The US Role in Nigeria: Arms Sales and War Games for Oil

December 5th, 2010 - by admin

Daniel Volman / All Africa & Hector Igbikiowubo / All Africa & Dulue Mbachu / ISN Security Watch – 2010-12-05 23:31:24

US Military Holds War Games on Nigeria, Somalia
Daniel Volman / All

LAGOS (August 14, 2009) — In May 2008, the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, hosted “Unified Quest 2008,” the army’s annual war games to test the American military’s ability to deal with the kind of crises that it might face in the near future.

“Unified Quest 2008” was especially noteworthy because it was the first time the war games included African scenarios as part of the Pentagon’s plan to create a new military command for the continent: the Africa Command or Africom. No representatives of Africom were at the war games, but Africom officers were in close communication throughout the event.

The five-day war games were designed to look at what crises might erupt in different parts of the world in five to 25 years and how the United States might handle them.

In addition to US military officers and intelligence officers, “Unified Quest 2008” brought together participants from the State Department and other US government agencies, academics, journalists, and foreign military officers (including military representatives from several NATO countries, Australia, and Israel), along with the private military contractors who helped run the war games: the Rand Corporation and Booz-Allen.

One of the four scenarios that were war-gamed was a test of how Africom could respond to a crisis in Somalia — set in 2025 — caused by escalating insurgency and piracy.

Unfortunately, no information on the details of the scenario is available.

Far more information is available on the other scenario — set in 2013 — which was a test of how Africom could respond to a crisis in Nigeria in which the Nigerian government is near collapse, and rival factions and rebels are fighting for control of the oil fields of the Niger Delta and vying for power in the country which is the sixth largest supplier of America’s oil imports.

The list of options for the Nigeria scenario ranged from diplomatic pressure to military action, with or without the aid of European and African nations.

One participant, US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stanovich, drew up a plan that called for the deployment of thousands of US troops within 60 days, which even he thought was undesirable. “American intervention could send the wrong message: that we are backing a government that we don’t intend to,” Stanovich said. Other participants suggested that it would be better if the US government sent a request to South Africa or Ghana to send troops into Nigeria instead.

As the game progressed, according to former US ambassador David Lyon, it became clear that the government of Nigeria was a large part of the problem. As he put it, “we have a circle of elites [the government of Nigeria] who have seized resources and are trying to perpetuate themselves. Their interests are not exactly those of the people.”

Furthermore, according to US Army Major Robert Thornton, an officer with the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, “it became apparent that it was actually green (the host nation government) which had the initiative, and that any blue [the US government and its allies] actions within the frame were contingent upon what green was willing to tolerate and accommodate.”

Among scenarios examined during the game were the possibility of direct American military intervention involving some 20,000 US troops in order to “secure the oil,” and the question of how to handle possible splits between factions within the Nigerian government. The game ended without military intervention because one of the rival factions executed a successful coup and formed a new government that sought stability.

The recommendations which the participants drew up for the Army’s Chief of Staff, General George Casey, do not appear to be publicly available, so we don’t know exactly what the participants finally concluded. But we do know that since the war games took place in the midst of the presidential election campaign, General Casey decided to brief both John McCain and Barack Obama on its results.

The African Security Research Project has prepared reports providing detailed information on the creation, missions, and activities of Africom. In particular, they reveal that neither the commander of Africom, General William Ward, nor his deputy, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, are under any illusions about the purpose of the new command.

Thus, when General Ward appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, he cited America’s growing dependence on African oil as a priority issue for Africom and went on to proclaim that combating terrorism would be “Africom’s number one theater-wide goal.” He barely mentioned development, humanitarian aid, peacekeeping or conflict resolution.

And in a presentation by Vice Admiral Moeller at an Africom conference held at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008 and subsequently posted on the web by the Pentagon, he declared that protecting “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market” was one of Africom’s “guiding principles” and specifically cited “oil disruption,” “terrorism,” and the “growing influence” of China as major “challenges” to US interests in Africa.

Since then, as General Ward has demonstrated in an interview with AllAfrica, he has become more adept at sticking to the US government’s official public position on Africom’s aims and on its escalating military operations on the African continent.

These activities currently include supervising US arms sales, military training programs and military exercises; overseeing the growing presence of US naval forces in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea and off the coast of Somalia; running the new US base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti; and managing the array of African military bases to which the United States has acquired access under agreements with the host governments of African countries all over the continent. These countries include Algeria, Botswana, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, São Tomé, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia.

We can only wonder what Barack Obama thought of the war game and what lessons he learned from General Casey’s briefing. One might hope that he came away with a new appreciation for the danger, if not the outright absurdity, of pursuing the strategy of unilateral American military intervention in Africa pioneered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was retained as Defense Secretary by President Obama when he took office, and General Casey, who has also kept his job under the new administration.

