The Pentagon & the re-conquest of Africa


Richard Moore

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The Scramble for Africa's Oil

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

by Christopher Thompson

The Pentagon is embarked on a massive effort to militarily secure African oil 
assets for the United States. Under cover of the so-called "war on terror," the 
U.S. is deepening its military ties to "friendly" African regimes, enhancing 
their capacity to deal with internal dissidents and external rivals. From the 
Horn of Africa to the Gulf

of Guinea and the Niger Delta, the Americans bolster authoritarian regimes and 
flaunt U.S. air, naval and "special operations" power. Even the FBI has gotten 
into the act, performing interrogations of hundreds of "suspects" swept up in 
Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia and brutal suppression of internal foes.

The Scramble for Africa's Oil
by Christopher Thompson

"Within a decade, the US will be heavily dependent on African oil. Little wonder
the Pentagon is preparing a strategy for the region."

This article originally appeared in The New Statesman (UK).

The Pentagon is to reorganize its military command structure in response to 
growing fears that the United States is seriously ill-equipped to fight the war 
against terrorism in Africa. It is a dramatic move, and an admission that the US
must reshape its whole military policy if it is to maintain control of Africa 
for the duration of what Donald Rumsfeld has called "the long war." Suddenly the
world's most neglected continent is assuming an increasing global importance as 
the international oil industry begins to exploit more and more of the west coast
of Africa's abundant reserves.

The Pentagon at present has five geographic Unified Combatant Commands around 
the world, and responsibility for Africa is awkwardly divided among three of 
these. Most of Africa - a batch of 43 countries - falls under the European 
Command (Eucom), with the remainder divided between the Pacific Command and 
Central Command (which also runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Now the 
Pentagon - under the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the defense department - is 
working on formal proposals for a unified military command for the continent 
under the name "Africom." This significant shift in US relations with Africa 
comes in the face of myriad threats: fierce economic competition from Asia; 
increasing resource nationalism in Russia and South America; and instability in 
the Middle East that threatens to spill over into Africa.

"The US must reshape its whole military policy if it is to maintain control of 

The Pentagon hopes to finalize Africom's structure, location and budget this 
year. The expectation is that it can break free from Eucom and become operative 
by mid-2008.

"The break from Europe will occur before 30 September 2008," Professor Peter 
Pham, a US adviser on Africa to the Pentagon told the New Statesman. "The 
independent command should be up and running by this time next year."

A Pentagon source says the new command, which was originally given the green 
light by the controversial former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is 
likely to be led by William "Kip" Ward, the US army's only four-star 
African-American general. In 2005, Ward was appointed the US security envoy to 
the Middle East and he is reportedly close to President George W. Bush. He also 
has boots-on-the-ground experience in Africa: he was a commander during Bill 
Clinton's ill-fated mission in Somalia in 1993 and he served as a military 
representative in Egypt in 1998. Ward is now the deputy head of Eucom.

America's new Africa strategy reflects its key priorities in the Middle East: 
oil and counter-terrorism. Currently, the US has in place the loosely defined 
Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative, incorporating an offshoot of 
Operation Enduring Freedom that is intended to keep terrorist networks out of 
the vast, unguarded Sahel. But the lack of a coherent and unified policy on 
Africa is, according to some observers, hampering America's efforts in the 
Middle East. US military sources estimate that up to a quarter of all foreign 
fighters in Iraq are from Africa, mostly from Algeria and Morocco.

Moreover, there is increasing alarm within the US defense establishment at the 
creeping "radicalization" of Africa's Muslims, helped along by the export of 
hardline, Wahhabi-style clerics from the Arabian peninsula.

"The terrorist challenge [has] increased in Africa in the past year - it's 
gotten a new lease on life," according to Pham.

But it is the west's increasing dependency on African oil that gives particular 
urgency to these new directions in the fight against terrorism. Africa's 
enormous, and largely untapped, reserves are already more important to the west 
than most Americans recognize.

In March 2006, speaking before the Senate armed services committee, General 
James Jones, the then head of Eucom, said: "Africa currently provides over 15 
per cent of US oil imports, and recent explorations in the Gulf of Guinea region
indicate potential reserves that could account for 25-35 per cent of US imports 
within the next decade."

"Africa's enormous, and largely untapped, reserves are already more important to
the west than most Americans recognize."

