AFRICOM Sowing Seeds of Terrorist Reaction

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By Greg Hom
Jun 28, 2013

In Greg's blog posts, he comments on recent reporting on, or in-depth analysis of, the "Middle East" you may be interested in.

Post 9/11, when Afghanistan became “one of the countries that even Americans know where it is”, there was then the question if Afghanistan was in the “Middle East” or not. Americans were used to “terrorism” and “Muslim” being associated with the Arab countries of the Middle East, but Afghanistan is kind of in “Asia”. Of course, all these areas are part of one big landmass and the war in Afghanistan was an opportunity to learn about the imperial history of Europe and why the “Middle East” was a relative term that changed over time. 

When Libya became part of the “Arab Spring”, the country's geographical placement meant viewing the uprisings from the “Middle East” as inspiring political action in a country seen more as part of North Africa (although Egypt, right next door and at the edge of Africa, is certainly commonly seen as a “Middle East” country). The Middle East and North Africa- and Africa even further south of the Sahara- have plenty of cultural and economic connections going back centuries. The distinction between fixed geographical areas and how culture and economics play out on those places is always in flux.  We need only look at the history of the border area between what’s now the United States and Mexico to get an example closer to home. In this era of “globalization” (with all the positive and negative connotations one can get from the term), it should be more natural to understand the changeability of culture and politics over space- and how imperialism has an effect on that process.

Nick Turse's recent article “The Terror Diaspora” zeroes in on the connections of Islamist groups across the Middle East and North Africa, and does it in way that ties the last decade (and more) of U.S. Foreign policy across the region together. 

After Libya became more than an “uprising” to become a “Western intervention”, Turse says  Libya became a hub for Islamist militants across the region stretching from West Asia to West Africa.  To get the point most dramatically, take this quote:  “The U.S.-backed French intervention in Mali also led to a January revenge terror attack on the Amenas gas plant in Algeria. … Planned by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of the U.S.-backed war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it was only the first in a series of blowback responses to U.S. and Western interventions in Northern Africa that may have far-reaching implications.” (Emphasis added.)

The article actually starts with commentary on AFRICOM (or African Command), the United States military presence across North and West Africa, which Turse shows has very little to show for itself in terms of bringing some measure of “stability” to the region.  Rather, Turse goes from country to country and shows that with United States military training/cooperation comes human rights abuses by the military and terrorist reaction. He basically shows that AFRICOM’s presence brings the political reaction that lets U.S. policy makers say that AFRICOM is a necessary political project. I hope that sharing the conclusion of the article doesn't prevent you from reading it yourself: 

“As the war in Afghanistan -- a conflict born of blowback -- winds down, there will be greater incentive and opportunity to project U.S. military power in Africa. However, even a cursory reading of recent history suggests that this impulse is unlikely to achieve U.S. goals. While correlation doesn’t equal causation, there is ample evidence to suggest the United States has facilitated a terror diaspora, imperiling nations and endangering peoples across Africa. In the wake of 9/11, Pentagon officials were hard-pressed to show evidence of a major African terror threat. Today, the continent is thick with militant groups that are increasingly crossing borders, sowing insecurity, and throwing the limits of U.S. power into broad relief. After 10 years of U.S. operations to promote stability by military means, the results have been the opposite. Africa has become blowback central.” 

As much as the growing reactionary political connections between the Middle East and North Africa are reported by the media, connecting it to United States actions and interests is not the norm. As we think about ways to challenge the foreign policy of the United States, our attention is rightly focused on the disasters the country has created in West Asia and the Middle East, but Turse's article shows us the importance and necessity of including African countries in our analysis.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Greg has written book reviews for Left Turn Magazine, and volunteered with Prison Radio.

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