Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Controversial AFRICOM launches military exercises in Botswana

The Southern Accord 12, a United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) sponsored joint exercise between the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and the United States army, kicked off at Thebephatshwa Air Base outside Molepolole last week (1st August).

This came only a few weeks after Green Berets from the famous 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Fort Carson, Colorado, trained with the BDF Special Forces (BDFSF) on “marksmanship, close quarter battle, medical and tracking training in an effort to strengthen U.S. and BDFSF relationships and to promote and support Special Operations Capabilities, said Master Sergeant Grady Dewitt, noncommissioned officer in charge for SOCAFRICA Exercise Branch”, according to the U.S. Army Africa. SOCAFRICA is a special operations command of AFRICOM.

This was all part of field training exercises called “Eastern Piper 12”. Exercise Eastern Piper 12, conducted by AFRICOM and Special Operations Command, Africa (SOCAFRICA), was a three week Foreign International Defense (FID) structured counter-terrorism base exercise.

With the establishment of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008 and SOCAFRICA), the 10th Special Forces Group was affiliated to the two entities to conduct Joint Combined Exchange Training and Foreign Internal Defense/anti-terrorist operations as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara.

Robert Tilford, a former member of the US army who now writes for the Examiner.com says “reports suggest the Botswana government gave permission to the United States not long ago to explore the possibility of establishing an AFRICOM base in the country ÔÇô in exchange for large amounts of cash in the form of military aid and assistance. This was protested by the ANC (African National Congress) who basically, wanted no part of that deal!”

Tilford further states America has been (and continues to be) the “largest single foreign contributor to the development of the BDF.”

Meanwhile the ongoing AFRICOM exercise at Thebephatshwa, Southern Accord 12 will run until 17th August and involves 700 BDF members and 700 American military personnel. Speaking at the ceremony to launch the exercise, American ambassador to Botswana, Michelle Gavin, said, “ In a little over two weeks, as you emerge from this exercise, both Botswana forces and the US forces will be better trained, more capable and, more importantly, you will know each other in ways you did not before.”

Brigadier General Isaac Osborne, deputy commander, US Army Africa on the other hand said, “the three things I’d like you to remember are: building relationships is important, improving processes and capabilities always matters and success is repeatable. As we work together side-by-side, the relationships, knowledge and skills that will be shared will benefit our militaries and our nations, today and in the future.”

The United States has in the past two years conducted similar joint military exercises with African countries such as South Africa, Mozambique, Tunisia, Uganda, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

When the United States Africa Command ÔÇô AFRICOM ÔÇô was created in 2007 and was formally activated the following year, many considered it to be the epitome of “smart power” ÔÇô a carefully blended mix of hard and soft power. Like other U.S. military commands, it would possess formidable combat capability, but its signature ingredient was a soft power component. The structure and goals of AFRICOM reflected the mandate issued by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said that “the overall posture and thinking of the United States armed forces has shifted away from solely focusing on direct American military action, and toward new capabilities to shape the security environment in ways that obviate the need for military intervention in the future.”

That this new role was to be tested in Africa seemed to make sense. With Africa’s strategic importance increasing and with little apparent need for a significant U.S. combat presence there, AFRICOM could presumably display its softer side and enhance relations between the United States and Africa. As it turned out, that was not to be. Africans were suspicious of U.S. intentions, as a survey of English-language African press quickly found. The dominant view was that AFRICOM was just a manifestation of neo-colonialism ÔÇô a heavy-handed attempt to stake a claim to Africa’s increasingly sought-after natural resources ÔÇô and so was decidedly unwelcome. Given this reaction, AFRICOM headquarters remained in Stuttgart, Germany and the command kept a low profile on the continent.

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