But President Obama has decided instead to expand the operations of Africom throughout the continent. He has proposed a budget for financial year 2010 that will provide increased security assistance to repressive and undemocratic governments in resource-rich countries like Nigeria, Niger, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to countries that are key military allies of the United States like Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Rwanda and Uganda.

And he has actually chosen to escalate US military intervention in Africa, most conspicuously by providing arms and training to the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, as part of his effort to make Africa a central battlefield in the “global war on terrorism.” So it is clearly wishful thinking to believe that his exposure to the real risks of such a strategy revealed by these hypothetical scenarios gave him a better appreciation of the risks that the strategy entails.

Daniel Volman is director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC and a member of the board of directors of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He has been studying US security policy toward Africa and US military activities in Africa for more than 30 years.

US Offers Nigeria Military Aid to Protect Offshore Oil
Hector Igbikiowubo / All

LAGOS (July 25, 2004) — The United States, keen to develop new sources of oil supply outside the Middle East, has offered to help Nigeria protect the flow of oil in the Gulf of Guinea and combat terrorist attacks on the oil industry, officials said. The Gulf of Guinea, stretching from Liberia in the west to Angola in the south, currently provides about 15 per cent of US oil supplies. That share is expected to grow to 25 per cent by 2015, according to a recent report commissioned for the US Congress.

Deputy Commander of the US European Command, General Charles Wald, met Nigeria’s Defence Minister Roland Oritsejafor and military chiefs in the capital, Abuja recently and they discussed how the United States could help Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, to improve security for the oil industry throughout the region.

“We talked with Nigerian military leaders about having a way that we could co-operate together in monitoring the waters of the Gulf of Guinea,” Wald told reporters afterwards, although he gave no further details. The British publication Jane’s Defence Weekly had reported earlier in the year that Washington wants to re-launch the African Coastal Security Programme to improve the capability of the navies and coastguard services of African governments and combat piracy.

It quoted US military officials as saying that in return, America would like to have access to rudimentary bases for military training and operations in the event of crisis.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with 126 million people and is also the continent’s biggest oil exporter, ranking seventh in global terms. Nearly two-thirds of Nigeria’s entire oil production of about 2.5 million barrels per day goes to the United States.

However, organised gangs steal over 40,000 barrels per day or 20 per cent of Nigeria’s output and export it illegally, while part of the money realised from such sales is used to procure sophisticated weapons which fuel the cycle of violence in the area.

Employees of some oil companies have often been taken hostage and last April seven people, including two US oil workers were killed during an attack by militants on a boat belonging to ChevronTexaco.

Following his talks with General Wald, the Nigerian defence minister indicated the readiness of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration to co-operate with Washington to improve security in the Gulf of Guinea, which contains over10 per cent of the world’s known oil reserves.

“Where you have wealth, if you don’t protect it, you are vulnerable to terrorism and illegal arms dealers and so you are not safe,” Oritsejafor said, and added that “all countries which believe in global peace and stability must at one point come together and say no to evil. And that is the point we are gradually getting to.”

Nigeria, US Ties
May Chart AFRICOM Path

Dulue Mbachu / ISN Security Watch

LAGOS (May 3, 2008) — US Africa Command (AFRICOM) envisages US military cooperation with African governments where possible and direct interventions in the continent as necessary; but the idea of US troops on African soil rankles observers across the Africa, rendering local leaders reluctant to offer their countries as bases.

AFRICOM, which is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany, was established in 2007 by the Bush administration. It is scheduled to be fully operational by September this year.

A different vision of military partnership with Washington being espoused by Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua appears set to get AFRICOM going and possibly chart its future. During a visit to the White House in December last year, Yar’Adua argued that what Africa needed was support for standby forces working under the various regional economic groupings in the continent to deal with perceived security threats without direct US military involvement.

“We shall partner AFRICOM to assist not only Nigeria but also the African continent to actualize its peace and security initiatives,” Yar’Adua told reporters during his White House visit. Amid media reports in Nigeria that his statement meant acceptance of AFRICOM, Yar’Adua insisted upon his return that he had not changed his government’s earlier position against the stationing of US troops in Africa.

“I did not accept AFRICOM in my discussions with Bush,” he said in a Nigerian radio interview. “I asked for assistance and told Bush that we have our plans to establish bases for African countries. We asked for [weapons training] and training to establish our bases to be managed by our people,” Yar’Adua added, mentioning specifically plans by Gulf of Guinea countries to set up a joint security force.

A Partnership Sealed by Oil
For the Nigerian leader there are indeed pressing reasons to seek US military partnership in the country’s Atlantic waters.

