The ‘Myths and Lies’ Behind the U.S. Military’s Growing Presence in Africa

The ‘Myths and Lies’ Behind the U.S. Military’s Growing Presence in Africa
A man sweeps dust off the street at dusk in Agadez, Niger, January 16, 2018 (photo by Joe Penney).

Recent controversies involving the U.S. military in Africa highlight how the Pentagon uses ambiguous language and outright secrecy to obscure its activities. At times, this has involved subverting democratic processes in partner countries, an approach that runs counter to years of diplomatic engagement.

AGADEZ, Niger—In early May, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command, addressed a group of journalists gathered in a staid, gray room at the Pentagon. The press conference had been called to disclose the main findings of the Defense Department’s investigation of an ambush seven months earlier in the West African nation of Niger.

The ambush, which unfolded outside the village of Tongo Tongo and was subsequently claimed by a group known as ISIS in the Greater Sahara, or ISGS, killed four American soldiers, four Nigerien soldiers and one Nigerien translator. The deaths of the Americans brought an unprecedented level of scrutiny to U.S. military operations in West Africa’s Sahel region and on the continent at large. The reaction—from lawmakers, the news media and the general public—revealed widespread ignorance of the extent of those operations and what they were intended to accomplish.

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