AFRICOM, the IPOA and the Rising Mercenary Industry

October 26th, 2008 - by admin

Crossed Crocodiles & African – 2008-10-26 20:05:11

Engaging AFRICOM — the annual conference of the IPOA
Posted by xcroc / Crossed Crocodiles

Africa is in the sights. The International Peace Operations Association has their annual “Summit” meeting in October. As recorded in Dogs of War: Back to Africa, with Iraq inevitably winding down, they need another focus for their contracts and their paychecks, and Africa is their target. AFRICOM provides the perfect enabler.

This does not promise improved peace and stability in Africa. During the first 6 years of this century, peace and stability, human security, has improved in Africa, largely due to pressures from within Africa, and with help from the UN.

With increased stability, Africa has become a better prospect for investment, and business and markets are starting up and taking off. An influx of mercenaries, “peace and stability operations” could bring an end to trends towards peace and stability, and an end to business opportunity, except for the IPOA military corporations.

The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM
Posted By Xcroc / African

While African states are trying to put the culture of military rule behind them, the United States appears determined to demonstrate that most civilian activities in Africa should be undertaken by armed forces.
— Samuel Makinda

(January 29, 2008) — Under Bush/Cheney there has been unprecedented growth in the private military and intelligence corporations. Their purpose is to extract resources and control political behavior. You’ve heard the names, Blackwater, MPRI, DynCorp, Total Intel, Triple Canopy. The mercenaries are already in Africa, and are looking to Africa for their future contracts and future paychecks.

The US use of mercenaries has [1] a long and ugly history in Africa:

[I]n 1978, former CIA agent John Stockwell provided for many their first peek into a deadly, ruthless US foreign policy that destroyed what could have been a far more promising political and economic future for the continent.

In his book, [2] In Search of Enemies, Stockwell explained that US policy in Africa was driven heavily by cold war concerns. Socialist forces in Angola and Mozambique were prime targets, and the favored method of suppression was use of mercenaries. Stockwell wrote:

“Mercenaries seemed to be the answer, preferably Europeans with the requisite military skills and perhaps experience in Africa. As long as they were not Americans…” He went on to describe a collaboration between the CIA and South Africa’s apartheid regime in a campaign to crush emerging progressive Black leadership in Southern Africa.

The use of proxies and mercenaries to carry out US objectives in Africa became a standard practice as a new class of socialist leaders emerged during the early years of African independence…. John Perkins, a former operative of the National Security Agency, has explained that the US has routinely resorted to everything from bribery to cleverly-disguised assassinations in cases where heads of state have in some way threatened the profit-making potential of US-based corporations.

This raises special concerns because the threat to Africa’s political and economic integrity comes not only from the US government, but also from the multi-national corporations that are the beneficiaries of government policies.

In recent years, this is seen most dramatically in Congo. (More info [3]or [4]) In 2005, Human Rights Watch issued a report that from 1998 to 2003, a war to control gold fields in northeast Congo resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 persons along with “ethnic slaughter, executions, torture, rape and arbitrary arrest…” The report goes on to attribute significant responsibility for this carnage to two foreign corporations that financed and fueled the conflict. They were Metalor Technologies, a Swiss refinery; and AngloGold Ashanti, a multinational corporation that, notwithstanding its name, is overwhelmingly directed and managed by non-Africans.

“Peace operations” and “nation building” are what the military and the mercenaries call their activities. But just like Bush’s “healthy forests” and “clear skies” initiatives, the names mean the opposite of what they do.

Many of the best government intelligence workers have quit the government under Bush, and gone into private corporations. And many former soldiers, experienced special ops, and retired officers have done this as well. Private Military Corporations, PMCs, mercenaries, people who fight or spy for private gain, are a growth industry. The Iraq war will inevitably wind down, and these corporations need new contracts and new jobs. They are looking to Africa. The PMCs are recruiting people who speak African languages. When I looked at Triple Canopy’s website a couple of days ago, it listed the top 10 security challenges for 2007. Kidnappings in Nigeria came first, and terrorist attacks in Algeria came third. Two of their top three are in Africa.

AFRICOM can be the pass through vehicle for covert actions and “off the books” operations, “security assistance programs”. It does not need troops for this mission. The Africa funding from the State Department and USAID will pass through the Pentagon. AFRICOM will do the planning. If the funding follows the patterns set by Reagan and Bush/Cheney, not only will some funding be “off the books”, some will be financed by contraband when they can’t get taxpayer money.

[5] AFRICOM is not about large forces, or large military bases. “It’s not about troops. Its really about headquarter staff, military and civilians; people who oversee programs, they do planning and coordinate security assistance programs.”

