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By Dave Lindorff
President Barack Obama is on track to go down in history as one of the, or perhaps as the worst and most criminal presidents in US history.
Let’s have a moment’s
Silence for Cecil (Ses’-al),
But not yet.
During that silence
Let us think about why
Message to The United Nations, European Union, United States, and all Democratic and Free countries
There are growing concerns that the government of Egypt intends to execute Egypt’s first ever democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi in the coming weeks. Mr. Morsi along with hundreds of political opponents received the death sentence following what major international human rights organizations described as a hopelessly flawed and politically motivated trials that ignored acceptable minimum international standards.
George Clooney is being paid by the world’s top two war profiteers, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, to oppose war profiteering by Africans disloyal to the U.S. government’s agenda.
Way back yonder before World War II, war profiteering was widely frowned on in the United States. Those of us trying to bring back that attitude, and working for barely-funded peace organizations, ought to be thrilled when a wealthy celebrity like George Clooney decides to take on war profiteering, and the corporate media laps it up.
“Real leverage for peace and human rights will come when the people who benefit from war will pay a price for the damage they cause,” said Clooney — without encountering anything like the blowback Donald Trump received when he criticized John McCain.
Really, is that all it takes to give peace a chance, a celebrity? Will the media now cover the matter of who funds opponents of the Iran deal, and who funds supporters of the wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.?
Well, no, not really.
It's not terrorism if it's retaliation: Chattanooga Shooting, If Linked to ISIS, is a Legitimate Act of War
By Dave Lindorff
I'm not a fan of war or of killing of any kind, but the labeling of the deadly attack by Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez on two US military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee as an act of terror is absurd.
By Andy Piascik
For two decades, Western elites have spun a tale of how Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame heroically ended the 1994 genocide in that country. That narrative has persisted despite the fact that a great deal of evidence shows that Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) did much of the killing and has committed extraordinary levels of violence in neighboring Congo since invading that country not long after seizing power.
The recent BBC telecast of “Rwanda: The Untold Story” indicates that the truth about Kagame may finally be penetrating the mainstream. “Rwanda: The Untold Story” presents much information that contradicts the official narrative, specifically that the dramatic escalation in violence began not in April 1994 but in October 1990 when the RPF invaded from its outposts in Uganda; that RPF forces killed tens of thousands of people in the 42-month period from the invasion to April 1994; and that the RPF is responsible for the deaths of several hundred thousand more Rwandans during the three month period of bloodshed in 1994.
Hillary Clinton State Dept Emails Contain Redacted Job Description for Top Energy Diplomat; Lobbyist Gets Job
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The U.S. State Department released a batch of 3,000 searchable documents formerly stored on the private hard drive and in a private email account of Democratic Party presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Among them: a fully redacted job description for State Department International Energy Coordinator/Diplomat-At-Large.
[For TomDispatch Readers: As you read Nick Turse’s latest striking report from the front lines of chaos in Africa, don’t forget that, in return for a $100 contribution to this site, you can ge
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Nick Turse continues his eye-opening reportage on American policy toward Africa today with a piece about the Obama administration and child soldiers. I just wanted to remind you of one thing: his new Dispatch Book on the U.S.
40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
Reading Nick Turse's new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, raises the question of whether black lives in Africa matter to the U.S. military any more than black lives in the United States matter to the police lately trained and armed by that military.
Turse scouts out the still little told tale of U.S. military expansion into Africa over the past 14 years, and primarily over the past 6 years. Five to eight thousand U.S. troops plus mercenaries are training, arming, and fighting alongside and against African militaries and rebel groups in nearly every nation in Africa. Major land and water routes to bring in the U.S. armaments, and all the accouterments of bases housing U.S. troops, have been established to avoid the local suspicions created by building and improving airports. And yet, the U.S. military has proceeded to acquire local agreements to make use of 29 international airports and gotten to work building and improving runways at a number of them.
The U.S. militarization of Africa includes airstrikes and commando raids in Libya; "black ops" missions and drone murders in Somalia; a proxy war in Mali; secretive actions in Chad; anti-piracy operations that result in increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea; wide-ranging drone operations out of bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger, and the Seychelles; "special" operations out of bases in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; CIA bungling in Somalia; over a dozen joint training exercises a year; arming and training of soldiers in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya; a "joint special operations" operation in Burkina Faso; base construction aimed at accommodating future "surges" of troops; legions of mercenary spies; the expansion of a former French foreign legion base in Djibouti and joint war-making with France in Mali (Turse must be reminded of that other wonderfully successful U.S. takeover of French colonialism known as the war on Vietnam).
