As Kenyan troops push their way into Somalia’s hinterland in pursuit of Al-Shabaab militants, several security analysts and observers allege an unseen hand behind Operation Linda Nchi.
The allegations have been riding on the wave of unconfirmed reports in the early days of the incursion that claimed that unmanned American drones had attacked several targets inside the lawless nation.
Both countries denied the reports, with Washington insisting that it had no plan of being actively involved in the war on Al-Shabaab.
An Associated Press reporter even intimated that the United States was actually « shocked » by the incursion of Kenyan troops in Somalia since Washington had not been consulted over the ingress in advance.
Andrew Franklin, an ex-US Marine now working in Nairobi as a financial and security consultant, agrees with the reported position of the US.
« My experience from the past tells me that it is very unlikely that the United States was aware of this spontaneous invasion and agreed to go with it, » he observes, adding that his position is informed by a number of factors, key among them being that the prevailing climatic conditions in southern Somalia will greatly hamper a quick and decisive attainment of the operation’s key objectives.
Special force in Uganda
Mr Franklin’s observations came a few days after US President Barack Obama announced that his country would be sending 100 Special Forces personnel to Uganda to help quell the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and capture its leader, Joseph Kony. Although the unit will not hesitate to engage the enemy in self-defence, their key mandate, it was reported, is to provide information, advice, and assistance to their hosts and the armies of other neighbouring countries prone to attacks by the LRA like South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Whichever way one looks at it, the deployment of this elite US force to Uganda and the alleged drone attacks against targets in southern Somalia is not a surprise since Uncle Sam has always, directly or indirectly, been a key player in many post-colonial African conflicts.
Africa Command was established former U.S. president George Bush and his Secretary of Defence Robert Gates.
From covert operations during the cold war era and the tragedy of « Black Hawk Down » in Mogadishu in the early 1990s to supporting the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia five years ago, Washington’s military adventures in Africa have been thick and fast, especially since 9/11.
In order to harness its military operations in Africa and, according to some observers, check the Chinese onslaught in the resource-rich continent, America established the controversial Africa Command (AfriCom) in 2007.
While pan-Africanists have claimed that AfriCom is one of the final steps in Washington’s quest to « re-colonise Africa », the latter insists that the institution was set up to foster world peace.
According to the US Department of Defence, AfriCom was established to seek « more effective ways for the department to help prevent and respond to humanitarian crises, improve cooperative efforts to stem trans-national terrorism, and sustain enduring efforts that contribute to African unity and bolster security on the continent », and « to oversee military operations on the African continent ».
As expected, the command was greeted with suspicion and mistrust by most African leaders. Perceived as an imperialist tactic against the continent by America, no country was willing to host the headquarters of this controversial military organisation except Liberia.
But the West African country, still rising from the ashes of a brutal civil war, apparently did not make the required mark, hence Pentagon decided to station AfriCom in the faraway city of Stuttgart, Germany.
According to the command’s website, it has approximately 2,000 assigned personnel, which includes military, civilian, and host nation employees, the bulk of whom work at the Stuttgart headquarters.
Others are assigned to AfriCom units in the US and Europe, while a small number of officers are posted at American embassies and diplomatic missions across Africa.
Since its inception in 2008, the command has received more than $730 million in budget allocations, excluding individual service expenditures and funding for military exercise.
The US is the only country in the world that divides the globe into military commands. Besides AfriCom, there are other commands in charge of Europe and the rest of the world.
In a bid to appease Africa, former US president George W. Bush appointed Gen William Ward, an African-American, as the first commander of AfriCom. He was replaced by Gen Carter Ham in March this year.During his two-year tour of duty, Gen Ward strived to sell the AfriCom gospel to African leaders by attending AU gatherings and state visits where he portrayed the European-based command as a partner of African national armies.
Responding to a question by a Voice of America journalist on AfriCom’s role in the Horn of Africa and Somalia in particular, the four-star general was categorical.
« We certainly support those who are supportive of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the African Union, and AMISOM missions, » he explained.
