We look at the U.S. military presence in Africa and what happened during the ambush of U.S. Special Forces by militants in Niger, in which five Nigerien soldiers were killed along with four U.S. soldiers. The incident is now the subject of a military and FBI investigation. At least 800 U.S. servicemembers are currently stationed in the country to support a French-led mission to defeat militants in West Africa. Meanwhile, Somalia continues to recover from a massive bombing in Mogadishu that killed at least 358 people. We speak with Horace Campbell, who is currently spending a year in West Africa as the Kwame Nkrumah chair at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. Campbell is a peace and justice scholar and professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. We are also joined by Mark Fancher, an attorney and frequent contributor to Black Agenda Report, where his new article is headlined “U.S. Troop Deaths in Niger: AFRICOM’s Chickens Come Home to Roost.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the U.S. military presence in Africa and what happened during the ambush of U.S. Special Forces by militants in the West African nation of Niger, which is now the subject of a military and FBI investigation. During a press conference Monday, Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out a timeline of the Niger attack on October 4th, in which five Nigerien soldiers were killed along with four U.S. [U.S. soldiers], after their 12-member Army Special Forces unit accompanied 30 Nigerien forces on a reconnaissance mission to an area near the village of Tongo Tongo, about an hour north of the capital. They reportedly ended up spending the night there, and when they left the next morning to return to their base, they encountered about 50 enemy fighters. This is General Dunford.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD: So, early in the morning of 3rd October, as I mentioned, U.S. forces accompanied that Nigerien unit on a reconnaissance mission to gather information. The assessment by our leaders on the ground at that time was that contact with the enemy was unlikely.
Mid-morning on October 4th, the patrol began to take fire as they were returning to their operating base. Approximately one hour after taking fire, the team requested support. And within minutes, a remotely piloted aircraft arrived overhead. Within an hour, French Mirage jets arrived on station. And then, later that afternoon, French attack helicopters arrived on station, and a Nigerien quick reaction force arrived in the area where our troops were in contact with the enemy.
During a firefight, two U.S. soldiers were wounded and evacuated by French air to Niamey, and that was consistent with the casualty evacuation plan that was in place for this particular operation. Three U.S. soldiers who were killed in action were evacuated on the evening of 4 October. And at that time, Sergeant La David Johnson was still missing. On the evening of 6th October – 6 October, Sergeant Johnson’s body was found and subsequently evacuated.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dunford’s description underscored how long the attack dragged on. He said when he realized the body of Sergeant La David Johnson was missing, he made a call to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and got immediate approval to bring the, quote, “full weight of the U.S. government to bear” in order to locate the missing soldier. Dunford defended the broader American mission in Niger, saying U.S. forces have been in the country intermittently for more than two decades. At least 800 U.S. servicemembers are currently stationed in the country to support a French-led mission to defeat the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram in West Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Republican Senator John McCain, chair of the Armed Services Committee, threatened to issue a subpoena in order to speed up the release of details about the attack. On Monday, Johnson’s widow spoke out on Good Morning America about her husband’s death, saying she’s upset about remarks President Trump made during a condolence call. Myeshia Johnson reaffirmed she and others heard Trump say, “He knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway.” She said it, quote, “made me cry even worse,” and noted the president also struggled to remember her husband’s name.
MYESHIA JOHNSON: It made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said – he couldn’t remember my husband’s name. The only way he remembered my husband’s name, because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him. And that’s when he actually said “La David.” I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name. And that’s what hurt me the most, because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Florida Congressmember Frederica Wilson said she heard the call in which President Trump told Johnson’s widow he, quote, “knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway.” Over the weekend, Trump called Wilson “wacky” in a series of tweets, without once mentioning La David Johnson or offering condolences to his family. That was the day of the funeral.
Meanwhile, Somalia continues to recover [after] a massive bombing in Mogadishu that killed at least 358 people and wounded over 400 others, [and] a roadside bomb exploded on Sunday, killing 11 people. The explosions come after the Trump administration stepped up a U.S. campaign against al-Shabab in Somalia. In March, Trump declared Somalia a so-called zone of active hostilities, giving wide latitude to military leaders to launch airstrikes and ground assaults. In May, that led to the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since 1993, when Navy SEAL officer Kyle Milliken was killed in an assault on an al-Shabab radio station. In August, a raid by U.S. soldiers and Somali troops on a village outside Mogadishu left 10 civilians dead, including three children.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Detroit, Mark Fancher is with us, an attorney, frequent contributor to the Black Agenda Report. His latest article, “U.S. Troop Deaths in Niger: AFRICOM’s Chickens Come Home to Roost.” Joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Luanda, Angola, is Horace Campbell, currently spending a year in West Africa as the Kwame Nkrumah chair at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. He is a peace and justice scholar and professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University.