AFRICOM (Africa Command) is in fact headquartered in Germany with plans to be based at the giant new U.S. base built in Vicenza, Italy, against the will of the Vicentini. Important parts of AFRICOM's structure are in Sigonella, Sicily; Rota, Spain; Aruba; and Souda Bay, Greece -- all U.S. military outposts.
Recent U.S. military actions in Africa are mostly quiet interventions that stand a good chance of leading to enough chaos to be used as justifications for future public "interventions" in the form of larger wars that will be marketed without mention of their causation. Future famous evil forces that may one day be threatening U.S. homes with vague but scary Islamic and demonic threats in U.S. "news" reports are discussed in Turse's book now and are arising now in response to militarism rarely discussed in corporate U.S. news media.
AFRICOM is advancing with as much secrecy as it can, trying to maintain the pretense of self-governance by local government "partners," as well as to avoid the scrutiny of the world. So, it hasn't been invited by public demand. It isn't riding in to prevent some horror. There has been no public debate or decision by the U.S. public. Why, then, is the United States moving U.S. war making into Africa?
AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham explains the U.S. militarization of Africa as a response to the problems it may in the future manage to create: "The absolute imperative for the United States military is to protect America, Americans, and American interests [clearly something other than Americans]; in our case, in my case, to protect us from threats that may emerge from the African continent." Asked to identify such a threat in current existence, AFRICOM cannot do so, struggling instead to pretend that African rebels are part of al Qaeda because Osama bin Laden once praised them. During the course of AFRICOM's operations, violence has been expanding, insurgent groups proliferating, terrorism rising, and failed states multiplying -- and not by coincidence.
The reference to "American interests" may be a clue to real motivations. The word "profit" may have been accidentally omitted. In any case, the stated purposes are not working out very well.
The 2011 war on Libya led to war in Mali and anarchy in Libya. And less public operations have been no less disastrous. U.S.-backed war in Mali led to attacks in Algeria, Niger, and Libya. The U.S. response to greater violence in Libya has been still more violence. The U.S. embassy in Tunisia was attacked and burned. Congolese soldiers trained by the United States have mass raped women and girls, matching the atrocities committed by U.S.-trained Ethiopian soldiers. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has arisen. The Central African Republic has had a coup. The Great Lakes region has seen violence rise. South Sudan, which the United States helped to create, has fallen into civil war and humanitarian disaster. Et cetera. This is not entirely new. U.S. roles in instigating long wars in Congo, Sudan, and elsewhere predate the current Africa "pivot." African nations, like nations in the rest of the world, tend to believe the United States is the greatest threat to peace on earth.
Turse reports that AFRICOM's spokesman Benjamin Benson used to claim the Gulf of Guinea as the sole supposed success story, until doing so became so untenable that he began claiming he'd never done so. Turse also reports that the Benghazi disaster, contrary to what common sense might suggest, became a basis for further expansion of U.S. militarism in Africa. When something's not working, try more of it! Says Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, "We will be in Africa for some time to come. There's lots more to do there."
Someone recently told me that China had threatened to cut of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's profits from casinos in China if he continued to fund Congress members who insisted on going to war with Iran. The alleged motivation for this was that China can better buy oil from Iran if Iran is not at war. True or not, this fits Turse's description of China's approach to Africa. The U.S. relies heavily on war making. China relies more on aid and funding. The U.S. creates a nation doomed to collapse (South Sudan) and China buys its oil. This of course raises an interesting question: Why can't the United States leave the world in peace and still, like China, make itself welcome through aid and assistance, and still, like China, buy up the fossil fuels with which to destroy life on earth by means other than warfare?
The other pressing question raised by the Obama government's militarization of Africa, of course, is: Can you imagine the ear-splitting everlasting biblical proportions of the outrage had a white Republican done this?
Graphic from TomDispatch.
