Little by little, American military engagement in Africa is deepening. Diplomacy, investment in infrastructure and energy, action in that thing we’re not supposed to call the war on terror anymore: these are all driving a greater US presence in and around Africa. If anything, this is likely to increase.The Washington Post reports:
…[T]he number of recruits graduating from this boot camp [near Kakola, Uganda] — built with U.S. taxpayer money and staffed by State Department contractors — has increased in recent months. The current class of 3,500 Ugandan soldiers, the biggest since the camp opened five years ago, is preparing to deploy to Somalia to join a growing international force composed entirely of African troops but largely financed by Washington.
American advisors are also conducting the hunt for Joseph Kony, who is believed to be hiding somewhere in the Central African Republic or South Sudan. Like the instructors in Uganda, the Americans are combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. They play a purely advisory role and are not involved in any fighting. Kenya, Uganda, and other African countries provide the soldiers but Washington is the organizer, conductor, and primary funder of the project.
“This is strictly an advise and assist role,” Captain [Ken] Wright, [a Navy SEAL captain and the commander of American forces assisting in the Kony hunt] said, meant to strengthen the capabilities of African troops. Their deployment is emblematic of the Pentagon’s new military strategy for Africa, unfurled earlier this year, in which Pentagon officials say they will develop “innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives on the African continent.”
This doesn’t sound like the activities normally undertaken by a declining world power. The US is able to project power even in the depths of African jungles and deserts. Washington is helping in the hunt for one of the world’s most despicable nutcases and training the troops that fight a gang of pirates and Islamist militants in the most ungovernable country in the world. These are long-term projects and could take years of hard work before “success” — Kony killed, Somalia governs itself — is achieved. But it is telling that it is the United States — not Brazil, not China, not South Sudan or Ethiopia — that has the resources, organization, and desire to conduct these kinds of battles.The expansion of American influence and the projection of American power in Africa looks to be one of the major trends of our times. This isn’t old style colonialism or neo-colonial resource hunting. (These days, the resource hunt seems to be more China’s style than ours.) But it is state building and order building in the hopes of facilitating Africa’s economic and political development — and, incidentally, of keeping terror groups from establishing themselves in a part of the world where governing structures can be weak and ineffective.This task is probably going to be harder, and the consequences more mixed than the bright eyed liberal internationalists pushing Africa engagement realize. But the national interests involved in this work are significant enough, and the support from both evangelical Christians and humanitarian modernists is strong enough, that the Africa focus is likely to continue.