Exposed: The sprawling network of US military bases in Africa

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The other CSL, in the remote smuggling hub of Agadez, is set to become the premier US military outpost in West Africa. That drone base, located at Niger’s Airbase 201, not only boasts a $100m construction price tag but, with operating expenses, is estimated to cost US taxpayers more than a quarter of a billion dollars by 2024 when the 10- year agreement for its use ends.

Officially, a CSL is neither “a US facility or base”. It is, according to the military, “simply a location that, when needed and with the permission of the partner country, can be used by US personnel to support a wide range of contingencies.”

The sheer dimensions, cost, and importance of Agadez seems to suggest otherwise. “Judging by its size and the infrastructure investments to date, Agadez more resembles massive bases that the military created in Iraq and Afghanistan than a small, unobtrusive, ‘lily pad,’” says Moore. The US military presence in Niger gained widespread exposure last year when a 4 October ambush by ISIS in the Greater Sahara near the Mali border killed four US soldiers, including Green Berets, and wounded two others.

A Pentagon investigation into the attack shed additional light on other key U.S. military sites in Niger, including Ouallam and Arlit, where Special Operations Forces (SOF) deployed in 2017, and Maradi, where SOF were sent in 2016.

Arlit also appeared as a proposed contingency location in a formerly secret 2015 Africom posture plan obtained by The Intercept. Ouallam, which was listed in contracting documents brought to light by The Intercept last year, was the site of an SOF effort to train and equip a Nigerien counterterrorism company as well as another effort to conduct operations with other local units.

Contracting documents from 2017 also noted the need for 4,400 gallons per month of gasoline, 1,100 gallons per month of diesel fuel, and 6,000 gallons of aviation turbine fuel to be delivered, every 90 days, to a “military installation” in Dirkou.

While the five bases in Niger anchor the west of the continent, the five US outposts in Somalia are tops in the east. Somalia is the East Africa hub for contractor-provided personnel recovery and casualty evacuation services, as well as the main node for the military’s own personnel recovery and casualty evacuation operations.

These sites, revealed in Africom maps for the first time, do not include a CIA base revealed in 2014 by the Kenyan newspaper, The Nation. All US military facilities in Somalia, by virtue of being contingency locations, are unnamed on Africom’s 2018 map.

Previously, Kismayo has been identified as a key outpost, while the declassified 2015 Africom posture plan names proposed CLs in Baidoa, Bosaaso, and the capital, Mogadishu, as well as Berbera in the selfdeclared state of Somaliland.

If locations on Teil’s map are accurate, one of the Somali sites is located in this latter region. Reporting by Vice News earlier this year indicated there were actually six new US facilities being constructed in Somalia as well as the expansion of Baledogle, a base for which a contract for “emergency runway repairs” was recently issued.

According to top-secret documents obtained by The Intercept in 2015, elite troops from a unit known as Task Force 48-4 were involved in drone attacks in Somalia earlier this decade.

This air war has continued in the years since. The US has already conducted 36 air strikes in Somalia this year, compared to 34 for all of 2017 and 15 in 2016, according to the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.

Somalia’s neighbour, Kenya, boasts four US bases. These include cooperative security locations at Mombasa as well as Manda Bay, where a 2013 Pentagon study of secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen noted that two manned fixed-wing aircraft were based.

Africom’s 2015 posture plan also mentions contingency locations at Lakipia, the site of a Kenyan Air Force base, and another Kenyan airfield at Wajir that was upgraded and expanded by the US Navy earlier in this decade.

Libya, Tunisia, and Djibouti

Teil’s map shows a cluster of three unnamed and previously unreported contingency locations near the Libyan coastline. Since 2011, the US has carried out approximately 550 drone strikes targeting al Qaeda and Islamic State militants in the restive North African nation.

During a four-month span in 2016, for example, there were around 300 such attacks, according to US officials. That is seven times more than the 42 confirmed US drone strikes carried out in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan combined for all of 2016, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based nonprofit news organisation.