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: We have news and a special offer for TomDispatch readers today. As all TD obsessives know, for the last two years award-winning journalist Nick Turse has been covering a striking development tenaciously and practically alone: the “pivot” of U.S. Africa Command to that continent. It’s a major story that, at the moment, simply can’t be found elsewhere and it’s now in book form, thanks to our growing publishing program at Dispatch Books. Its title: Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and it’s that ominous “tomorrow” that catches just why we should all be concerned. Right now, when you think of war, American-style, what comes to mind is Iraq or Afghanistan or maybe Libya or even Yemen, but as Turse makes clear, tomorrow it could be Mali, or Nigeria, or Niger, or dozens of other places on the African continent. This story should be a significant beat for the mainstream media, but as of now almost no one’s paying attention except, of course, the U.S. military -- andTomDispatch. Glenn Greenwald calls Nick's new book “gripping and meticulous... his investigations... reveal a secret war with grave implications for Africans and Americans alike.” Noam Chomsky says, “Nick Turse’s investigative reporting has revealed a remarkable picture of evolving U.S. military operations in Africa that have been concealed from view, but have ominous portent, as he demonstrates vividly and in depth.” That’s why, both for your own information and to support a small operation that does big things, you really should pick up a copy of Nick’s remarkable new book of reportage, available now and officially published in a few days. (If you want to order it directly from our publisher, the stalwart and remarkable Haymarket Books, just click here and then, for a special publication date discount of 40%, enter this code, TBF40, at checkout.)
For those of you who would like to support TomDispatch in a slightly more grandiose way and help keep us atop the latest developments in a roiling world, a contribution of $100 to this site will get you a signed, personalized copy of Tomorrow’s Battlefield. It’s an offer we hope you’ll jump at, giving us the sort of financial boost we always need. Just check out our donation pagefor the details -- and, as ever, many thanks in advance. One small scheduling matter: for those of you who get your contributions to us within 36 hours of the posting of this piece, a signed book will be in the mail to you almost immediately. For the rest of you: be patient. The next batch of books won’t go out until early May. Tom]
There were those secret service agents sent to Colombia to protect the president on a summit trip and the prostitutes they brought back to their hotel rooms. There was the Air Force general on a major bender in Moscow (with more women involved). There were those Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their “sex parties” abroad (possibly in Colombia again) financed by -- no kidding! -- local drug cartels. And there were, of course, the two senior secret service agents who, after a night of drinking, ran their car into a White House security barrier.
That's what we do know from the headlines and news reports, when it comes to sex, drugs, and acting truly badly abroad (as well as at home). And yet there's so much more, as TomDispatch’s intrepid Nick Turse reports today. As you'll see, Turse has unearthed a continent’s worth of bad behavior, even as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) went out of its way to obstruct his reporting and the documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were so heavily redacted that ink companies must be making a fortune. No one should, of course, be surprised that as AFRICOM has quietly and with almost no attention pivoted to Africa, making inroads in 49 of the 54 countries on that continent, a certain kind of all-American behavior has “pivoted” with it. In a revelatory piece today, Turse -- whose groundbreaking new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, has just been published -- pulls the curtain back on one bit of scandalous and disturbing behavior after another on a continent that Washington is in the process of making its own; in other words (given the pattern of the last 13 years), that it’s helping to destabilize in a major way.
If you want a little bit of light comedy to leaven the news, only a few weeks ago, AFRICOM hosted military lawyers from 17 African nations at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The subject of the gathering: “the rule of law.” As Lieutenant General Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander of military operations, said in his opening remarks, “The rule of law is our most important export.” Turse has a slightly different interpretation of what the U.S. is “exporting” to Africa along with destabilization and blowback. Tom
Sex, Drugs, and Dead Soldiers
What U.S. Africa Command Doesn’t Want You to Know
By Nick Turse
Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.
It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali. For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.
Three of the dead were American commandos. The driver, a captain nicknamed “Whiskey Dan,” was the leader of a shadowy team of operatives never profiled in the media and rarely mentioned even in government publications. One of the passengers was from an even more secretive unit whose work is often integral to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conducts clandestine kill-and-capture missions overseas. Three of the others weren’t military personnel at all or even Americans. They were Moroccan women alternately described as barmaids or "prostitutes."
Legacy of racism and colonialism targeted: Reparations Movements Meet to Make International Connections
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Dignitaries from three continents gathered in New York City recently to sharpen their strategies for confronting some of the world’s most powerful nations over a subject that sizable numbers of citizens support in the nearly two-dozen nations represented: reparations for the legacy of a history of slavery, colonialism and government-sanctioned segregation.
Credit where credit's due...but only where it's due: How Can Obama Claim the Alternative to a Nuclear Deal with Iran is War?
By Dave Lindorff
A kudo to President Obama. But just one.
