

She also emphasizes the idea of “stabilizing” what they call “failed states”.

One of the elements that has triggered military interest in the continent, she said, has been an effort to prevent parts of Africa from becoming “failed” or “fragile” states — “ungoverned spaces” where terrorists can organize and operate freely.

That interest has been reflected in publication of a new Army field manual “that has elevated stability operations to the level of combat operations” in importance, operations that apply to failing states and nation-building, Sandusky said.

“You don’t have to have an active, hot conflict to apply them,” she said, adding that AFRICOM sees its mission as more related to stabilization than combat.

“It’s clear that a large component of stabilization has to do with understanding the culture you’re operating in. That is directly related to what we’re doing at DLI,” she said.

The field manual “has institutionalized negotiations, understanding of culture and language” as valuable miliary skills, she said.

Sandusky took command of DLI with a student body that has grown by 38 percent since 2001, to about 3,500. The number of faculty at the school has grown to 2,800, including 1,700 accredited faculty members.

Based on information to date, “stabilizing” in Pentagon speak means preserving the ability of the US to extract resources comfortably without paying a fair price. And a “failed state” is one that resists or is hostile to the US extracting its natural resources, especially oil. Africa is rich in resources, and many countries and corporations are lusting after them.

From Kenya’s Daily Nation comes the headline:
Farmers planting maize that poses threat to humans

Farmers in one of Kenya’s largest grain-producing areas have been cultivating genetically modified maize that is potentially harmful to human health without knowing it.

The Sunday Nation can exclusively report that the relevant seeds are sourced from a South African company that is a subsidiary of Dupont, a leading US-based biotechnology firm.

This was revealed to the Sunday Nation by officials of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), a body that brings together 45 farmer groups, NGOs and civil society bodies.
. . .
After tests, it was conclusively established that the sample was contaminated with traces of MON810, a genetically modified maize variety owned and marketed by Monsanto, an American biotechnology company.
. . .

Long-running suspicions

The revelation confirms long-running suspicions among many Kenyan farmers that they could have been cultivating genetically modified varieties of maize without being aware of it.

“Initially, we were given the suspect seeds as donations by politicians and we planted them. But when we harvested, the maize started rotting almost immediately,” said Isabel Wandati, a farmer and official of a women’s group in Butere.

She laments that she finds it impossible to replant the same maize and blames the Kenya Bureau of Standards for not properly inspecting the relevant maize variety.

She adds that instead of arming farmers in Butere with the relevant information on the variety, the local agricultural extension officials have been championing its cultivation.

There is now a danger that the country’s entire maize crop could be contaminated with traces of MON810. This is because maize is a cross-pollinated crop and pollen that bears traces of MON810 might be transported by wind from contaminated farms into uncontaminated ones.

The variety is patented by Monsanto and is banned in several European countries because of its negative impact on the environment and its harmful consequences on such useful insects, such as butterflies and bees.

Research conducted in some European countries had shown that feeding mice on the variety damaged their kidneys and livers.

However, its effects on humans is yet to be fully studied since maize is generally not used as human food in Europe and America. It is instead fed to horses and other domestic animals.

Once the country’s maize crop is contaminated with genetically modified varieties, Kenya risks losing traditional hybrid varieties that were painstakingly developed by KARI at the taxpayer’s expense.

Genetically modified grains are injected with bacteria that produce poison to kill nuisance pests and resist adverse weather conditions.

However, these poisonous bacteria have the downside of potentially destroying the soil by killing helpful bacteria and insects. Also, they compromise food safety and might prove to be harmful to humans over time once the grains are consumed.

From come these findings:

Since approving the MON810 in 1998 there have been a host of studies that have shown alarming results

for example:

  • A study by Swiss researchers found fewer flying insects in Bt maize fields. Flying insects are important food sources for insect-eating birds and bats.2
  • A study published in 2003 found that earthworms feeding on Bt maize litter showed a weight loss compared to a weight gain in earthworms feeding on nonGM maize. Earthworms are extremely important for nutrient cycling in soils.3
  • A study in Switzerland found that the Bt toxin could still be detected in soil the following year after the Bt maize was harvested.4

In fairness to Monsanto, I don’t think it is only African agriculture they wish to colonize and control. I think it is the whole world. But the complicity of governments promoting the use of these seeds needs to be checked. Kenya’s entire maize crop is at risk, and may already be contaminated. The farmer’s words are most worrisome Initially, we were given the suspect seeds as donations by politicians and we planted them. But when we harvested, the maize started rotting almost immediately” and that: She laments that she finds it impossible to replant the same maize. This sounds like they may be using terminator seeds. The plants are genetically engineered so that the seeds are sterile, forcing the farmers to buy new seed each year, rather than save and plant seeds from the previous crop. Populations are exposed to famine just because they may not have money to buy new seeds. Lives are dependent on the seed vendor. The vendor, or government sponsor, can trap the farmers in a cycle of debt, pricing seeds so that the farmers are forced to borrow each year in order to plant, and never escape debt.

GM, genetically modified, seeds can cross pollinate and contaminate non GM crops. Supposedly to prevent this, Monsanto has developed seeds that are sterile. Unfortunately they can still cross pollinate. The resulting seeds can’t grow, which is an additional contamination. The seeds that have been genetically modified not to grow are called terminator seeds.

