Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 85: US militarization of the Sahara-Sahel: Security, Space & Imperialism

The origins of AFRICOM: the Obama administration, the Sahara-Sahel and US Militarization of Africa (Part Three)

June 2010

I want to start by welcoming Daniel to this country and to say how much I appreciate him as a colleague and a scholar of immense stature in Washington. I have shared several platforms with him, but this is the first time over here, so I give him a big welcome.

However, I fear that today might be the parting of the ways. That is not because I disagree with anything he says. On the contrary, I support his work totally. Rather, it is because I have been replaced from contributing to a new book, which both Daniel and I were contributing to, about AFRICOM. Its title is US strategy in Africa, AFRICOM, Terrorism and Security Challenges in Africa, being published by Routledge. On Monday, three days ago, I had some interesting telephone calls from their editor, basically telling me that my chapter was being withdrawn from the book. After a little beating around the bush we decided that this was political censorship. I was told I was being replaced by General ‘Kip’ Ward (Head of Africom), so at least I have been replaced by a General and also a Colonel, Col Kelly Langdorf. So, you have a General and a Colonel replacing a Professor of SOAS, which is probably about the right equivalence.

I see that Daniel is still left in as a contributor to the book and has clearly been approved, which makes me wonder what I have written that warrants censorship? Of course, the result of being censored is that the chapter will be around the world like chocolate cakes and will be read by ‘millions’ more than if it had been in a fairly boring textbook! My answer to the question of why I have been censored is that I provide a bit more explanation as to why AFRICOM was established, which, as Daniel has correctly said, was really all about the US oil crisis. But it also had to do with problems that America had in 2002 and 2003 with the War on Terror, which the US was using at that time to legitimise its military engagement in Africa.

It is all very well to use the pretext of the global War on Terror to secure Africa, but with the exceptions of the bombings of the two US Embassies in East Africa in 1998 that Daniel mentioned, there has been very little terrorism in Africa as a whole — certainly not in the regions where the oil is! However on the other side of the continent, what I might call the ‘oil side’, we get, beginning in 2002 and 2003, the fabrication of terrorism, centred on Algeria but then spreading across the Sahel and eventually linking in 2005 with Nigeria. The way in which this terrorism was fabricated is a very long narrative, which I don’t have time to go into here except to say that I have written two volumes on it. The first volume, The Dark Sahara: America’s war on terror in Africa, is here and you can buy it tonight. That whole long narrative was conducted by the Algerian secret military intelligence services — the DRS. It was conducted and orchestrated by the DRS, but with the knowledge and collusion of the US. In essence, they took 32 Europeans hostage and claimed it to be the work of Islamic extremists. They took the hostages through southern Algeria and then into Mali, the Sahel.

It was this operation that provided the pretext for the launch of a new front on the War on Terror in Africa: the Sahara-Sahelian front. How do I know the details of this? The simple answer is because I was there. I was in contact with every single party involved in the operation, including the Algerian intelligence and police services, the gendarmerie and military, as well as the hostages (after their release!), as well as people in the US at the Pentagon and the State Department who have corroborated key elements of what I am saying. Much of this corroboration is in my second volume, The Dying Sahara, coming out in Spring.

What was the US up to? It was part of an operation some of you may know of already, namely the Pro-active Pre-emptive Operations Group, known as the P2OG, or ‘Pee-Twos’ as some people call it. This was basically a secret, covert programme which was proposed by the Defence Science Board, a think-tank for the Pentagon, in June 2002 to infiltrate, flush out or even fabricate terrorism. The P2OG documents found their way into the public domain a few months later and were subsequently corroborated by Seymour Hersh in the US, and more recently by Nafeez Ahmed who wrote about it in the New Internationalist last month. The first ‘pilot’ test of the P2OG was here in the Algerian Sahara and Sahel in 2002 and 2003. So, we have this very duplicitous, highly criminal background of fabricated of terrorism to legitimise a new front on the War on Terror in Africa and hence the US’s militarisation of the continent. You will find countless reports of it if you dig into the media, especially into those stories that are focused on the vast, ‘ungoverned’ areas of Africa: Mali, Niger and Southern Algeria where this narrative took place.

I will move on now into the Obama era. If we take the few months running up to Obama’s election, there was a certain fear amongst AFRICOM people. With a new President coming into office, there was an anxiety amongst AFRICOM personnel that AFRICOM might get cut or even disbanded altogether. There was therefore a feeling during 2008 amongst certain elements of AFRICOM that they needed to deliver some sort of military success, because they hadn’t really done that. They needed to prove that they were correct in their assessment of the War on Terror and on the threats facing the continent. So, they did two things. One was to attack the Lords Resistance Army, which was a complete shambles – a disaster.