If he manages to pull off an agreement with Iran on limiting that country's nuclear fuel enrichment program in the fact of determined resistance from Republicans, Neocons, the Israel Lobby and the warmongers in both the GOP and his own Democratic Party, he will have finally earned at least some small portion of the gold in his Nobel Peace medallion.
Making enemies by droning on and on: It’s Guilt that has US Military and Embassy Staff Fleeing Yemen Like Scared Rats
By Dave Lindorff
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about Yemen, or about the Houthi rebels who have taken control of Sana’a, the ancient Arab country’s capital, leading to the hasty evacuation of all US military forces (some 250 Special Forces personnel and the staff of the US embassy) from that country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
No more AUMFs! No more ‘unitary executives’!: We’re Already Losing Our Democracy and All Our Freedoms to the 2001 AUMF
By Dave Lindorff
Critics of President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force AUMF) against ISIS have been focused upon its deliberately obfuscatory and ambiguous language, which they rightly note would make it essentially a carte blanche from Congress allowing the president to go to war almost anywhere some would-be terrorist or terrorist copycat could be found who claims affinity with ISIS.
By Dave Lindorff
The Nobel Peace Laureate President Barack Obama, the guy who once campaigned claiming one US war -- the one against Iraq -- was a “bad” one, and the other -- against Afghanistan -- was a “good” one, turns out to be a man who, once anointed commander-in-chief, can’t seem to find a war he doesn’t consider to be a “good” idea.
By Francine Mukwaya, UK Representative, Friends of the Congo
On Monday, January 19th, Congolese citizens rose up to contest the latest maneuver by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to prolong President Joseph Kabila's stay in power. According to Congo's constitution, the president can only serve two five-year terms and Joseph Kabila's second five-year term ends on December 19, 2016.
Throughout 2014, supporters of Kabila floated the idea of amending the constitution so he could run for a third term but a fierce push back from inside (Catholic Church, civil society, and political opposition) and outside (U.S., UN, EU, Belgium and France) the DRC forced Kabila's supporters to shelve the idea and explore other avenues for keeping their man in power. In addition to the internal and external pressures, the downfall of President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso in October 2014 sent a strong message that changing the constitution is a risky venture. Blaise Compaore was driven out of power by a popular uprising on October 31, 2014 when he tried to change the country's constitution to remain in power.
The latest scheme devised by members of Kabila's political party (PPRD) and Presidential Majority coalition is: to push through the Congolese parliament an electoral law that would ultimately allow Kabila to stay in power beyond 2016. Article 8 of the law makes the completion of a national census a prerequisite for holding Presidential elections. Analysts believe it would take about four years to complete the census. These four years would run beyond December 19, 2016; the date that Kabila's second term comes to a constitutional end. Opposition figures, youth and Congolese civil society at-large strongly pushed back on this feature of the law. Nonetheless, the Congolese National Assembly passed the law on Saturday, January 17th and sent it to the Senate for passage.
Congolese opposition figures and youth descended into the streets from Monday, January 19th to Thursday, January 22nd with the aim of occupying the Senate in the capital city of Kinshasa. They were met with fierce and lethal resistance from Kabila's security forces. Youth and opposition-led marches ensued in Goma, Bukavu and Mbandaka. The government's clamp down was brutal. They arrested opposition figures, teargassed people in the streets, and fired live rounds of bullets into crowds. After four days of continuous demonstrations, the International Federation of Human Rights said, a total of 42 people were killed. Human Rights watch reported similar numbers claiming 36 dead and 21 by security forces.
On Friday, January 23rd, the Congolese Senate voted to remove the clause in the electoral law that would allow President Kabila to use the census as a back door rationale for remaining in power beyond 2016. The President of the Senate, Leon Kengo Wa Dondo said that it was because people went into the streets, that the Senate voted to remove the toxic article in the electoral law. He noted "we listened to the streets, that is why today's vote was a historic one." The amendments made by the Senate to the law then required that the law be passed on to a mixed chamber so that the Senate and National Assembly's versions of the law could be reconciled. The pressure was increasing on the Kabila regime as the Catholic Church voiced concerns about the grave actions on the part of the Kabila regime while Western diplomats went into high gear in an attempt to calm tensions.
