Thursday, July 18, 2024

US Embassy denies what declassified Pentagon documents confirm

For the umpteenth time and despite what declassified documents from another arm of the United States (US) government explicitly state, the US Embassy has denied that there is any American military base in Botswana.

“The United States does not have a military base in Botswana,” reads an email response to a set of Sunday Standard’s questions from Ephraim Keoreng, Strategic Content Coordination Specialist in the Public Diplomacy Section of the US Embassy. “The United States military and the Botswana Defence Force have a long-standing strong partnership. Any US military engagement conducted in Botswana is at the invitation of the host country.”

The assertion about the US not having a military base in Botswana directly contradicts what long-declassified documents from the Pentagon (the US Department of Defence) explicitly state – that the US has a military base in Botswana.

The Intercept, a high-grade investigative journalism publication in the US, obtained and published the declassified documents via a Freedom of Information Act application in 2018. Sunday Standard chanced upon this information a fortnight ago. The documents include a map that shows previously secret US army sites in Africa, one right inside Botswana marked “Gaborone.”

The African bases are divided into three classes: larger “enduring” outposts that consist of forward operating sites (or FOSes), cooperative security locations (or CSLs) and numerous spartan sites that are known as contingency locations – or CLs. Botswana hosts one of the CSLs, which the Pentagon describes as “a location that, when needed and with the permission of the partner country, can be used by U.S. personnel to support a wide range of contingencies.” Botswana is the only country in SADC that hosts a CSL.

As another set of documents from Pentagon show that Botswana’s CSL has been earmarked for closure due to “lack of DoD [Department of Defence] property or routine DoD presence” and the fact that “Botswana does not acknowledge or desire formal DoD access at the international airport.”  This decision was taken in 2019 and the closure plan will be carried out over seven years.

Perhaps more interesting about the Embassy’s response is that it doesn’t refute the authenticity of the documents in question and takes great care to not even mention them. The general and vague response sidestepped the specific questions that Sunday Standard had asked: Is the base referred to in the declassified documents in Gaborone proper or at the Thebephatshwa Air BaseHow much could the Embassy reveal about the sort of military activity that is undertaken at the baseWhen exactly (month and year) is the base being shut down? and Why has the US denied the existence of its military base in Botswana when the declassified documents reveal otherwise?

The government has also been unusually mum on the issue. In terms of an established Government Enclave/Mass Media Complex PR standard, by now a Radio Botswana or Btv news bulletin should have led off with a “puso-e-kgadilee-sa-kgwe mathe” (the government has strongly denied) rebuttal. Sunday Standard published the story last Sunday and to date there has been no rebuttal – which one would expect from a government that has denied what the declassified Pentagon documents state. However, that hasn’t happened and government officials are themselves unwilling to comment on the issue on the record.

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