AFRICOM is not about large forces because it will draw in US troops from sea, air and land as needed, without housing reserves in any one place. And the objective is to let African forces to do most of the dirty work, fighting proxy wars, internally, or with their neighbors. An example would be the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in January 2007, backed up by American bombing. AFRICOM will fund and manage covert operations. Operations coming out of Djibouti have already been held up as the [6] model for AFRICOM.

The US military involvement in Africa during the 1980s involved very few US troops. The US has historically gone for proxy wars in Africa, using African forces and mercenaries. And the mercenaries/PMCs are ready to provide the proxy warriors, ready to crush local movements, undermine democracy groups, and provide security and logistical support as contracted. As Fareed Zakaria [7] said recently “we (the US) like democracy in strategically irrelevant countries, anywhere important, we don’t like it.”

Africa is so rich in resources, almost the entire continent is strategically important. Back during the 1873-74 Anglo Ashanti war, [8] Henry Stanley, the man who opened up the Congo to European exploitation, probably offered the best short explanation of the origins of the Anglo-Ashanti war. “King Coffee”, (Asantahene Kofi Kakari) he said, “[9] is too rich a neighbour to be left alone with his riches.” And today, Africa remains too rich a neighbor to be left alone by the US, by China, by the EU, by Russia, and by other state and corporate players. Africa is too rich a neighbor to be left alone by any of them.

The rise of the mercenary corporations could create a new imperialism reminiscent of British or Dutch East India companies, sanctioning private corporations to extract resources, and control political behavior on behalf of the US government. And not just on behalf of the government, these services are for sale.

Blackwater, Dyncorp, and Triple Canopy already have contracts in Kenya and Ethiopia. KBR (Halliburton) is [3] employed in the Great Lakes Region. MPRI contracts with Equatorial Guinea. DynCorp is training the Liberian armed forces. And there are more contracts in more locations. Many of the people running these PMCs consider themselves highly patriotic citizens of the US. But they are connected and know how to get what they want. As did MPRI, according to this information packed article, [10] Private military industry continues to grow.

MPRI advertises that it works only on international projects endorsed by the US government, and that claim is true as far as it goes. But the company’s well-connected executives, most of them former military brass, know how to lobby Congress to get the contracts they want . . .

… after MPRI requested a license to evaluate Equatorial Guinea’s defense department in 1998, the State Department denied the permit because of the West African country’s poor human-rights record. MPRI ex-generals then lobbied Congress and the State Department, arguing that engaging the country “rather than punishing it” would, … “foster better behavior in the future and enhance US oil interests.” The application was then approved but was quickly flagged by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. MPRI executives again pressed their case to the right people; in 2000, although Equatorial Guinea’s human-rights record had not changed, State approved the contract.

And so far, eight years later, Equitorial Guinea’s human rights record remains unchanged, despite MPRI “engaging the country.” So even if the PMCs are telling themselves they are patriotic citizens serving US interests, it is very likely they will be serving a much smaller group of interests. And with PMCs, US Presidents can go “off the books” for their own private wars. This has already happened with Reagan’s Iran Contra, and with many of the missing billions the US has poured into Iraq. The PMCs will just make it easier.

Globalization has weakened borders and ratcheted up commerce even as it breaks down a country’s physical and psychological security. Transnational actors such as Al Qaeda are seeking bases in failed and feeble states worldwide. Africa is particularly vulnerable.

Of course there are a variety of transnational actors, including the oil companies, mining and timber companies, and more. Most are after African resources. That is a large part of why Africa is particularly vulnerable, it remains too rich a neighbor.

The mercenary corporations have a trade association and lobbying arm, with the Orwellian name of [11] International Peace Operations Association. In November 2003 Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, and frequent spokesperson for AFRICOM addressed them. Much of [12] Whelan’s speech (full text here) was about use of PMCs in Africa, and about how their role is on the rise. “Contractors are here to stay in supporting US national security objectives overseas.”

Where government and social institutions have collapsed, as in civil wars, it is critical that there is accountability and oversight in the rebuilding process. PMCs simply do not have sufficient accountability and oversight built into their operations. In fact one of the reasons to employ them is precisely to avoid accountability and oversight. And Whelan points this out in her speech: “some times we may not want to be very visible.”

PMCs, or their employees, can increase their profits by trading in contraband such as arms and drugs, and human traffiking, and have been repeatedly implicated in these activities in Africa, raising profits for the PMCs, employees and employers, and raising costs, often paid in blood, by the people in whose lands they operate. And they are largely unaccountable. Often it is unclear who has jurisdiction over the mercenaries. Even where there is proof of felonious behavior, they are almost never prosecuted. Getting fired is about the worst disciplinary action they face.