On Saturday, January 24th, the President of the National Assembly told the press that the Senate amendments would be accepted. On Sunday, January 25th the National Assembly voted on the law and accepted the changes made by the Senate. The population claimed a victory and the general sentiment was expressed in the Lingala phrase "Bazo Pola Bazo Ndima" in English means, they [Kabila regime] lost and have accepted their defeat.
The central matter of concern is far from resolved. The Congolese people have no doubt that Kabila wants to remain in power through whatever means necessary. Although, the people have claimed a victory, vigilance is paramount as the process unfolds, and the country moves toward the constitutionally mandated end of Joseph Kabila's tenure as president on December 19, 2016.
A heavy price was paid last week with the loss of life. However, the veil of fear was pierced and future demonstrations are likely in order to protect the constitution, assure that Kabila leaves power per the law of the land and organize Presidential elections in 2016.
The youth movement is maturing with its savvy use of new media technologies. It is also strengthening its network inside and outside the country. The youth shared the cell phone numbers of the Senators and National Assembly members and mobilized Congolese inside and outside the DRC to call and send text messages to the members of parliament demanding that they scrap the electoral law. The usage of social media by the youth prompted the government to shut down the Internet and SMS system last week (wireless Internet, SMS and Facebook have yet to be restored). Via twitter, Congolese youth created the hashtag #Telema, a Lingala word meaning "stand up" which served as a rallying cry for young Congolese inside and outside the country. We also created a website with the same name (www.Telema.org), in order to provide support to the youth on the ground.
The people have demonstrated that the power is in their hands and not the politicians. The battle is not for or against one law or the other but rather for a new Congo, a Congo where the interests of the people are prioritized and protected by their leaders. Our fight is to have a say in the decision-making process in our country, and ultimately control and determine the affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
By Linn Washington Jr.
Tinduf, Algeria -- News about the historic change of relations between the United States and Cuba triggered cheers across the five Sahrawi refugee camps located near this Sahara Desert city located 1,100-miles southwest of Algeria’s capital of Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Algiers -- The Western Sahara is not just a section of the famous desert that dominates North Africa.
A Base Camp, an Authoritarian Regime, and the Future of U.S. Blowback in Africa
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
Admit it. You don’t know where Chad is. You know it’s in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you’d probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here’s a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.
Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the U.S. military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it’s building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.
That the U.S. military is expanding its efforts in Africa shouldn’t be a shock anymore. For years now, the Pentagon has been increasing its missions there and promoting a mini-basing boom that has left it with a growing collection of outposts sprouting across the northern tier of the continent. This string of camps is meant to do what more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts, including the training and equipping of local military forces and a variety of humanitarian hearts-and-minds missions, has failed to accomplish: transform the Trans-Sahara region in the northern and western parts of the continent into a bulwark of stability.
That the U.S. is doing more in Chad specifically isn’t particularly astonishing either. Earlier this year, TomDispatch and the Washington Post both reported on separate recent deployments of U.S. troops to that north-central African nation. Nor is it shocking that the new American compound is to be located near the capital, N’Djamena. The U.S. has previously employed N’Djamena as a hub for its air operations. What’s striking is the terminology used in the official documents. After years of adamant claims that the U.S. military has just one lonely base in all of Africa -- Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti -- Army documents state that it will now have “base camp facilities” in Chad.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) still insists that there is no Chadian base, that the camp serves only as temporary lodgings to support a Special Operations training exercise to be held next year. It also refused to comment about another troop deployment to Chad uncovered by TomDispatch. When it comes to American military activities in Africa, much remains murky.
Nonetheless, one fact is crystal clear: the U.S. is ever more tied to Chad. This remains true despite a decade-long effort to train its military forces only to see them bolt from one mission in the face of casualties, leave another in a huff after gunning down unarmed civilians, and engage in human rights abuses at home with utter impunity. All of this suggests yet another potential source of blowback from America’s efforts in Africa which have backfired, gone bust, and sown strife from Libya to South Sudan, the Gulf Guinea to Mali, and beyond.
A Checkered History with Chad
Following 9/11, the U.S. launched a counterterrorism program, known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, to bolster the militaries of Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad. Three years later, in 2005, the program expanded to include Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and was renamed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). The idea was to turn a huge swath of Africa into a terror-resistant bulwark of stability. Twelve years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the region is anything but stable, which means that it fits perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece, with the rest of the under-the-radar U.S. “pivot” to that continent.
