Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Reinforcing the Bleeding Edge

While everyone, rightly, has been looking at Ukraine, Syria, and China's sand islands in WESTPAC, there is something going on in Africa.

It is very low key - and I think by design. It is part of the long war and so far is being played smart; low risk, low profile, high importance.

Words are one thing - maps are the other. Watch what is done.

Someone in AFRICOM gets it. They understand demographics, economics, and politics.

Meet the Hippo Trench.
... behind closed doors, US military officials are already starting to see Africa as the new battleground for fighting extremism, and have begun to roll out a flurry of logistical infrastructure and personnel from West to East – colloquially called the “ new spice route” – and roughly tracing the belt of volatility on the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert; the deployment to Cameroon is just the latest of many.

These support all the activities that American troops are currently involved in Africa: airstrikes targeting suspected militants, night raids aimed at seizing terror suspects, airlifts of French and African troops onto the battlefields, and evacuation operations in conflict zones.

Officially, the US has only one permanent base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Concrete figures on the number of troops stationed there are sketchy, but various reports put it anything between 3,500 and 4,500 soldiers.

In May 2014, the US reached an agreement— called an “implementing arrangement”—with the government of Djibouti “that secures [its] presence” in that country “through 2044,” meaning the US plans to be there for at least 30 more years.

Apart from Djibouti, the staging areas, mini-bases, and airfields that have popped up across the continent now mean there’s a contiguous US presence in the nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Seychelles.

It’s like digging a trench across the continent, to halt the advance of jihadist groups south – like the trenches people build at the shores of lakes to keep hippos away from their homes. [Hippos are deadly, killing more people in Africa than any other wild animal, but they have one weakness – they can’t jump.]

The rail bonus

Meanwhile, in June, Ethiopia and Djibouti oversaw the completion of a railway linking their two capitals Addis Ababa and Djibouti. The thinking is that the railway could eventually extend west, reaching all the way to Cameroon, connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Guinea.

A trans-Africa railway is feasible “in seven or eight years,” said Abubaker Hadi, chairman of Djibouti Port Authority, as long as conflicts in South Sudan and the Central African Republic Republic (CAR) come to an end.

If AFRICOM succeeds in clearing the brush, Djibouti and Ethiopia just might become the regional hegemons they dream of; all they may have to do is follow the “hippo trench” all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

And the “belt” the US military is building, would only be the trench against the advance of extremist violent organisations southward, but also the guard line for what could Africa’s longest-running pan-African transport corridor.
Economically, one hopes at least the USA will get more from this than the Chinese, but that is really a sideshow.

This is a Long War action. You see, as Samuel P. Huntington says;
Islam has bloody borders.

Over the last year or so, EagleOne and I have done some good shows on Africa on Midrats. Check out a few if you want some more depth on an important area that does not get the coverage it deserves.

H/t Joshua Treveño.

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