The second was on the counter terrorism front, where we have seen over the last twelve months a remarkable parallel with, almost a complete re-run of what I have just glossed over, namely the 2003 hostage takings in Algeria and Mali. What is interesting is that the people who have taken ‘westerners’ hostage this year (there were eight in three groups, with one of them, a British tourist, being murdered) were the same people who took the hostages in 2003. Although the name has changed from GSPC (Groupe salafise pour le prédication et le combat) to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb), it is essentially the same organisation, heavily infiltrated by the Algerian secret intelligence service (DRS [Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité, Department of Intelligence and Security, i.e., military intelligence]) and with its key leaders (emirs) linked to the DRS. In fact, the murder of the British hostage, Edwin Dyer, in May 2008 was undertaken by the second-in-command (Abdelhamed abou Zaïd) of the 2003 operation. So, the last twelve months has seen an almost complete replay of the 2003 operation. And, once again, the US has used these new hostage-takings to justify its presence in Africa and AFRICOM’s intervention in the Sahel region by saying that Al Qaeda is expanding in Niger, Mali and southern Algeria. The details of all this are in The Dying Sahara.

This latest scenario of ‘terrorist’ activities has been acted out in this part of the Sahara for other specific reasons: it contains the world’s second largest uranium deposits, and is a fundamental resources for France, supplying its electricity industry, which is 80 percent nuclear, with its uranium. It is also the region which will carry the central section of the proposed Trans-Saharan gas pipeline (TSGP) from Nigeria to Algeria. In other words, the nexus of where all this supposed Al Qaeda activity is going on is actually one of the most important strategic energy locations in the world today. It is therefore interesting to note, but perhaps not surprising, that this latest batch of hostage-taking has drawn the UK’s counter terrorism people into the area, along with those of France and Spain, all of whom have major vested interests in these resources. A couple of months or so ago, we even had Scotland Yard opening a new office on North West Africa! I have been in correspondence with London mayor, Boris Johnson, asking him what the London police are doing in Timbuktu, but he has not yet come back to me with a satisfactory answer.

The last question I would like to comment on is whether President Obama actually knows what is being done in his name in Africa. I don’t think so. One reason for that is because he has massive problems on the home front. No matter how important Africa might be to America’s future, it is not going to be high on his agenda while he is faces so many domestic problems. My second reason is perhaps more important. I put the question: Who is advising him? His National Security Advisor, appointed by Obama himself, is General James Jones: smart, intelligent and touted as a future presidential candidate. General Jones was SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander for Europe) and head of US EUCOM (US European Command). The terrorism of 2002-2003 that I have mentioned above and which was fabricated in Algeria took place on General Jones’s watch. It is extremely unlikely that such a delicate operation would have been undertaken without his knowledge, especially as top US generals actually visited the area. I know, because I was there at the time of their visit. Now that General Jones is the NSA to President Obama, it is unlikely that he will blow the whistle on the peccadilloes of his past.

I would therefore like to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, certainly at the international level. America, as Daniel has said, is clearly continuing the AFRICOM polices of this predecessor, but I would put a question mark on whether Obama has actually been fully briefed on what is being done.

About the Author

Dr. Jeremy Keenan is a Professorial Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS. His most recent books are The Dark Sahara: America’s War on Terror in Africa (Pluto 2009) and The Dying Sahara (Pluto, forthcoming).

1 Comment to “The origins of AFRICOM: the Obama administration, the Sahara-Sahel and US Militarization of Africa (Part Three)”
tidinit: June 9th, 2010 at 3:25 am

Professor keenan has said it right. I need to be still convinced of the contrary of what he is saying about AQIM and its fabrication. However his saying that Obama, the Nobel Prize, does not know, I don’t agree. If Sarkozy knows (he should because he is one of the embedded in Flintlock 10), Obama knows. If you have Scotland Yard up there in Timbuctu, something is not right and gives credit to what Professor Keenan is saying.

N.B: there is currently to many bizarre deals going on in Nouakchott (Mauritania) around the release of the two Spanish hostages and the French one between Mauritania, France and Spain. More bizzarre is Algeria keeping very quiet about Flintlock 10 since it started as before Algiers was making lot of noise about foreign forces intervention in the area. What has changed since then? Why we do not hear from the Tamanrasset Center lead by the Algerians? You need 25,000 -75,000 military men to attack some 400 jihadists? Drones, sophisticated listening devices work only in Afghanistan, but not in the Sahara-Sahel area? Not a single jihadist is found between ransom negotiations. The same people involved in the release of part of the 32 hostages continue to be involved in the release of the most recent ones (the canadians, Camatte the French, etc..). Even one of them seems to have prepared the landing strip for the air cocaine of november 2009 and he said so. What is going on? More credit to Prof Keenan about this fabricated threat.

I will be one of the first people to read “US strategy in Africa, AFRICOM, Terrorism and Security Challenges in Africa” once out.

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