Coups by the U.S.-backed militaries of Mauritania in 2005 and again in 2008, Niger in 2010, and Mali in 2012, as well as a 2011 revolution that overthrew Tunisia’s U.S.-backed government (after the U.S.-supported army stood aside); the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2006; and the rise of Boko Haram from an obscure radical sect to a raging insurgent movement in northern Nigeria are only some of the most notable recent failures in TSCTP nations. Chad came close to making the list, too, but attempted military coups in 2006 and 2013 were thwarted, and in 2008, the government, which had itself come to power in a 1990 coup, managed to hold off against a rebel assault on the capital.
Through it all, the U.S. has continued to mentor Chad’s military, and in return, that nation has lent its muscle to support Washington’s interests in the region. Chad, for instance, joined the 2013 U.S.-backed French military intervention to retake Mali after Islamists began routing the forces of the American-trained officer who had launched a coup that overthrew that country’s democratically elected government. According to military briefing slides obtained by TomDispatch, an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) liaison team was deployed to Chad to aid operations in Mali and the U.S. also conducted pre-deployment training for its Chadian proxies. After initial success, the French effort became bogged down and has now become a seemingly interminable, smoldering counterinsurgency campaign. Chad, for its part, quickly withdrew its forces from the fight after sustaining modest casualties. “Chad's army has no ability to face the kind of guerrilla fighting that is emerging in northern Mali. Our soldiers are going to return to Chad,” said that country’s president, Idriss Deby.
Still, U.S. support continued.
In September of 2013, the U.S. military organized meetings with Chad’s senior-most military leaders, including Army chief General Brahim Seid Mahamat, Minister of Defense General Bénaïndo Tatola, and counterterror tsar Brigadier General Abderaman Youssouf Merry, to build solid relationships and support efforts at “countering violent extremist operations objectives and theater security cooperation programs.” This comes from a separate set of documents concerning “IO,” or Information Operations, obtained from the military through the Freedom of Information Act. French officials also attended these meetings and the agenda included the former colonial power’s support of “security cooperation with Chad in the areas of basic and officer training and staff procedures” as well as “French support [for] U.S. security cooperation efforts with the Chadian military.” Official briefing slides also mention ongoing “train and equip” activities with Chadian troops.
All of this followed on the heels of a murky coup plot by elements of the armed forces last May to which the Chadian military reacted with a crescendo of violence. According to a State Department report, Chad’s “security forces shot and killed unarmed civilians and arrested and detained members of parliament, military officers, former rebels, and others.”
After Chad reportedly helped overthrow the Central African Republic’s president in early 2013 and later aided in the 2014 ouster of the rebel leader who deposed him, it sent its forces into that civil-war-torn land as part of an African Union mission bolstered by U.S.-backed French troops. Soon, Chad’s peacekeeping forces were accused of stoking sectarian strife by supporting Muslim militias against Christian fighters. Then, on March 29th, a Chadian military convoy arrived in a crowded marketplace in the capital, Bangui. There, according to a United Nations report, the troops “reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.”
In all, 30 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 300 were wounded. Amid criticism, Chad angrily announced it was withdrawing its troops. “Despite the sacrifices we have made, Chad and Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering” in the Central African Republic, declared Chad's foreign ministry.
In May, despite this, the U.S. sent 80 military personnel to Chad to operate drones and conduct surveillance in an effort to locate hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” President Obama told Congress. The force, he said, will remain in Chad “until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”
In July, AFRICOM admitted that it had reduced surveillance flights searching for the girls to focus on other missions. Now AFRICOM tells TomDispatch that, while “the U.S. continues to help Nigeria address the threat posed by Boko Haram, the previously announced ISR support deployment to Chad has departed.” Yet more than seven months after their abduction, the girls still have not been located, let alone rescued.
In June, according to the State Department, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), Brigadier General Kenneth H. Moore, Jr., visited Chad to “celebrat[e] the successful conclusion of a partnership between USARAF and the Chadian Armed Forces.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived in that landlocked country at the same time to meet with “top Chadian officials.” His visit, according to an embassy press release, “underscore[d] the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as military cooperation.” And that cooperation has been ample.
Earlier this year, Chadian troops joined those of the United States, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and host nation Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise for TSCTP nations. At about the time Flintlock was concluding, soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, and the United States took part in another annual training exercise, Central Accord 2014. The Army also sent medical personnel to mentor Chadian counterparts in “tactical combat casualty care,” while Marines and Navy personnel traveled to Chad to train that country’s militarized anti-poaching park rangers in small unit tactics and patrolling.
