Uganda & the Lord’s Resistance Army:

In December 2008, AFRICOM partnered with the Ugandan military for what was known as “Operation Lightning Thunder” – a military operation designed to rid central Africa of the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group originally from Northern Uganda that has been in conflict with the Ugandan government for decades. Instead, the operation scattered the LRA into the surrounding region, and incited violent LRA retaliation against civilians.

A recently-passed piece of legislation from the U.S. Congress mandates the The Africa Human Security Working Group has been active in advocating for a non-violent approach to the LRA conflict, recognizing that strengthening a military presence only perpetuates cycles of violence. To learn more about Uganda, the LRA, and AFRICOM’s role, check out some of the following resources:

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Nigeria:

“Nigeria is the fifth largest source of U.S. oil imports, and disruption of supply from Nigeria would represent a major blow to U.S. oil security strategy," according to the State Department's budget request justification for the 2007 fiscal year. It’s no wonder the U.S. has funded and trained soldiers for years, and has requested millions of dollars in increased funding for weapons and training in 2010.

Instability and attacks by militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has repeatedly interrupted the flow of oil from the Niger Delta. Yet the strong presence of militarism in Nigerian politics throughout its history has caused much bloodshed and hindered political and economic growth, exacerbating regional inequalities and the marginalization of citizens in the Niger Delta. Actions in pursuit of security in the region have usually meant terrible violence against the people of the Niger Delta.

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Somalia & CJFT-HOA:

The long absence of a functional central government in Somali and its proximity to the Middle East have turned it into a magnet for both violent extremists and for the United States’ “Global War on Terror” military footprint.  The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) has taken the lead in U.S. engagement with Somalia, through intelligence, equipment, and personnel support and has, since 2008, come under AFRICOM’s authority.

The U.S. helped support Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion and subsequent air raids against Somalia. These military efforts succeeded in their mission of overthrowing the Islamic Courts Union, but lacked any mechanism for humanitarian support or re-stabilization. This flagrant disregard for sovereignty resulted in inflamed anti-US sentiment, a crisis of internal displacement (with over 300,000 civilians displaced by mid-2007), and further destabilization of the already fragile national political process.

Since then, CJTF-HOA has taken on a broader, “soft-power” approach to the war on terror, and has often been cited as a model for AFRICOM’s operations elsewhere on the continent (an approach widely criticized – see below for examples).   Meanwhile, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) still receives U.S. security assistance, despite its record of recruiting child soldiers. Furthermore, it has been made clear that U.S.-trained soldiers regularly defect to al-Shabab (the Horn of Africa’s branch of Al-Qaeda) and or sell U.S.-provided weaponry to the group.

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Mali & The Sahel

In recent years, the United States has steadily increased its military aid and training to North and West African nations to help their militaries fight the branch of al-Qaeda growing in the Sahel region, known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. AFRICOM officials would likely point to the collaboration with the Mali military as an example of our readiness to help African nations develop their own security capacity, yet it is important to ask why and with what consequences this aid is being requested and delivered.

The specter of al-Qaeda in North Africa and in the Sahelian region has been exaggerated in the past by African leaders looking for U.S. support as a means of bringing dissenting groups under state control. The Current President of Mali, a former military general, has promised a “total struggle” against the “terrorists” in the north, yet conflict with Tuareg tribesmen in the north of Mali is many decades old and has grown out of disagreements over state boundaries and declining agricultural viability more than from the influence of transnational terrorist groups. Meanwhile, as foreign governments are much more eager to fund counterterrorism, the development needs of the people in the region will continue to fade into the background, and the root causes of the instability will remain unaddressed.

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 For feedback or additional contributions or resources, email allisonburket@afjn.org.