We want to welcome you both. Professor Campbell, let’s begin with you. You’re on the continent. You’re in Africa. Can you respond to what has happened in Niger and put it in a larger context of U.S.-Africa policy right now?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Greetings from Luanda, and greetings to all the people who want peace.
What is happening with the United States’ presence in Africa is similar to the United States’ presence in the United States itself. That is, the lives of African people do not matter. The United States of America is involved in a duplicitous war on terror in Africa, when on the streets of the United States of America black people are being terrorized. At the same time, the United States is in a dubious alliance with France, that wants to instigate ideas about terror in order to save capitalism in France.
So, this relationship between the United States and France, in what is called fighting war on terror in the Sahel, comes six years after the United States, France and Britain went into Libya to destroy that country, because that country wanted to create the basis for the unification of Africa and an African currency. Last year, President Obama said that going into Libya was the biggest mistake of his presidency. Later, in October of 2016, the British Parliament had a report that said that going into Libya was based on lies. The only government that did not respond was the French government, that mobilized those who are called al-Qaeda to fight against Gaddafi. The same French government that mobilized the so-called al-Qaeda forces in Mali, in Niger, is mobilizing within the United Nations to get African Union, to get five countries in Africa – Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger – to support France, to get the United Nations to send millions of dollars in this so-called fight against terrorism.
The challenge for us in the peace and justice movement is to oppose both the United States and France in this so-called war on terror. What the people of West Africa need is money for reconstruction, health, housing, employment and changing the natural environment, so that the millions of youth can get jobs. It makes no sense for the United States of America to be spending $100 million to build a base in Agadez, in Niger, where France has already a military base, and France is using the United Nations in the so-called multidimensional peacekeeping force in this so-called war on terror. What we need is for a massive campaign to get the truth about why these people are in Niger, Mali and Chad, because there is no war on terror going on when they finance the so-called terrorists to overthrow the government of Libya.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Professor Campbell, if you could – you’ve talked about France and the United States and their role. Most Americans were not aware that there were this many troops, American troops, in Africa. But could you also contrast or compare the French role and the U.S. role to China’s increasing role in Africa and the strategy that China is using, as well?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, in the case of France and the United States of America, both cannot compete with China. In the case of Niger, Niger provides 75 percent of the electricity needs of France, because it produces uranium; 7.5 percent of the world’s production of uranium comes from a French company in Niger. In 2010, in 2008, 2010, China promised to invest billions of dollars in oil production in Niger. The president of Niger at the time, Mamadou Tandja, had accused France of financing those who are called terrorists. He was overthrown in a coup d’état. Both the United States and France and other members of the European Union are opposed to the Chinese presence in Africa, because where in a country like Djibouti the United States has 4,000 troops, China has spent $5 billion building a state-of-the-art port and has spent $10 billion building a railway from Djibouti to the capital city of Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa. There is no possibility of the United States of America and Western Europe competing with China in Africa.
Africans do not want this competition over their territory. What Africans want is a demilitarization of the continent and for the duplicitous role of France, the European Union and the United States to end in this so-called war on terror. The African people want money for reconstruction, so that in a country such as Somalia, every cent that is being used for fighting the war on terror could be spent in building schools, and then the police operation could be used against al-Shabab. We can only deal with terror when we demilitarize it and treat the extremists in Africa in isolating them from the communities of young people, who are fed up with the alienation because there’s unemployment and low standards of living for the African people.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Campbell, we have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion, and we’ll be joined by Mark Fancher and find out specifically in Niger about the U.S. building a drone base there and how many drone bases are being built across Africa. Right now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is taking a trip to South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “For All We Know” by Abbey Lincoln, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue to examine the U.S. military presence in Africa and what happened during the ambush of U.S. Special Forces by militants in the West African nation of Niger, which is now the subject of a military and FBI investigation. I want to bring into the discussion Mark Fancher, an attorney and frequent contributor to Black Agenda Report. His latest article is titled “U.S. Troop Deaths in Niger: AFRICOM’s Chickens Come Home to Roost.” We’re also – we’re also joined by – from Luanda, Angola, by Horace Campbell, Institute of African Studies professor at the University of Ghana. Mark Fancher, the “chickens come home to roost,” explain.
MARK FANCHER: Well, the U.S. Africa Command is something that was created in or about 2007. At the time, it was clear from its design that it was intended as a way for the United States to use military methods to carry out its imperialist agenda in Africa without having to run the risk of suffering U.S. casualties. The idea was that U.S. military forces would be placed in strategic locations in Africa for the purpose of training, advising and directing the armies of African countries, essentially, to carry out missions for the United States. So it was a, you know, they-could-have-their-cake-and-eat-it-too sort of a situation, where they could engage certain hostile forces in combat and not have to worry about U.S. troops dying.
