US Security Interests On The Rise Throughout Region

BMI View: The United States will take an increasing interest in Africa from a security perspective, cultivating military partnerships and playing a more active role in the fight against extremism across the continent.

The United States, as the world's sole remaining military superpower, has extensive influence around the world , with almost 200,000 active duty personnel in at least 175 countries, including 38 nations in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). We believe that given the dynamics at work in the region, the United States' military presence, particularly in the form of advising and training local forces, will continue to rise the foreseeable future.

Not A Major Military Priority, For Now

Despite the fact that most SSA countries have some active-duty American military personnel, it should be noted that only two countries have more than 100 (Djibouti with 139 people and Ghana with 115), according to data provided by the US Department of Defense (DoD). The total SSA presence (not including possible classified operations) stood at 810 at the end of 2012. Of the 38 SSA countries with any US military personnel, the median size of this contingent is 8.

The vast majority of US active duty personnel are based in Japan (56,763), Germany (52,264), and locations where major conflicts are ongoing, recently concluding, or potentially brewing , including Afghanistan and South Korea, among others . For the time being, SSA still remains a relatively low priority in terms of US military concerns.

Following the Cold War, the US sought to re-evaluate its overseas commitments, and as African crises were often perceived as intractable, financially costly, and politically problematic, a relatively minimalist approach was employed from 1989 to the mid-1990s. Such an approach seemed further justified by the 199 3 disaster in Mogadishu when what was meant to be a quick and relatively simple operation turned into the bloodiest battle involving US troops since the Vietnam War , with 18 US soldiers killed and scores wounded .

However, US attitudes toward Africa have gradually change d , as American economic and political inter ests in the SSA region increased , and it became clear what the consequences could be for standing on the sidelines during human rights abuses and the disregard of important democratic ideals. A major turning point was the lack of US intervention during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 , a mistake former President Bill Clinton has called one of the greatest regrets of his presidency. Over the course of a few weeks , hundreds of thousands of people (up to 1mn by some estimates), mainly ethnic Tutsis, were brutally killed, while the US prevaricated about the appropriateness of involving itself in what it termed a 'local conflict'. The conflict also threw into question the legitimacy of UN leadership to prevent genocide, one of its central raison s d'etre.

In 1996, the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) was formed, as an attempt to more proactively partner the US with African governments to enhance local capacity to respond to peacekeeping and humanitarian crises , establish a common peacekeeping doctrine, and supply non-lethal military equipment. The original ACRI budget allocation for FY1997 was US$15mn, and partners included Senegal, Uganda, and Malawi. Following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and President George W. Bush's administration's focus on eliminating safe havens for extremism, ACRI was expanded and leaders within the DoD began to seriously consider establishing a unified African Command . Reflecting a change of focus, the ACRI was renamed the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) in 2004, and in 2005, the US Congress approved US$500mn to be spent on the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative over six years , partnering with 11 countries along the Sahel region, and the Pentagon began establishing Cooperative Security Locations in Senegal, Uganda, and Gabon, and expanded use of Camp Lemonnier, a base in Djibouti. In 2008, a unified command was established for Africa, USAFRICOM, and by the end of 2012, formal military partnerships under ACOTA had reached 25 members.

Greater Cooperation Amid Greater Common Threats
Africa - Location Of Top US Security Priorities & ACOTA Membership

Combating terrorism has been at the forefront of American military policy since the early 2000s, and will remain the most important focus for USAFRICOM for the foreseeable future according to US General Carter Ham. Violent Islamic groups have emerged throughout the region, and there are indications that these organisations have begun to communicate with each other and with global militant movements. In its recently-released 2013 Posture Statement, AFRICOM named its top three priorities on the continent, all of which are Islamist militant organisations: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab. In each case, USAFRICOM has been involved in providing intelligence, advice, and logistical support for on-the-ground forces facing each of these threats. In the case of Al-Shabaab, the regional security force known as AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) includes troops from five nations trained through ACOTA (Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Uganda).

Boko Haram High On The Radar
Nigeria - Location And Number Of Boko Haram Attacks, 2012

US military forces have also worked with African nations to combat piracy , which pla g ues both east and west coasts of the continent, and have supported efforts to counter other insurgencies, such as those of the Lord's Resistance Army, the remnants of which still operate in the border regions of Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. AFRICOM reported 12 joint exercises with African militaries and regional forces in 2012.

It is also widely believed that the US may have a growing 'unmanned' military presence; Foreign Policy magazine reported early in May 2013 on what was believed to be eight 'drone bases' scattered across equatorial Africa. The US has acknowledged using unarmed drones for surveillance in the areas occupied by AQIM, remotely controlled from Niger. Predator drone strikes were reported in 2011 in the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Looking Ahead

In the future, the US military presence in Africa will be fraught with challenges. The sudden prominence of hitherto obscure militant groups demonstrates the volatile nature of some African countries' political situations, which can quickly escalate. Furthermore, while AFRICOM states that its most important priority is containing extremists before they have a chance to strike the 'homeland' of the United States, it is arguable whether its involvement in fighting these groups make such an attack more or less likely, since usually their stated grievances are principally local . As an illustration of this concern, the US State Department has not officially designated Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, in part due to worries that doing so would unintentionally afford the group greater prominence, thus making it more dangerous.

Funding may also prove difficult. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen stated in 2010, the budget deficit is 'the number one national security threat', as Congress seeks to slash defence expenditure in order to improve the country's fiscal position. USAFRICOM expressed fears in March 2013 that the sequester (which triggered an across-the-board cut in discretionary spending) will have a serious impact on the military's effectiveness at containing serious threats to US interests.

Despite these challenges, BMI believes that the US will continue to increase its military influence in Africa, although it is most likely to continue to focus on the more cost-effective and diplomatic strategy of advis ing and support ing local forces , rather than establishing large military bases or conducting unilateral operations.

US Combat Operations In Africa
Year Location and name of operation (if applicable)
Source: BMI. Note: Excludes other operations, including security advisement, humanitarian efforts, and US Embassy security emergencies/evacuations
1989 Libya - 2nd Gulf of Sidra Incident. Two Libyan fighter jets shot down over the Mediterranean by US forces
1993 Somalia - Operation Gothic Serpant ('Black Hawk Down')
1998 Sudan - Operation Infinite Reach. US warships launch cruise missile attack against suspected chemical factory
2003 Djibouti - US troops deployed to support anti-terrorism efforts
2004 Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea - War on Terrorism. Further anti-extremist operations
2007 Somalia - Battle of Ras Kamboni. US Air Force gunships fire on suspected terrorists
2011 Somalia - Drone strikes on Al-Shabaab militants
2011 Libya - Operation Odyssey Dawn. US participates in coalition enforcement of UN resolution, multiple airstrikes against Qadafi regime during civil war
This article is tagged to:
Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Africa

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