The southern Niger Delta coastal areas, which account for nearly all of Nigeria’s oil output, juts into the Gulf of Guinea. Militants bred on decades of discontent on the part of impoverished locals who feel cheated out of the oil wealth pumped from their land, have taken to armed insurgency, hitting oil exports hard.

Half of the exports of Africa’s leading producer go to the US, whose imports from the Gulf of Guinea are expected to jump from the current 15 percent to 25 percent of all oil imports by 2015.

The prevailing lawlessness has spilled over into the maritime corridor across the Gulf of Guinea, threatening other oil producing countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe.

Recent figures released by the International Maritime Bureau show that Nigeria’s Atlantic waters now have the worst records of piracy, surpassing former leaders Indonesia and Somalia. Most of the attacks in Nigerian waters have targeted oil and fishing vessels.

Signs are emerging that Yar’Adua’s model may be acceptable to the US, offering it a chance to maintain an effective but less obtrusive military presence in Africa.

It is an option the US military recently tested with its Africa Partnership Station set up in November 2007 to help train West and Central African countries to protect their coastal areas and maritime resources. Under the program, the warship USS Fort McHenry and a companion ship, High Speed Vessel 2 Swift, have visited 14 West and Central African countries in the past seven months to train with their navies.

The presence of the warships in Africa form part of a new US military policy to maintain a “persistent presence” in the Gulf of Guinea through continuous deployment of warships in the region, according a 13 April report in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, citing Fort McHenry Commander Navy Capt John Nowell.

Fears of a hostile reception in Africa at the start of the mission, born of opposition to AFRICOM, so far have not materialized, according to Nowell.

“We found there actually ended up being little suspicion or fear about Africa Partnership Station, about bases or expanding the footprint,” Nowell was quoted as saying. “Every place we went, we were asked ‘When are you coming back? Can you stay longer next time? We want to partner.'”

MEND Threatens to Heighten Attacks
The reception was different when the High Speed Vessel 2 Swift arrived at the Nigerian port of Lagos the following week.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the main armed group active in the oil region, said that militant attacks against major oil pipelines run by Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corp. subsidiaries at about the same time were intended to “welcome” the US vessel.

“Mr President, your warships do not intimidate us. Instead they only embolden our resolve in fighting the Goliaths of the world that support injustice,” MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo wrote in an open letter to Bush, which was emailed to reporters.

MEND fears Yar’Adua’s apparent rapport with Washington will translate into US military support in containing its insurgency without addressing its demands for more regional autonomy and control of oil resources.

Well aware of the impact of its armed campaign on oil prices, MEND in turn is threatening to escalate its attacks on the oil industry to help draw attention to its cause knowing the “ripple effect will touch your economy,” as the group said in the letter to Bush.

A string of other attacks on oil pipelines claimed by MEND helped drive global crude oil prices above US$115 a barrel.

Faced with the escalating violence threatening Nigeria’s main source of revenue, Yar’Adua is pressing for quick moves to set up a Gulf of Guinea Force drawn from the militaries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo Republic, Sao Tome and Principe and Angola with US support.

Since the beginning of the year, the Nigerian leader has met twice with his Equatorial Guinea counterpart, Theodoro Obiang Nguema, who was the target of a failed mercenary coup a few years ago. On each occasion, Yar’Adua expressed impatience with the pace of progress in setting up the force.

Another complementary effort known as the Gulf of Guinea Security Strategy — involving the UK, the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland — aims to stamp out the theft and sale of crude oil in the Niger Delta, believed to be the major source of funds for the armed groups active in the region.

The most recent meeting of the grouping in Abuja in March, focused on how to identify and track the movement of illegal crude cargoes in the international market in order to discourage their buyers.

“Yar’Adua’s approach appears to be to use every force he could leverage upon, including US, domestic and regional might, to end the oil region uprising,” Alex Powell, a London-based security analyst who advises oil companies working in the Gulf of Guinea, told ISN Security Watch. “This appears to have pushed the delta militants into more desperate action, such as the blowing up of pipelines, which have dramatic effects on oil prices.”

If the Nigerian government is able to neutralize the militants without direct US involvement in protecting oil exports, it will make a good case for the idea of supporting African forces to maintain security in the continent, said Powell. But with largely demoralized troops under corrupt governments in the region, it is unlikely that the proposed Gulf of Guinea Guard will suffice.

“The more the regional governments are unable to maintain security, the more likely it is the US may be forced to intervene directly in its own interest,” Powell concluded.

Dulue Mbachu is a correspondent for ISN Security Watch based in Nigeria. He has reported for international media outlets including The Washington Post and the Associated Press.

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