Dr. B. J. Hillhouse, whose blog, [13] The Spy Who Billed Me, opens a window on intelligence gathering and special ops, both government and private, explains what PMCs can do on behalf of their employers. She writes:

Simply put, together [14] these companies rival and possibly surpass the capabilities of intelligence services of most nations … Such capacity for covert operations has never before been in private hands–and for rent.

The potential services are demonstrated in a [14] theoretical scenario she provides for Exxon in Venezuela that has implications for the citizens and governments of African countries, particularly with the current focus on the oil in the Gulf of Guinea. She is not saying this is happening, just that it could.

Well within the reach are services such as:

. • de-stabilization of governments hostile to a firm’s business;
. • identification, training and support of an armed insurgency, including separatist movements claiming sovereignty over a mineral-rich region; and
. • planning and execution of sabotage of a competitor’s foreign facilities.
Regarding Venezuela she speculates:

If I were sitting in the Houston boardroom of a company (Exxon) that has seen governments come and go, I know what I’d be thinking: get rid of Chavez or at least make his life hell. And with over $100 million profits daily, I’d have the cash to buy the expertise that I needed. And that expertise that is now on the open market.

I’d hire spies to identify potential insurgency groups to support and to create the needed cutouts to conceal my involvement._. . ._Once my spies have identified insurgent group(s) and potential leaders, I’d work with a private military organization that could:

assist in training indigenous resources in developing a capability to conduct defensive and offensive small group operations, including firearm training requirements. Off-the-shelf standard field operations packages consist of 30 days of training to support raid, reconnaissance, and small unit tactics.

I wouldn’t stop at an insurgency. I’d also use the spies for various psyops against the leadership and hire an espionage firm to identify potential targets within the military leadership and Chavez inner circles that could be compromised and used to seed suspicions and distrust among the inner circle. If my spies got lucky, they might even make Chavez believe a coup was imminent and his paranoia could spark a leadership purge. Then there’s always economic sabotage, inciting union unrest… the possibilities go on and on.

It is easy to imagine similar scenarios being played out in Nigeria, where there are many insurgent groups, and a long and destructive relationship with the oil companies. Angola has already suffered decades of proxy war and the involvement of armed mercenaries. The DRC is still experiencing this, and no one wants to share the wealth of resources with the people who live there. There are [15] questions about US government involvement with Kibaki in Kenya.

If the US actually has African interests at heart, as they often claim:the [16] best role that external actors can assume is to be honest in their deliberations about and with these countries, and not attempt to pick and back winners.

Africa is not helpless. There are some strong civil society movements. And it is possible to document what is happening. Cell phones, camera phones and computers are powerful tools to document violence, corruption, and oppression. What oppression, corruption, and covert operations hate is sunlight, visibility and accountability. Right now Kenya is piloting this with [17] In the Southern Cameroons [18] Track and Trace is another website tracking perpetrators of torture and murder, written up [19] here, and there are more.

[20] Bloggers are a new kind of revolutionary:

Web use in Africa has exploded almost ninefold since 2000, experts say. And by prying open the stranglehold that repressive regimes once held on the news, it has become, in the hands of ingenious Africans, a powerful tool for democratization and even disaster relief._. . ._The US should take note. As it prepares to engage with Africa more intensely than at any time since the Cold War, in part by the Pentagon’s establishment of a new Africa Command headquarters to coordinate military and security interests, the US will be competing on an increasingly flat information playing field.

Gone are the days when Washington could control its messages in client states.

In Ethiopia and Sudan, there is active blogging, and some in Somalia. Nigeria has a formidable presence on the web. Ghana has an active and outspoken web community. And these are not alone. More arms do not mean more security, they mean more people harmed. The way to fight the militarization is with information, and by shining light on covert actions and abuses. Watch, listen, and record.

In the 1980s, US proxy wars were almost entirely unknown and invisible to the American public, and the world at large. That won’t be true anymore.

Africa has a lot of people with knowledge, skills, and commitment. Everyone reading and contributing here at African Loft deserves some credit for participating in new possibilities for sharing information and getting the truth out. But people need to be watchful and quick on their feet. As a friend said — look alive, here come great flocks of vultures.

[1] a long and ugly history:

[2] In Search of Enemies:

[3] here:

[4] here:

[5] AFRICOM is not about large forces, or large military bases.:

[6] model for AFRICOM:

[7] said:

[8] Henry Stanley:

[9] is too rich a neighbour to be left alone with his riches:

[10] Private military industry continues to grow:

[11] International Peace Operations Association:

[12] Whelan’s speech (full text here):

[13] The Spy Who Billed Me:

[14] these companies rival and possibly surpass the capabilities of intelligence services of most nations:

[15] questions about US government involvement:

[16] best role:


[18] Track and Trace:

[19] here:

[20] Bloggers are a new kind of revolutionary:

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.