In recent years, U.S. military operations in Africa have greatly expanded. Washington has established forward operating locations and drone bases. It has helped various African countries, like Liberia, retrain their militaries. It has tried to track rebel groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army and the East African terrorist group like Al-Shabaab. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been involved in wide-ranging activities.
Thanks to the work of a very few journalists—like Nick Turse who has greatly enhanced our understanding of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Africa or Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post who has exposed problems at U.S. drone bases—there’s more information about these expanded operations.
But one aspect of U.S. military operations in Africa remains vastly under-covered and unappreciated: the role of private military and security contractors.
From Lobelog. By David Isenberg, an independent researcher and writer on U.S. military, foreign policy and national and international security issues. He a senior analyst with the online geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat, a U.S. Navy veteran and author of “Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.”
Domestic private security in Africa, which targets criminal activities, is widespread. But there are also a number of large transnational private military and security contractors who, along with their subsidiaries, guard mining sites, train national militaries and police, and provide security for development or humanitarian agencies.
Even international development or U.N. peacekeeping or peace-building operations sometimes contract with private military and security contractors for various logistical support services.
It is fitting, in an ironic sense, that modern private military and security contractors should be operating in Africa.
After all, Africa gave rise to much of the modern private military and security contractors industry.
The pioneer in the field was the South Africa-based Executive Outcomes (EO), which shut down in 1998 after having fought Jonas Savimbi’s rebel UNITA group in Angola and the murderous Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone. Even earlier, mercenary “companies,” such as 5 Commando, fought in the Belgian Congo and elsewhere during the 1960s.
Companies such as the Dutch VOC or the British South Africa Company were the tip of the spear for colonial occupation and exploitation.
Private military and security contractors are the U.S. military’s American Express card: it dare not deploy overseas without them. This is nowhere truer than in Africa.
A contractor-provided plane and crew was crucial to a secret surveillance mission performed in support of France’s Operation Serval in Mali in 2013. That mission involved the deployment of a plane equipped with High Altitude Lidar Operations Experiment (HALOE) technology, developed by the Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA).
HALOE reportedly allows “unprecedented access to high resolution 3D data” due to its ability to collect information “orders of magnitude faster and from much longer ranges than conventional methods.” By way of comparison, DARPA’s director estimates that the program could map half of Afghanistan in 90 days.
Contractors are particularly useful for maintaining a low profile, particularly when it comes to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. When the U.S. military does this work itself it does so via large drones like Predators and Reapers, which means, large, noticeable, highly visible bases.
Contractors, on the other hand, are highly unobtrusive. That’s something highly desired by African states who wish to keep their relationship with the U.S. government off the radar.
A contractor-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance program named Tusker Sand, operating out of Entebbe, Uganda since 2009, has been part of a campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Contractors are also a key enabler for U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) in Africa, helping them get to where they fight, which isn’t easy given Africa’s vast size.
Just like in Iraq and Afghanistan, contractors also provide base operations and life-support services to US military sites and operations in Africa. In some cases these contracts are awarded through established channels such as the U.S. Defense Department’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP).
Read more at Lobelog.