The U.S. Africa Command: What To Know About America’s Military Presence in Africa

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, modified by Curiousmatic. 

What is the U.S. Africa Command, and what does the U.S. gain from increasing their military presence in Africa?

The U.S. Africa Command, also known as AFRICOM, builds defense, responds to crisis, and deters and defeats transnational threats to promote regional security, stability, and prosperity in Africa, according to their website.

AFRICOM is one of nine U.S. combatant commands, for which efforts are concentrated on continuing the development of African militia that “respect human rights, adhere to the rule of law, and more effectively contribute to stability in Africa.”

More recently, their presence has expanded in order to combat the deadly Ebola virus and continued threats of Islamic extremism.

Here’s what you should know about the U.S. Africa Command and their missions in Africa.

First things first: Why Africa?

As the U.S.  has attempted to pull the reins on a long and tumultuous presence in the Middle East, albeit with limited success, the sour taste left by U.S. invasion and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan has transformed into a hunger for more productive uses of our resources.

According to the LA Times, Africa is a land of opportunity, in which the U.S. military can expand its own relevance and continue efforts to curb terrorism utilizing a 3D approach: Development, defense, and diplomacy.

Though AFRICOM insists they will be stepping lightly, there is evidence of American footprint all over the continent: An expansive (if understated) pivot to Africa.

Where are Africa Command’s troops located?

The United States has troops in about 38 African countries, with 5000 or more troops frequently on the continent. This is only a fraction compared to the forces under Central Command ( in the Middle East) and Pacific Command (in Asia), but it’s enough to make significant impact.

Countries with the most troops include Djibouti, where Camp Lemonnier houses over 4,000 troops, and Uganda, where a major surveillance base is located. A handful of other nations host U.S. drone sites.

What are the troops doing?

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Africa Command has already in its five years of existence improved the quality of military-to-military engagements across the continent ensure a safer and more secure continent, which (in their opinion) is in the best interest of Africa, the U.S., and the world.

Operations aid African armies by mentoring, assisting, and enabling them so that they can, under U.S. guidance, counter opposition and terrorism.

Involvement thus far has included, but is not limited to:

  • Assisting Congo, Uganda, and Central African Republic in search for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army
  • Assisting search for girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chad and Nigeria
  • “Liasion support” in war-torn Mali
  • An expanding presence in West Africa to combat Ebola with military healthcare and medicine
  • Various surveillance hubs to monitor Islamic extremists associated with Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc
  • Continent-wide humanitarian projects

Controversy: American motives and impact 

Good military Samaritanism aside, the U.S. certainly benefits from an expansive presence in Africa. Some have even called the Pentagon’s placement of army brigades across the continent an attempt to make all of Africa a theater of U.S. military operations.

A heavier American involvement could also, in theory, offset the influence of China, which has been courting and investing in Africa’s growing market since the late ’70’s.

But while Africa has a lot to offer (it’s home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, and ripe with resources which include oil, diamonds, copper, gold, uranium, silver and petroleum), it is also party to serious human rights violations, which America has in some respects turned a blind eye to.

Despite the DoD’s claims, American presence may more of a burden than a blessing: According to Al Jazeera, military expansion is challenging domestic security and democratization more than it is contributing to it.

It has also been reported that humanitarian projects have not been properly planned, documented, or proven to be sustainable.

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Jennifer Markert