« In so far as any direct involvement in Somalia, that’s not the role of my command. Our activities on the continent, in Somalia, are widespread, and so there are probably things that occur that may be publicly as done by the United States Africa Command, but that’s just not the case ».
But, apparently, in recent times AfriCom has been doing more than just helping its partner countries through various training missions and developing the capacity to provide for their own security and protect their own borders.
The Stuttgart-based command was at the heart of Operation Odyssey Dawn that played a pivotal role in bringing down Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Coordinating the combat operations of more than 11 American warships and dozens of aircraft along the Mediterranean coast, AfriCom fired hundreds of cruise missiles into Libya and participated in many aerial bombardments in conjunction with Nato.
Although Operation Odyssey Down attained its key objectives, the active fighting role put AfriCom at loggerheads with African Union (AU) leaders, most of whom have questioned the US military motives in the continent.
This was further aggravated by fact that Western allies snubbed a suggestion by AU leaders to save Gaddafi through a ceasefire.
The current commander has stated that AfriCom will be working closely with the National Transitional Council government to assist in curbing the proliferation and smuggling of weapons into Libya.
But one of AfriCom’s darkest spots remains in Uganda, where a botched operation to capture Joseph Kony three years ago ended up doing more harm than good.
In an apparent quest to « enhance the ability of each one of our African partners to provide for their own security », AfriCom, working with the Ugandan army, hatched Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008, a mission meant to crush LRA and capture its murderous leader.
According to the Star and Stripes, a US military independent news source, « the command provided the Ugandan military with maps, satellite phones, GPS receivers and about $1 million in fuel for vehicles, as well as a team of advisers who provided feedback on the plan ».
The LRA got wind of the operation and fled before the raiding party arrived. And since the operation made no effort to warn civilians — despite the fact that reprisals and civilian massacres are some of the barbaric standard operating procedures of the LRA — the group went on a retaliatory killing spree.
Describing the method of execution as « axing, cutting, slitting throats, and crushing skulls with wooden bats and axes », the New York Times quoted a source from Doruma town in the Democratic Republic of Congo saying that, after massacring 300 people attending a Christmas party, the rebels « ate the Christmas feast the villagers had prepared and then slept among the dead bodies before continuing with their trail of destruction and death. »
The bloody orgy by the retreating LRA left 1,000 dead, more than 100,000 displaced, hundreds of minors conscripted, and thousands more raped, maimed, injured, and their homes destroyed. Far from being apologetic for triggering the catastrophe, both AfriCom and the Ugandan Government declared victory.
« The operation has been a success in that it left Joseph Kony naked, » then State Minister for Defence, Ms Ruth Nankabiriwa, told journalists.
« Because of the surprise nature of the attack, he fled from his camp empty-handed. He left behind everything, including food, equipment, and other gadgets, so this has reduced his capacity. »
AfriCom’s biggest military base in the continent is located at Camp Lemonnier in the Red Sea nation of Djibouti. Established in 2002 under the name Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), the 2000-troop-strong base came under AfriCom in 2008. It assumes responsibility for the total airspace and land areas of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan.
Other states which are under the watchful eye of the CJTF-HOA include Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Uganda. Although one of its core missions is the provision of humanitarian mercy missions like medicine, most activities from the camp are more often than not towards military ventures.
It is through CJTF-HOA that AfriCom supported the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006. Addis Ababa is said to have received more than $20 million in military aid, which was by then more than any other country in the region except Djibouti.
Although the objective was to dethrone the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu, the operation ended up sowing the seeds that led to the formation of the more radical and deadly Al-Shabaab.
« I can say with certainty that America’s actions, interventions, invasions, and grand meddling in African countries’ internal affairs have not only escalated but also created more conflicts in Africa, » observes Maj (Rtd) Imaana Laibuta, who currently runs a security consultancy in Southern Sudan.
« Africa does not need AfriCom…. It was another Hollywood blockbuster by America to win the war in the world arena after losing it in the operation theatre. »
By Mwaura Samora