Blowback is coming
Nick Turse writes at TomDispatch:
The other day, Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-supported Afghan president who was once sardonically nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul,” had a few curious things to say about American policy in the Muslim world. Karzai, of course, is a man whose opinions — whether on U.S. special operations forces and their (out of control) militias, U.S. night raids on Afghan homes, or U.S. air strikes on Afghan villages — Washington loves to ignore. He is considered “volatile.” Sometimes, however, it’s worth listening to what our subordinate allies, uncomfortable nationalists-cum-puppets, think and say about us.
As Josh Rogin reported at the Daily Beast, Karzai recently suggested that, starting in the early 1980s when the Reagan administration and the CIA buddied up with the Saudis and Pakistani intelligence and backed a set of extreme fundamentalist Afghan rebels against the Soviets, the U.S. has been, advertently or not, promoting Islamic radicalism in the Greater Middle East. As Karzai said of that long-forgotten moment, “The more radical we looked and talked, the more we were called mujahedin. The consequence of that was a massive effort toward uprooting traditional Afghan values and culture and tolerance.” In his speech at the 2013 U.S.-Islamic World Forum, he made a case for the ways in which Washington’s destabilization of the region has never ended, provoking ever more extreme blowback as it goes.
Without a doubt, the central event in the multi-decade fiasco that for a few years was known as the Global War on Terror was the invasion of Iraq, Washington’s preeminent act of folly so far in the twenty-first century. Its disastrous effects have yet to be fully absorbed or assessed. Yet without that invasion, it is hard to imagine a whole series of developments, including the present killing fields in Syria, the potential disintegration of Iraq itself, the Arab Spring, or the spread of extreme Islamic factions ever more widely in a vast region. The irony, of course, is that the Bush administration and the neocon types who set so much of this in motion used to refer to the Greater Middle East from North Africa to the Chinese border disparagingly as “the arc of instability.” Today, it increasingly looks like an arc of chaos and, as Nick Turse indicates, the process, far from ending, seems to be spreading — in this case, deep into Africa.
Turse, author of the recent bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, has been following the latest U.S. global command, AFRICOM, as it embeds American military power ever more fully on the African continent. (In the process, he has engaged in full-scale public debate with that command over the nature of what it is doing.) Today, he offers a magisterial overview of what can be known about the increasing American military presence in Africa and how it is continuing a now more than three-decade-old process of spurring destabilization, the growth of radical Islamic movements, and blowback in a new region of the planet. Tom
The Terror Diaspora
The U.S. Military and the Unraveling of Africa
By Nick Turse
The Gulf of Guinea. He said it without a hint of irony or embarrassment. This was one of U.S. Africa Command’s big success stories. The Gulf… of Guinea.
Never mind that most Americans couldn’t find it on a map and haven’t heard of the nations on its shores like Gabon, Benin, and Togo. Never mind that just five days before I talked with AFRICOM’s chief spokesman, the Economist had asked if the Gulf of Guinea was on the verge of becoming “another Somalia,” because piracy there had jumped 41% from 2011 to 2012 and was on track to be even worse in 2013.
The Gulf of Guinea was one of the primary areas in Africa where “stability,” the command spokesman assured me, had “improved significantly,” and the U.S. military had played a major role in bringing it about. But what did that say about so many other areas of the continent that, since AFRICOM was set up, had been wracked by coups, insurgencies, violence, and volatility?
A careful examination of the security situation in Africa suggests that it is in the process of becoming Ground Zero for a veritable terror diaspora set in motion in the wake of 9/11 that has only accelerated in the Obama years. Recent history indicates that as U.S. “stability” operations in Africa have increased, militancy has spread, insurgent groups have proliferated, allies have faltered or committed abuses, terrorism has increased, the number of failed states has risen, and the continent has become more unsettled.
The signal event in this tsunami of blowback was the U.S. participation in a war to fell Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi that helped send neighboring Mali, a U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, prompting the intervention of the French military with U.S. backing. The situation could still worsen as the U.S. armed forces grow ever more involved. They are already expanding air operations across the continent, engaging in spy missions for the French military, and utilizing other previously undisclosed sites in Africa.
The Terror Diaspora
In 2000, a report prepared under the auspices of the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute examined the “African security environment.” While it touched on “internal separatist or rebel movements” in “weak states,” as well as non-state actors like militias and “warlord armies,” it made no mention of Islamic extremism or major transnational terrorist threats. In fact, prior to 2001, the United States did not recognize any terrorist organizations in sub-Saharan Africa.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a senior Pentagon official claimed that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan might drive “terrorists” out of that country and into African nations. “Terrorists associated with al Qaeda and indigenous terrorist groups have been and continue to be a presence in this region,” he said. “These terrorists will, of course, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities.”
When pressed about actual transnational dangers, the official pointed to Somali militants but eventually admitted that even the most extreme Islamists there “really have not engaged in acts of terrorism outside Somalia.” Similarly, when questioned about connections between Osama bin Laden’s core al-Qaeda group and African extremists, he offered only the most tenuous links, like bin Laden’s “salute” to Somali militants who killed U.S. troops during the infamous 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident.
Despite this, the U.S. dispatched personnel to Africa as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in 2002. The next year, CJTF-HOA took up residence at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, where it resides to this day on the only officially avowed U.S. base in Africa.
As CJTF-HOA was starting up, the State Department launched a multi-million-dollar counterterrorism program, known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, to bolster the militaries of Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania. In 2004, for example, Special Forces training teams were sent to Mali as part of the effort. In 2005, the program expanded to include Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and was renamed the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership.
Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Nicholas Schmidle noted that the program saw . . .
Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and by the end you’ll have a good grasp of the situation there and why we can expect blowback.