It has not worked out that way. We have just seen within the past month the fact that there are U.S. troops that are at risk as a result of this. It was inevitable. Any time that you introduce violence into a situation that requires the construction of infrastructure and attending to the needs of the poor, you’re going to run into this kind of thing. So, it was, in a very real sense, their chickens coming home to roost. They did not escape.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Fancher, can you talk about what the U.S. troops are doing right now in Niger? I’m surprised many a number of senators, although apparently they’ve been briefed several times this year – that at least 800 U.S. soldiers are in Niger right now. Can you talk about why a drone base is being built? Can you talk about where Agadez is, what they’re doing both in Niger and in other places in that region?
MARK FANCHER: Well, it’s not just Niger. What many people also don’t know is that this level of military presence can be found in many countries throughout Africa – most of them, as a matter fact. Since 2007, the United States has been expanding its reach and has been planting small groups of people in various different locations, not always with what would be regarded as military bases, but as embassy-based operation centers, where they carry out military training and different operations using African armies. So, it’s no different in Niger. And the use of drones is just an extension of the basic idea of carrying out reconnaissance missions, and sometimes actual attacks, without putting U.S. troops at risk. So, this is very much par for the course.
And I really think it’s important to really understand what has happened in Africa over the last 10 years. In 2007, when AFRICOM was created, the presence of terrorists, to the extent that we see them now, was – there was nothing comparable. The presence, if any, was minimal. What was going on in Africa at the time was that you had organizations like the Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta, or MEND, which had engaged in very militant kinds of attacks on U.S. oil installations, breaking up pipelines, kidnapping U.S. oil company and Western oil company personnel, and issuing a threat in 2006 that they could not guarantee the safety of either the facilities of oil companies in and about Nigeria and in that region or the people who were sent there to work on them. It was at that moment that the United States decided that it was going to set up this special command, which was unprecedented, for Africa exclusively.
You know, you also see what was happening during that period was what they branded as piracy off the coastal waters of Somalia. These were fishermen whose waters had been contaminated by people who had come in and had plundered and raided their fishing facilities and had made them unable to engage in a livelihood. And in retaliation, they began to attack those boats and ships that were coming through those waterways, which was a major international shipping lane.
So, these twin concerns about access to the coastal region in Somalia, the oil that was being produced in the Niger Delta and in the Gulf of Guinea, those were the primary drivers for the creation of AFRICOM. And the more that the U.S. military established a presence in that region and throughout Africa, the more terrorism tended to grow.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Mark Fancher, I wanted to ask you about another key event in the history of Africa, the recent history of Africa, which was the U.S. participation in the overthrow of Gaddafi and the situation in Libya. To what degree did the total destabilization of Libya and the – Libya is now, in essence, a failed state – have an impact on the growth of extremism and terrorist groups in other parts of Africa?
MARK FANCHER: Oh, it had a huge impact. And if you look at the infamous emails of Hillary Clinton, which are available at the State Department’s website, you see an email exchange where State Department personnel are talking very frankly about their conversations with Sarkozy about his interest in overthrowing Gaddafi because he wanted two things. One, he wanted to eliminate the threat of a pan-African currency, gold-backed currency, that Gaddafi wanted to establish, because he was afraid that it would devalue the franc. And he also wanted access to Gaddafi and Libya’s oil fields. That was the bottom line for why they went after Gaddafi in the way that they did.
And in order to do it, AFRICOM stepped in and played a major role in recruiting local forces within Libya to attack Gaddafi. They chose to establish relationships with some of the worst elements in Libya. In fact, one of the groups that they established a relationship with was one which, by its very name, said that its mission was to eliminate black people from Libya. And so they gave guns, heavy artillery, to all kinds of people in Libya, with the hope and expectation that they would, you know, carry out this overthrow of the Libyan government and assassinate Gaddafi. That played itself out, but those weapons were still there. And –
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Horace Campbell, we just have 30 seconds. Your final comment in talking about what’s happened in this latest attack in Niger – also five Nigeriens were killed – not to mention what happened in Somalia with over 358 dead?
HORACE CAMPBELL: I want to follow up on the point about what happened in Libya and why the progressive forces must continue to press for a United Nations investigation in what happened in Libya. I spelled all this out in my book, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya.
What is happening in Niger is a continuation of what happened in Libya. France is in deep crisis. France is over – has taken over as undersecretary of peacekeeping forces in the United Nations. France tried to put a resolution through the United Nations Security Council to get more money for France in Niger, in Chad, in Mali and Burkina Faso.
AMY GOODMAN: Horace Campbell, we’re going to have to leave it there, and Mark Fancher, as well, but we’ll do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org.