While joint military exercises between the Pentagon and South Korea gained tremendous attention over the last week, there have been two major maritime and ground operations carried out under United States leadership with the involvement of Britain, France, Canada and several African states. These military drills are part of annual maneuvers that are ostensibly designed to enhance security in the so-called “war on terrorism and piracy” in Africa.
Operation Flintlock was one of the exercises which are conducted under the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Twenty African, European and North American militaries participated in these operations which involved over 1,100 troops. (Defenceweb.co.za, March 18)
Flintlock is an annual exercise that has been conducted since 2005. The operations have land, air and navigation components which are centered in different African countries each year.
This year’s Flintlock exercises were based in Mauritania in the village ofWeizen. The operations also claim to be concerned about veterinary health inside the country utilizing the U.S. 91st Civil Affairs Division.
Col. Mohammed Ould Jiddo, the military spokesman for the Mauritanian military said that “This is a multinational military exercise established at the initiative of the United States and meant to enhance operation capabilities.”Jiddo claimed that this year’s exercise was “by far the most important.” (worldtribune.com, February 21)
Another military exercise led by the Pentagon was the Saharan Express 2013. This consisted of a multi-national naval drill purportedly designed to enhance maritime security and improve communication systems between the U.S., Europe and their collaborators in Africa. (northafricapost.com, March 17)
The exercise was conducted between March 7-14 and involved naval forces from the U.S., France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mauritania and Morocco. The project featured numerous training drills including ship boarding, medical familiarization, air operations, communications and regional information sharing.
According to the North Africa Post, Saharan Express has been “Organized annually since 2011. It is one of four African regional maritime exercises taking place within the framework of the ‘African Partnership Station (APS)’, a global maritime initiative developed by the U.S. Naval Forces to build the skills, expertise and professionalism of African militaries, coast guards and seamen.” (March 17)
Saharan Express 2013 was launched off the coast of Mauritania and Senegal. U.S. exercise director Capt. Andrew Lennon said that “The importance of this exercise lay in coordinating the efforts of participating marine forces in countering different threats, including illegal fishing and arms smuggling.” Lennon stressed that the exercises provides opportunities for the various military forces to share experiences and knowledge about marine operations.
The real purpose behind these exercises of course was revealed by Omar Wad, a spokesperson for the Senegalese Marine Forces General Command, who said “The safety of marine space is a main bet for Sahel countries because it will protect oil that passes everyday through the Atlantic Ocean. Commodities passing through the ocean, especially along the shores of countries participating in the exercise, represent 80 percent of world commodities.” (magharebia.com, March 14)
Another factor behind the exercises was the regulation of immigration from Africa into European states. Political analyst Mohamed Ould Ahmeduindicated that concerns over migration led to European states being involved in the operations.
“Stepping up the surveillance of these shores and coordination of efforts of countries concerned would prevent piracy. This is in addition to monitoring any possible movements that terrorist groups, which have recently threatened Senegal, might take.”
The closing ceremony for Saharan Express 2013 took place just one week after the conclusion of the two-week long Flintlock 2013 exercises. These efforts are obviously coordinated by the Pentagon’s AFRICOM which operates throughout the entire continent, although its headquarters remains in Stuttgart, Germany.
Exercises Related to the War Against Mali
Meanwhile in neighboring Mali the French-led war is continuing where at least 4,000 troops have been deployed to the former colony of Paris. French President Francois Hollande has mobilized troops from other African states, including Chad, which has lost nearly 30 soldiers in clashes with targeted Islamic organizations based in the north of the country.
Germany is preparing to deploy at least 300 troops to Mali as well in orderto assist in the French operations. Although France claims that its mission in Mali is purely humanitarian, the West African state is rich in diamonds with escalating prospects for oil exploration and uranium.
Right next to Mali in Niger, both French and U.S. troops are guarding uranium mines and the Pentagon is establishing a drone station. These developments represent a growing U.S. and NATO presence in West Africa.
There have reports of gross human rights violations taking place against Malian civilians in the north of the country. These atrocities are being solely attributed to the Malian forces despite the fact that France has admitted killing hundreds in air and ground operations.
Abuses committed by the Malian army are the source of a nationwide journalists’ strike which was initiated on March 12. The strike is in response to the arrest of Boucary Daou by the army on March 6 for publishing an open letter written by a military officer challenging the income of the coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo who seized power on March 20-21 of last year.
The letter was published in Le Republicain newspaper that is managed byDaou. It was signed by a number of officers in the Malian army.
Daou’s arrest follows the detention of other journalists and civilians since the coup took place last March. Sanogo was trained by the Pentagon at several military academies in the U.S.
The U.S. through AFRICOM has maintained close ties with the Malian military over the last few years. Joint training exercises as well as monetary assistance has been supplied by Washington to the armed forces.
Although the White House says it is not deploying troops to Mali in support of the French-led war, the Pentagon has transported French forces into the theater of battle. At the same time, the presence of troops in Niger is part of a project to deploy some 3,500 Special Forces and trainers to nearly three dozen countries on the continent.
With the ongoing military exercises and the war in Mali, the imperialist states are demonstrating that they are involved in a major push to re-colonize the continent of Africa. Anti-war organizations are beginning to address these developments systematically.
An upcoming panel at the Left Forum in June, which is held annually in New York City, will address the U.S. and NATO war against Africa. These efforts may prompt additional political actions in the streets demanding imperialist withdrawal from the continent.
Mr. Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire, is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.