In the past I have been skeptical of the people crying about GM foods. I have wondered if some of the fear was more superstition than science. The more I read, the more I realize there are serious reasons to be wary and skeptical of GM food. Even contained experiments have cross polinated outside of their contained zones. The west needs to do its research and experimentation at home. And it needs to provide some conclusive evidence of safety IF the seeds are safe.

One friend says that “I’m sorry” is the white man’s national anthem. He cuts off your brother’s head and then says “Oh, I’m sorry”, and you are supposed to take it.

It looks like the US is trying to colonize Africa militarily with AFRICOM, and colonize it agriculturally as well, with GM seeds and biofuel plantations. While this is not necessarily about race, there is a racial component. “I’m sorry” later on will not compensate for the suffering and destruction caused by these hugely mistaken approaches to the continent.

As another friend of mine used to say: Don’t be sorry, be careful.

Foreign Policy In Focus features an article by Joseph Gerson, Resisting the Empire, about efforts to resist American militarism around the globe. He writes about AFRICOM:


U.S. planners anticipate that by 2015 Africa will provide the U.S. with 25% of its imported oil. With Islamist political forces operating across northern Africa, the continent is also seen as an important front in the misconceived “war on terrorism.” So, to “promote peace and stability on the continent” the Bush Administration and the Pentagon want to augment the U.S. military presence in Africa, beginning with the transfer of the Africa Command, AFRICOM, from remote Germany to an accommodating African nation. As President Bush learned during his recent ill-fated African tour, the continent’s leaders are understandably reluctant to accept renewed military colonization. Ghana’s President John Kufuour put it bluntly when he met with Bush, saying, “You’re not going to build any bases in Ghana.”

Africa is not free of bases. France and Britain still have bases scattered there. The U.S. has bases in Djibouti and Algeria, access agreements with Morocco and Egypt, and is in the process of creating a “family” of military bases in sub-Saharan Africa (Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Sao Tome, Senegal and Uganda.) And, although Bush responded to African fears about AFRICOM’s possible relocation by saying that such rumors were “baloney” and “bull,” he also conceded that: “We haven’t made our minds up.”

With a growing No AFRICOM movement in the United States that’s that is allied with anti-colonialist forces in Africa, this is one U.S. threat that can be contained.

Of course Kufuor has been very buddy buddy with Bush. And there is a huge ongoing US military presence in Ghana. The mention of Senegal above, and the fact that General Ward mentioned that country four times in his recent testimony (Ward testimony – PDF) makes me think they may be grooming Senegal to be the regional HQ for AFRICOM. Djibouti, JTF-HOA is supposed to be the model for AFRICOM. As I understand the planning now, they intend to set up a similar installation in each region. So talk of a single huge headquarters base is a red herring to distract observers from what is actually going on.

There is a lot in this article, Africa: Africom vs. Peacekeeping, since time is short, I’ll just provide a few quotes that are right on target.

This expansion of U.S. military operations in Africa is cause for serious alarm. The Bush administration has clearly given priority to defense above diplomacy – a power imbalance that is likely to result in further destabilization of the African continent. AFRICOM is a command designed to fulfill a short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive vision of U.S. global interests to expand the War on Terror and to satisfy America’s hunger for oil and other resources. Such self-interested goals will be to the detriment of African civilians whose needs and concerns will be overshadowed by special interest groups like oil companies and private military contractors.

. . .

. . . the military bias will, as in the past, contribute to human rights abuses and ongoing conflict rather than promoting security based on African needs.

The record of U.S. bilateral military engagement, whether in Africa or elsewhere in the world, provides little evidence to support the view that the effects will be positive. Those who support AFRICOM should have the burden of proof to the contrary. If anyone can cite an example of successful U.S. bilateral military engagement in terms of promoting peace and reconstruction, in the period since the post-World War II reconstruction of Germany and Japan, AfricaFocus would welcome referrals to evidence of such cases.

. . .

Militarizing Africa (Again)

Real Reasons for AFRICOM

Professional military officers have made it clear that the new Africa Command has three main purposes. First and foremost, the new command’s main mission is to protect American access to Africa’s oil and other resources, preferably by enhancing the ability of African allies to guard these resources themselves on behalf of the United States. But, to prepare for the day that Washington decides to try to use American troops in a desperate bid to keep them flowing, the United States is also acquiring access to local African military bases and dramatically expanding its naval presence off Africa’s coastline, especially in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea region. Imports from Africa are expected to reach 25% by 2015, making Africa one of the largest future suppliers of U.S. oil – larger even than the Persian Gulf.

The new command will also expand and intensify counter-terrorism operations in Africa and will make the continent a central battlefield in the Global War on Terror. Through AFRICOM, the Pentagon will intensify and extend U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Africa as well as its involvement in counter-insurgency warfare and other internal security operations in African countries. American troops are already engaged in combat operations in Somalia where air and naval strikes aimed at alleged al-Qaeda members instead killed dozens of Somali civilians in January and June 2007 and U.S. troops were engaged in combat-support operations in Mali in September 2007.

Finally, the new command is designed to counter China’s efforts to increase its influence and its access to African oil and other raw materials. The creation of AFRICOM is one element of a broad effort to develop a “grand strategy” on the part of the United States to compete with, and eventually restrain China’s activities. It is also intended to demonstrate to Beijing that Washington will match China’s actions, thus serving as a warning to Chinese leaders that they should restrain themselves or face possible consequences to their relationship with America as well as to their interests in Africa.

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