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America tests war tactics in Uganda

By Independent Team & Agencies

How American marines, UPDF entered South Sudan

In December 2013, as South Sudan erupted into civil war, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) secretly sent in 160 marines and sailors from its base in Morón, spain. They were members of the elite Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa.

They first landed in the AFRICOM base in Djibouti and within a few hours, a contingent from that force was sent to Uganda.

Soon after this, the Voice of America was reporting on December 20, 2013 that a contingent of Ugandan troops had “flown to South Sudan to help evacuate their citizens”. The same reports said “two military sources said the troops would also help secure the capital, Juba”


According to a new report, the American marines, in conjunction with another force, were later also deployed to South Sudan to evacuate 20 people from the American embassy in Juba.

Was the Uganda deployment in South Sudan, which sparked intense opposition for President Yoweri Museveni in the Uganda parliament, merely coincidental to the deployment of the American marines?

Reports by Nick Turse, an American historian, author, and investigative journalist, says it was not. In fact, he writes that the deployment of the marines was part of a new American strategy that is “transforming Africa into a laboratory for a new kind of war”.

The conclusion is contained in an article titled, “AFRICOM: America’s Empire of Military Bases in Africa”.

The article says the deployment in South Sudan was a testing ground for a new American warfare tactic that combines manpower, access, and technology that has come to be known in the U.S. military by the moniker “New Normal.”

Birthed in the wake of the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the New Normal effectively allows the U.S. military quick access 400 miles inland from any of what America calls its Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs).

Early in 2015, AFRICOM commander Gen. David Rodriguez disclosed that there were 11 such sites.

“In all, AFRICOM has access to 11 CSLs across Africa. Of course, we have one major military facility on the continent: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti,” Anthony Falvo, AFRICOM’s Public Affairs chief, said.  Falvo was peddling numbers that both he and I know perfectly well are, at best, misleading, the report reads.

Apart from the CLS, the U.S. has other staging areas, forward operating locations (FOLs), and other outposts — many of them involved in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities and Special Operations missions. These can be found, according to Turse, in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, and now South Sudan.

A 2011 report by Lauren Ploch, an analyst in African affairs with the Congressional Research Service, also mentioned U.S. military access to locations in Algeria, Botswana, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Zambia.

None of this information has been confirmed by AFRICOM to Turse.

“It’s one of the most troubling aspects of our military policy in Africa, and overseas generally, that the military can’t be, and seems totally resistant to being, honest and transparent about what it’s doing,” says David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.

The 2015 report on the Department of Defense’s global property portfolio lists Camp Lemonnier and three other deep-rooted sites on or near the continent: U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3, a medical research facility in Cairo, Egypt, that was established in 1946; Ascension Auxiliary Airfield, a spacecraft tracking station and airfield located 1,000 miles off the coast of West Africa that has been used by the U.S. since 1957; and warehouses at the airport and seaport in Mombasa, Kenya, that were built in the 1980s.

Entebbe used as base

But many hush-hush outposts remain unreported — most of them built, upgraded, or expanded since 9/11 — dotting the continent.

According to a July 2012 briefing by U.S. Army Africa, the Uganda CLS is located in Entebbe.

From here, according to an investigation by the U.S. newspaper, the Washington Post, U.S. contractors have flown surveillance missions using innocuous-looking turboprop airplanes. The U.S. military also utilises “Forward Operating Location Kasenyi” near Kampala.

Uganda, according to the report, also has an agreement with the U.S. to use Kitgum Airport in northern Uganda, for refueling as well as for the “transportation of teams participating in security cooperation activities.”  A similar deal is in place for the use of Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia.  All told, according to the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. military has struck 29 agreements to use airports as refueling centers in 27 African countries.

So-called Combined Operations Fusion Centers were set up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan as part of an effort to destroy Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

In Somalia, where Uganda also operates, elite U.S. forces are operating from small compounds in Kismayo and Baledogle, according to reporting by Foreign Policy.  Neighboring Ethiopia has similarly been a prime locale for American outposts, including Camp Gilbert in Dire Dawa, contingency operating locations at both Hurso and Bilate, and facilities used by a 40-man team based in Bara.

“The AFRICOM strategy is to have a very light touch, a light footprint, but nevertheless facilitate Special Forces operations or ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) detachments over a very wide area,” says Richard Reeve, the director of the Sustainable Security Programme at the Oxford Research Group, a London-based think tank.  “To do that they don’t need very much basing infrastructure, they need an agreement to use a location, basic facilities on the ground, a stockpile of fuel, but they also can rely on private contractors to maintain a number of facilities so there aren’t U.S. troops on the ground.”