These high-quality reserves - West African oil is typically low in sulphur and 
thus ideal for refining - are easily accessible by sea to western Europe and the
US. In 2005, the US imported more oil from the Gulf of Guinea than it did from 
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. Within the next ten years it will import more 
oil from Africa than from the entire Middle East. Western oil giants such as 
ExxonMobil, Chevron, France's Total and Britain's BP and Shell plan to invest 
tens of billions of dollars in sub-Saharan Africa (far in excess of "aid" 
inflows to the region).

But though the Gulf of Guinea is one of the few parts of the world where oil 
production is poised to increase exponentially in the near future, it is also 
one of the most unstable. In the big three producer countries, Nigeria, 
Equatorial Guinea and Angola, oil wealth has been a curse for many, enriching 
political elites at the expense of impoverished citizens. Angola is now China's 
main supplier of crude oil, supplanting Saudi Arabia last year. The Chinese, 
along with the rest of oil- hungry Asia, are looking covetously at the entire 
region's reserves.

Realpolitik of What Suits

Looming over West Africa is the spectre of the southern Niger Delta area, which 
accounts for most of Nigeria's 2.4 million barrels a day. Conflict here offers a
taste of what could afflict all of sub-Saharan Africa's oilfields. Since 2003, 
the Delta has become a virtual war zone as heavily armed rival gangs - with 
names such as the Black Axes and Vikings - battle for access to pipelines and 
demand a bigger cut of the petrodollar.

Oil theft, known as "bunkering," costs Nigeria some $4bn (£2.05bn) a year, while
foreign companies have been forced to scale back production after kidnappings by
Delta militants. Such uncertainties help send world oil prices sky-high.

The Pentagon's new Africa policy is to include a "substantial" humanitarian 
component, aimed partly at minimizing unrest and crime. But the reality is that 
a bullish China is willing to offer billions in soft loans and infrastructure 
projects - all with no strings attached - to secure lucrative acreage.

"The U.S. plans to beef up the military capacity of African governments to 
handle their dissidents."

"It's like going back to a Cold War era of politics where the US backs one 
political faction because their political profile suits their requirements," 
says Patrick Smith, editor of the newsletter Africa Confidential, widely read in
policy circles. "It's a move away from criteria of good governance to what is 
diplomatically convenient."

According to Nicholas Shaxson, author of Poisoned Wells: the Dirty Politics of 
African Oil, "[Africom] comes in the context of a growing conflict with China 
over our oil supplies."

Africom will significantly increase the US military presence on the continent. 
At present, the US has 1,500 troops stationed in Africa, principally at its 
military base in Djibouti, in the eastern horn. That could well double, 
according to Pham. The US is already conducting naval exercises off the Gulf of 
Guinea, in part with the intention of stopping Delta insurgents reaching 
offshore oil rigs. It also plans to beef up the military capacity of African 
governments to handle their dissidents, with additional "rapid-reaction" US 
forces available if needed. But - echoing charges leveled at US allies elsewhere
in the "war on terror" - there are fears that the many authoritarian governments
in sub-Saharan Africa might use such units to crack down on internal dissent.

Raising Hackles

The increased US military presence is already apparent across the Red Sea from 
Iraq, where, in concert with Ethiopia, Washington has quietly opened up another 
front in its war on terror. The target: the Somalia-based Islamists whom the 
Americans claim were responsible for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya 
and Tanzania. Earlier this year, US special forces used air strikes against 
suspected al-Qaeda militants, killing scores.

"Hundreds of terror suspects have been held incommunicado since Ethiopia's 
invasion of Somalia in December last year."

FBI interrogators have also been dispatched to Ethiopian jails, where hundreds 
of terror suspects - including Britons - have been held incommunicado since 
Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in December last year, according to Human Rights 
Watch. The problem with this more confrontational approach in Africa is 
apparent. "There's definitely a danger of the US [being] seen as an imperial 
exploiter," says Shaxson. "The military presence will raise hackles in certain 
countries - America will have to tread lightly."

Nonetheless, the Pentagon is hoping that Africom will signal a more constructive
foreign policy in the region and a break with the past. "Politically [Africa] is
important and that's going to increase in coming years," says Pham. "It's 
whether the US can sustain the initiative."

African Oil: the Numbers

22% of US crude oil imports came from Nigeria in the first quarter of 2007

25% of US crude imports came from Saudi Arabia in the same period
75% of the Nigerian government's income is oil-related

800,000 Nigerian estimate for barrels of oil lost each day through leaks, 
stoppages or theft by rebels

$2.3bn cost of building Chevron's Benguela Belize platform off the coast of 

Research by Jonathan Pearson

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