The US has temporarily moved nearly 200 Marines to Sicily from their base in Spain. This is a precautionary step to bolster the ability to respond to a crisis in Africa. At that the US officials never made precise which exactly country or conflict sparked military preparations. The Marines are part of a crisis response unit – the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response based in Spain destined for rapid deployment in North – West Africa. «We're doing this as a contingency because we believe that the security situation in North Africa is deteriorating to a point where there could be threats», said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. (1) Warren said the Pentagon's decision to move the forces, along with six aircraft, followed a request from the US State Department. According to him, the Marines were «unquestionably» focused on the protection of embassies, he did not rule out the possibility they could be called upon for a different mission.
What is the target of possible US intervention? There may be some guesses here.
On Sept. 11, 2012, US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed by extremists in the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Last October, about 200 Marines from the task force also flew to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily for several weeks after U.S. special operations forces captured a senior al Qaeda figure in Libya triggering unrest. Today Libya is gripped by political turmoil that has left the government struggling to assert its authority over armed groups and Islamists. Libya's oil infrastructure remains the target of protests and shutdowns as former rebels refuse to recognize the state's authority.
On May 18 the forces loyal to rogue Libyan General Hifter attacked the country’s parliament forcing lawmakers to flee. The assault was allegedly targeted against Islamists who tried to protect the extremist militias now plaguing the nation. The attack was met with resistance from other troops. General Hifter is carrying out an offensive against Islamist militias in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city in the east. He says the central government and parliament have no mandate and vowed to press on with his operation after authorities called it a coup. Libya’s parliament is divided between Islamist and non-Islamist forces that have had disagreements over government appointments and holding new elections. The new interim prime minister has not yet named a Cabinet.
On Saturday, May 17 French President Francois Hollande hosted a security summit in Paris to discuss the situation in Nigeria after the Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram abducted over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok in northern Nigeria on April 14. The summit was attended by officials from France, the United States, Great Britain, Nigeria itself and former French colonies: Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin. The participants expressed readiness to join efforts against Boco Harum. The group reportedly collaborates with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a force operating throughout northwest Africa that is fighting French troops in Mali. AQIM itself has been strengthened by aid from Libyan Islamist militias that Washington and Paris armed and helped put in power during the 2011 NATO war in Libya. US officials participating in the summit openly referred to the Western forces already operating on the ground in order to pressure the Nigerian regime to attack Boko Haram more forcefully. For instance, US under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman noted that the US has an «interagency team» in Nigeria. According to Sherman, the US force in Nigeria is working with French and British forces: «We are making sure that our assets are deployed in a coordinated way».
The US is already conducting surveillance flights over Nigeria. It had sent a team of «advisors» there in the run-up to the Paris summit. The team is based in Abuja and includes officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the US military’s Africa Command, and the FBI. French, UK, Canadian and Israeli military personnel are already in Nigeria in the capacity of advisers.
The US has assisted France with logistics and intelligence as Paris launched interventions in Ivory Coast, Mali and the Central African Republic. Extending such wars to Nigeria, a huge country of 169 million people, would signify an large-scale escalation.
Nigeria is the largest country in Africa. It boasts 174 million of population and the largest gross domestic product on the continent. It is also Africa’s second (after Angola) largest oil producer, the eighth largest world exporter accounting for 5 percent of US oil imports. It is also the fourth largest liquefied natural gas exporter in the world. There have been calls from members of Congress for a more aggressive US intervention, including from Senator Susan Collins (Republican of Maine), who demanded that US Special Forces troops be sent to rescue the girls.
Obama, in an interview with ABC News, suggested that the US intervention against Boko Haram would expand, declaring that «this may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that perpetrated such a terrible crime».
The United States called on May 14 for an immediate deployment of African troops to safeguard a fragile peace deal reached in Addis Ababa last week by warring sides in South Sudan. Fighting broke out again on May 18 almost immediately after the truce was reached. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, said troops can help ensure that peace holds this time. «We have to work closely with the leaders of the region to make sure that we get IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa) troops on the ground, who will be put in the position so that they can monitor the agreement and ensure that anyone who is involved in breaking that agreement will be held responsible», she said.
Washington is seeking a UN resolution «that will allow these troops to deploy as quickly as possible», Thomas-Greenfield noted. The United States, a key backer of South Sudan's push for independence from Khartoum, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the country since it split from Sudan in 2011. It lobbied intensely for the peace deal.
Among other things Sudan is Beijing’s primary oil source in Africa which accounted for 8 percent of China’s total oil imports (China being the recipient of 78% of total Sudanese exports).
Forces in stand-by mode
The US has intensified military expansion in Africa in recent years. The Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative launched in 2005 was to boost political and military clout. It was incorporated into the United States Africa Command in 2008 with its scope of activity to be tremendously broadened in the following years. Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller, former deputy AFRICOM commander in 2010, «Let there be no mistake. AFRICOM’s job is to protect American lives and promote American interests».
In 2013 alone, AFRICOM conducted joint exercises with fourteen African nations, leading land, sea, and air-based operations carrying out a total of 546 «military activities» which is an average of one and half military missions a day. In 2013, American troops had on or another form of temporary presence in Niger, Uganda, Ghana, Malawi, Burundi, Mauritania, South Africa, Chad, Togo, Cameroon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Sudan.
Opposing China – real reason behind stated goals
In 2013, when trade between the China and Africa soared to a record total of $200 billion including a 44 percent spurt in Chinese direct investment in Africa. US trade with Africa, but only in goods, not services, totaled $85 billion in 2013. Services amounted to about another $11 billion. European trade with Africa reached $137 billion in 2013. China is rapidly challenging US economic hegemony in Africa. Having invested in a variety of sectors from mining and oil, to telecommunications and banking, China has made itself into a viable alternative to the US. All over Africa, the United States has tried to check the growing influence of China. It’s easy to see what’s driving the US policy on the continent. Remembering Bill Clinton «It's the economy, stupid». The planned military interventions are part of larger geopolitical game…