Behind The Scene: Front Lines of Nigeria’s War on Boko Haram

In the shadows of what was once called the “Dark Continent,” a scramble has come and gone. If you heard nothing about it, that was by design. But look hard enough and—north to south, east to west—you’ll find the fruits of that effort: a network of bases, compounds, and other sites whose sum total exceeds the number of nations on the continent.

For a military that has stumbled from Iraq to Afghanistan and suffered setbacks from Libya to Syria, it’s a rare can-do triumph. In remote locales, behind fences and beyond the gaze of prying eyes, the US military has built an extensive archipelago of African outposts, transforming the continent, experts say, into a laboratory for a new kind of war.

While domestic politics continue to dominate American media coverage, the progress of the United States’ two-decade war on terror goes largely unreported. These days, it takes a truly terrible event to capture the public’s attention. The ambush and killing of four U.S. soldiers on a raid in Niger in October of 2017 was such a moment.

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A U.S. Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Niger Army soldier during marksmanship training in Diffa, Niger, in February 2017
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A 160th SOAR MH-47 crew trains Chadian soldiers how to fast-rope. 

The U.S. has roughly 800 military personnel temporarily deployed to Niger, and rough 6,000 military personnel spread across the continent, according to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Many of those troops are there to support African partners, alongside allies like France, with the goal of increasing the African nations’ own security capabilities and stabilizing the region. AFRICOM only began initial operations 10 years ago, in October 2007.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. military and security agencies have claimed an unlimited mandate to pursue what they deem terrorist threats. After 2001, the Bush administration opened a major military base in Djibouti, at the strategic crossroads of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Although 4,000 troops are stationed there today, the real extent of the American footprint is not in permanent, built infrastructure.

Rather, it is in the bilateral Status of Forces Agreements that America has negotiated with many African states, permitting thousands more American troops to arrive to and depart from their airports and national military installations with flexibility.

U.S. Army Africa briefing slide from 2013 obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act.

Chad is known to be a trouble maker in the region, and it will not be surprising if the US decides to use them to further destabilize the region. Most of the trouble makers in the recent spate of attacks in Nigeria, are known to come from Chad, just as Chad is also France’s partner in the attempt to impose a Chadian woman as the French puppet president of CAR.

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French Drones in Niger.

As the twenty-first century stretches onward, the U.S. occupation of Africa has become self-justifying. The U.S. military now must stay in Africa to protect the interests of the U.S. military in Africa. These troops are there to help the CIA cause trouble in the region. If is a well known fact that US troops trained and armed the murderous Seleka Rebels that overthrew the government of Boizize and has precipitated the current calamitous state in the country. It is also known that the US has been aiding Rebels in South Sudan.

None of this is on FOX News or CNN. WHY?

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AFRICOM has maintained its headquarters in Stuttgart in part because no African state has been willing to host it. The South African Minister of Defense and Nigerian House of Representatives both made statements of concern about growing military entanglement.

It has escaped nobody’s notice that the longest-term strategic threat to the United States in Africa is not terrorism. China’s influence is spreading without widespread military occupation, elaborate social research, or the self-contradictory cultivation of “moderate” Muslims.

Rather, China will let its economic power speak for itself. It has invested billions in the energy, agriculture, mineral, communications, and transportation sectors, and expanded bilateral trade to more than 100 billion dollars every year.

Unlike US and European investors focused on the short term, state-owned enterprises make the majority of such investments, with “the objective of forming long-lasting relationships with the communities and governments with which they cooperate, assisted in part by their accessibility to very low cost of capital,” Chinese labor foremost.

 

In 2014 when the United States blocked the sale of American-made Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria from Israel, amid concerns about Nigeria’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations, Groups like Human Rights Watch landed a knock out punch by accusing the Nigerian military of human rights violations, of burning hundreds of homes and committed other abuses against Boko Haram.

Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States responded sharply at the time, accusing Washington of hampering the country’s effort to defeat Boko Haram. American officials also expressed hesitancy about sharing intelligence with the Nigerian military, fearing their ranks had been infiltrated by Boko Haram, an accusation that further infuriated Nigerian leaders.

In December 2014, Nigeria canceled the last stage of American training of a new Nigerian Army battalion that was to take the lead in fighting terrorists.

Those days now seem like a long time ago now and Nigerian has grown complacent, distracted by domestic politics while a noose is wrapped round Nigeria’s neck.

About 800 American service members have deployed to a military base in Garoua, Cameroon, where United States surveillance drones flying over northeastern Nigeria without permission and are sending imagery, not to the Nigerian army which has its own drones, but to Chadian and Cameroonian troops.

No surprise, just months ago Buhari declared again for the 4th time Boko Haram has been technically defeated (which is true in some aspect), life seemed to be turning back to normal in the areas near Maiduguri, which for years had been the epicenter of Boko Haram’s activities.

But after a major military operation uprooted the militants from nearby villages they had seized, many Boko Haram fighters have miraculously returned to Maiduguri to launch repeated suicide bombing operations in the city or in villages on the outskirts that have caused dozens of deaths.

At the end of last year, fighters attacked the city with rocket-propelled grenades and several suicide bombs. Residents say they eye one another with suspicion, especially women wearing religious gowns, fearful that explosives may be hidden underneath.

These relentless attacks have put more pressure on Nigeria, forcing Nigeria to rely more and more on its neighbors to marshal forces against a common enemy. In a region saturated with American drones how does Boko Haram manage to lick its wounds, secure finances, replenish its ranks and acquire new weapons? How ? Even ISIS will be hard pressed to accomplish a feat like that.

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