The Libyan attacks have continued under the Trump administration, with the latest acknowledged US drone strike occurring near Al Uwaynat on 29 November.

Africom’s 2015 posture plan listed only an outpost at Al-Wigh, a Saharan airfield near that country’s borders with Niger, Chad and Algeria, located far to the south of the three current CLs.

Africom’s map also shows a contingency location in neighbouring Tunisia, possibly Sidi Ahmed Air Base, a key regional US drone outpost that has played an important role in air strikes in Libya in recent years.

“Flying intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones out of Tunisia has been taking place for quite some time,” said Gen Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander, last year. “We fly there, it’s not a secret, but we are very respectful to the Tunisians’ desires in terms of how we support them and the fact that we have a low profile…”

Djibouti is home to the crown jewel of US bases on the continent, Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion outpost and Africom’s lone forward operating site on the continent.

A long-time hub for counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia and the home of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), Camp Lemonnier hosts around 4,000 US and allied personnel, and, according to Teil, is the “main platform” for US crisis response forces in Africa.

Since 2002, the base has expanded from 88 acres to nearly 600 acres and spun off a satellite outpost – a cooperative security location 10 km to the southwest, where drone operations in the country were relocated in 2013.

Chabelley Airfield has gone on to serve as an integral base for missions in Somalia and Yemen as well as the drone war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“United States military personnel remain deployed to Djibouti, including for purposes of posturing for counterterrorism and counterpiracy operations in the vicinity of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and to provide contingency support for embassy security augmentation in East Africa,” President Donald Trump noted in June.

Cameroon, Mali, and Chad

Africom’s strategic posture also includes two contingency locations in Cameroon. One is an outpost in the north of the country, known as CL Garoua, which is used to fly drone missions and also as a base for the Army’s Task Force Darby, which supports Cameroonian forces fighting the terrorist group Boko Haram. Cameroon is also home to a longtime outpost in Douala as well as US facilities in Maroua and a nearby base called Salak, which is also used by US personnel and private contractors for training missions and drone surveillance.

In 2017, Amnesty International’s research firm Forensic Architecture, and The Intercept exposed illegal imprisonment, torture, and killings by Cameroonian troops at Salak. In neighbouring Mali, there are two contingency locations. Africom’s 2015 posture plan lists proposed CLs in Gao and Mali’s capital, Bamako.

The 2018 map also notes the existence of a CSL in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, a site where the US began flying drones earlier this decade. It is also the headquarters of a Special Operations Command and Control Element, an elite battalionlevel command.

Another unidentified contingency location in Chad could be a CL in Faya Largeau, which was mentioned in Africom’s 2015 posture plan.

In Gabon, a cooperative security location exists in Libreville. Last year, US troops carried out an exercise there to test their ability to turn the Libreville CSL into a forward command post to facilitate an influx of a large number of forces.

A CSL can also be found in Accra, Ghana, and another CSL is located on a small compound at Captain Andalla Cissé Air Base in Dakar, Senegal.

“This location is very important to us because it helps mitigate the time and space on the continent the size of Africa,” said Africom commander, Gen Waldhauser, while visiting the Senegalese capital earlier this year.

Only one base lies in the far south of the continent, a CSL in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, that is run by the Army. To its north, CSL Entebbe in Uganda has long been an important air base for American forces in Africa, serving as a hub for surveillance aircraft. It also proved integral to Operation Oaken Steel, the July 2016 rapid deployment of troops to rescue US personnel after fighting broke out near the American Embassy in Juba, South Sudan.

‘We have increased the firepower’ In May 2018, responding to questions about measures taken after the October 2017 ambush in Niger, Gen Waldhauser spoke of fortifying the US presence on the continent.

“We have increased, which I won’t go into details here, but we have increased the firepower, we’ve increased the ISR [intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance] capacity, we’ve increased various response times,” he said. “So we have beefed up a lot of things posture-wise with regard to these forces.”