Africa Command: “Follow the oil”

President Bush has approved plans to create a Pentagon command for Africa, a move that reflects increasing US strategic interests in the continent. Bush said in a Feb. 13 statement that he had asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to get the new “Africom” up and running by the end of September 2008. “This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa,” Bush said. “Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy and economic growth in Africa.” But Josh Rushing, al-Jazeera’s military analyst, told the network’s Inside Story program that Africa Command came down to “following the oil.” (Temoust, Niger, Feb. 13)

As we noted in November 2004, when a general strike in Nigeria’s capital compounded growing violence in the Niger Delta, impacting global oil prices:

On Oct. 14, just as the general strike was paralyzing Lagos, Richard Wilcox, a member of the US National Security Council under President Clinton, had a New York Times op-ed piece calling for the Pentagon to establish an African Command. Noting that Africa is currently divided between the European, Central and Pacific commands, he argues that military planners have underestimated the continent’s strategic importance. While posing the possibility of “a humanitarian mission to help the people of Darfur”, Wilcox does not fail to mention oil: “The Navy has conducted major exercises off West Africa, an area that, according to a recent study by the National Intelligence Council, may surpass the Persian Gulf as a source of oil for the United States in a decade.”

Africa already accounts for a larger share of US oil imports than most Americans realize. According to Energy Department figures, the top five US oil suppliers are Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela and Nigeria. The sixth is Iraq, where the industry remains under ostensible state control despite US pressure for privatization. Filling out the top 15 are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Kuwait, the UK, Norway, Colombia, Russia and Gabon.

Temoust provides the following break-down of current US forces in Africa:

Djibouti – More than 1,500 US troops have been based in Camp Lemonier, in Djibouti, a tiny Horn of Africa nation since 2002. In 2006 the military said it would expand Camp Lemonier from its present 88 acres to more than 600. Djibouti is the centre of US operations in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia – US troops and diplomats are believed have worked closely with the Ethiopian army which recently helped the Somali government defeat the Islamic Courts Union in early 2007.

Egypt – The US supplies the Egyptian army with over $1 billion of military equipment annually. Two US battalions are also stationed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula as a part of a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

Somaliland – In 2005 a detachment of US troops reportedly landed in Somaliland, a break-away region of Somalia, to search for members of Al-Qaeda.

Elsewhere in Africa – US troops have also helped train anti-terrorism forces of Algeria, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda amongst others.

Responsibility for operations on the African continent is currently divided among the European Command, with responsibility for most of the African mainland; Central Command, covering Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya; and Pacific Command, with responsibility for Madagascar and the Seychelles. Secretary Gates called this an “outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War.” (Air Force Link, Feb. 6)

The US faces multiple strategic crises in the Sahel, the Horn , Central Africa and West Africa, especially Nigeria.