“A cooperative security location is just a small location where we can come in… It would be what you would call a very austere location with a couple of warehouses that has things like: tents, water, and things like that,” explained AFRICOM’s Rodriguez.  As he implies, the military doesn’t consider CSLs to be “bases,” but whatever they might be called, they are more than merely a few tents and cases of bottled water.

Designed to accommodate about 200 personnel, with runways suitable for C-130 transport aircraft, the sites are primed for conversion from temporary, bare-bones facilities into something more enduring.  At least three of them in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon are apparently designed to facilitate faster deployment for a rapid reaction unit with a mouthful of a moniker: Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa (SPMAGTF-CR-AF).  Its forces are based in Morón, Spain, and Sigonella, Italy, but are focused on Africa.  They rely heavily on MV-22 Ospreys, tilt-rotor aircraft that can take-off, land, and hover like helicopters, but fly with the speed and fuel efficiency of a turboprop plane.

“AFRICOM, as a new command, is basically a laboratory for a different kind of warfare and a different way of posturing forces,” says Reeve, “Apart from Djibouti, there’s no significant stockpiling of troops, equipment, or even aircraft.  There are a myriad of ‘lily pads’ or small forward operating bases… so you can spread out even a small number of forces over a very large area and concentrate those forces quite quickly when necessary.”

When AFRICOM became an independent command in 2008, Camp Lemonnier was reportedly still one of the few American outposts on the continent.  In the years since, the U.S. has embarked on nothing short of a building boom — even if the command is loath to refer to it in those terms.  As a result, it’s now able to carry out increasing numbers of overt and covert missions, from training exercises to drone assassinations.

“What the CSL offers is the ability to forward-stage our forces to respond to any type of crisis,” Lorenzo Armijo, an operations officer with SPMAGTF-CR-AF, told a military reporter. “That crisis can range in the scope of military operations from embassy reinforcement to providing humanitarian assistance.”

A similar test run was carried out at the Senegal CSL located at Dakar-Ouakam Air Base, which can also host 200 Marines and the support personnel necessary to sustain and transport them.

Early in 2015, SPMAGTF-CR-AF ran trials at its African staging areas including the CSL in Libreville, Gabon, deploying nearly 200 Marines and sailors along with four Ospreys, two C-130s, and more than 150,000 pounds of materiel.

The new spice route

Research by TomDispatch, which is Turse’s news outlet, shows that in recent years the U.S. military have developed an extensive network of more than 60 outposts and access points in Africa.

Some are currently being utilized, some are held in reserve, and some may be shuttered.  These bases, camps, compounds, port facilities, fuel bunkers, and other sites can be found in at least 34 countries.

The U.S. also operates “Offices of Security Cooperation and Defense Attaché Offices in approximately 38 African nations,” according to Falvo, and has struck close to 30 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers.

According to a 2014 article on “Overcoming Logistics Challenges in East Africa,” published in Army Sustainment magazine, a bimonthly publication, prepared at the U.S. Army Logistics University and published by the Army Combined Arms Support Command, there are also “at least nine forward operating locations, or FOLs.”

A 2007 Defense Department news release referred to an FOL in Charichcho, Ethiopia.

A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office mentioned forward operating locations in Isiolo and Manda Bay, both in Kenya.

To supply its troops in East Africa, AFRICOM has also built a sophisticated logistics system.  It is officially known as the Surface Distribution Network, but colloquially referred to as the “new spice route.”  It connects Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.  These hubs are, in turn, part of a transportation and logistics network that includes bases located in Rota, Spain; Aruba in the Lesser Antilles; Souda Bay, Greece; and a forward operating site on Britain’s Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, headquarters of U.S. Air Forces Europe and one of the largest American military bases outside the United States, is another key site.  It serves as “the high-tech heart of America’s drone program” for the Greater Middle East and Africa.  Germany is also host to AFRICOM’s headquarters, located at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart-Moehringen, itself a site reportedly integral to drone operations in Africa.

In addition to hosting a contingent of the Marines and sailors of Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Italy, is another important logistics facility for African operations.  The second-busiest military air station in Europe, Sigonella is a key hub for drones covering Africa, serving as a base for MQ-1 Predators and RQ-4B Global Hawk surveillance drones.

The U.S. government under President Barack Obama, according to Reeve, has made use of humanitarian rhetoric as a cover for expansion on the continent. He points in particular to the deployment of forces against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, the build-up of forces near Lake Chad in the effort against Boko Haram, and the post-Benghazi New Normal concept as examples.

“But, in practice, what is all of this going to be used for?” he wonders.  After all, the enhanced infrastructure and increased capabilities that today may be viewed by the White House as an insurance policy against another Benghazi can easily be repurposed in the future for different types of military interventions.

Source: The material for this article is from the Black Agenda report.

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