Southern Cameroons Crisis: US confirms deployment of B.I.R soldiers to put down the Ambazonia uprising
A US Army News Service article points to a dilemma faced by soldiers in northern Cameroon, who are stationed there to aid Cameroon’s fight against the militant group Boko Haram. The American soldiers are carrying out a diplomatic role that is not normally within their purview. “With no State Department personnel stationed in the area, soldiers are often placed into a warrior-diplomat role, representing the American government wherever they go.” But even AFRICOM seems worried by the mission creep that inevitably takes place when a solider becomes a “warrior-diplomat.” Posted by AFRICOM to its official website, the article notes that “any misconduct by a soldier could spark controversy and put the nascent relationship between both countries in jeopardy.”
In Cameroon, American Special Forces work closely with the Brigade d’intervention rapide, an elite, Israeli-trained unit that fights Boko Haram. Last year, Amnesty International found that on a small base in Salak, near the border of Nigeria that the American soldiers shared with the B.I.R., at least sixty people “were subjected to water torture, beaten with electric cables and boards, or tied and suspended with ropes, among other abuses.” Some of the B.I.R. soldiers have now been deployed to put down an uprising in Cameroon’s Anglophone region on the border with Nigeria. Reports of human rights abuses in the area are rife, and the Internet has been shut down there for the past year.
Yet, little seems to weaken AFRICOM’s vision of its work as inherently good. “Within US policy circles, or within US training and assistance community, or within the Special Operations community, there are these beliefs in cardinal truths, that US training and engagement makes these units more professional, that we ‘have to do something’ to help them fight terrorism,” said Page, the Chatham House researcher. “This failure to appreciate the consequences of these day-to-day things that we’re doing and what long-term implications they may have… characterizes US foreign policy in the Sahel.”
There is little hope that the US will stop putting heavy emphasis on military solutions in Africa, or, for that matter, elsewhere in the world. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had no prior experience in diplomacy, is essentially charged with taking apart his own agency. State’s budget has been slashed, and Tillerson has overseen the exit of an entire echelon of senior diplomats from the department. In the meantime, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has secured ever more resources for the Defense Department.
Trump’s choice for Senior Africa Director on the National Security Council is Cyril Sartor, who was the Deputy Assistant Director of the CIA for Africa. There has not been a permanent Secretary of State for African Affairs since January 2017, but in December, the Defense Department named Alan Patterson its new Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. Patterson is another CIA alum, who was previously in charge of clandestine operations in Africa. That former CIA officers occupy two of three leading positions for US engagement in Africa is dismaying. In earlier decades, the CIA was implicated in the assassination of Congo’s independence leader Patrice Lumumba, the coup d’état that overthrew Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, and the arrest by the apartheid South African government of Nelson Mandela. More recently, in 2011 the CIA armed rebels fighting Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. The agency’s history of disruptive actions is not a promising backdrop to the general contours of American strategy today on a continent of countries that the US president has labeled “shithole.”
The gap left by the US’s (and, to some extent, Europe’s) lack of economic and political engagement with Africa has led the continent to turn its attention elsewhere for trade and investment. “Essentially, the entire non-military agenda in Africa of Africa’s outside partners has been ceded to China,” said Columbia professor Howard French, author of China’s Second Continent, a study of Chinese involvement in Africa. The lack of engagement is to the detriment of both Africa and the US, he argued.