A separate contingent of Marines conducted military intelligence training with Chadian officers and non-commissioned officers. The scenario for the final exercise, also involving personnel from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia, had a ripped-from-the-headlines quality: “preparing for an unconventional war against an insurgent threat in Mali.”
As for U.S. Army Africa, it sent trainers as part of a separate effort to provide Chadian troops with instruction on patrolling and fixed-site defense as well as live-fire training. “We are ready to begin training in Chad for about 1,300 soldiers -- an 850 man battalion, plus another 450 man battalion,” said Colonel John Ruffing, the Security Cooperation director of U.S. Army Africa, noting that the U.S. was working in tandem with a French private security firm.
In September, AFRICOM reaffirmed its close ties with Chad by renewing an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement, which allows both militaries to purchase from each other or trade for basic supplies. The open-ended pact, said Brigadier General James Vechery, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, “will continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on international security issues... as well as the interoperability of the armed forces of both nations.”
The Base That Wasn’t and the Deployment That Might Be
In the months since the Chadian armed forces’ massacre in Bangui, various U.S. military contract solicitations and related documents have pointed toward an even more substantive American presence in Chad. In late September, the Army put out a call for bids to sustain American personnel for six months at those “base camp facilities” located near N'Djamena. Supporting documents specifically mention 35 U.S. personnel and detail the services necessary to run an austere outpost: field sanitation, bulk water supply, sewage services, and trash removal. The materials indicate that “local security policy and procedures” are to be provided by the Chadian armed forces and allude to the use of more than one location, saying “none of the sites in Chad are considered U.S.-federally controlled facilities.” The documents state that such support for those facilities is to run until July 2015.
After AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated email requests for further information, I called up Chief of Media Operations Benjamin Benson and asked about the base camp. He was even more tight-lipped than usual. “I personally don’t know anything,” he told me. “That’s not saying AFRICOM doesn’t have any information on that.”
In follow-up emails, Benson eventually told me that the “base camp” is strictly a temporary facility to be used by U.S. forces only for the duration of the upcoming Flintlock 2015 exercise. He stated in no uncertain terms: “We are not establishing a base/forward presence/contingency location, building a U.S. facility, or stationing troops in Chad.”
Benson would not, however, let me speak with an expert on U.S. military activities in Chad. Nor would he confirm or deny the continued presence of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance liaison team deployed to Chad in 2013 to support the French mission in Mali, first reported on by TomDispatch this March. “[W]e cannot discuss ISR activities or the locations and durations of operational deployments,” he wrote. If an ISR team is still present in Chad, this would represent a substantive long-term deployment despite the lack of a formal U.S. base.
The N’Djamena “base camp” is just one of a series of Chadian projects mentioned in recent contracting documents. An Army solicitation from September sought “building materials for use in Chad,” while supporting documents specifically mention an “operations center/multi-use facility.” That same month, the Army awarded a contract for the transport of equipment from Niamey, Niger, the home of another of the growing network of U.S. outposts in Africa, to N’Djamena. The Army also began seeking out contractors capable of supplying close to 600 bunk beds that could support an American-sized weight of 200 to 225 pounds for a facility “in and around the N'Djamena region.” And just last month, the military put out a call for a contractor to supply construction equipment -- a bulldozer, dump truck, excavator, and the like -- for a project in, you guessed it, N'Djamena.
This increased U.S. interest in Chad follows on the heels of a push by France, the nation’s former colonial overlord and America’s current premier proxy in Africa, to beef up its military footprint on the continent. In July, following U.S.-backed French military interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic, French President François Hollande announced a new mission, Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune found in the Sahara). Its purpose: a long-term counterterrorism operation involving 3,000 French troops deployed to a special forces outpost in Burkina Faso and forward operating bases in Mali, Niger, and not surprisingly, Chad.
“There are plenty of threats in all directions,” Hollande told French soldiers in Chad, citing militants in Mali and Libya as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria. “Rather than having large bases that are difficult to manage in moments of crisis, we prefer installations that can be used quickly and efficiently.” Shortly afterward, President Obama approved millions in emergency military aid for French operations in Mali, Niger, and Chad, while the United Kingdom, another former colonial power in the region, dispatched combat aircraft to the French base in N'Djamena to contribute to the battle against Boko Haram.
From Setback to Blowback?
In recent years, the U.S. military has been involved in a continual process of expanding its presence in Africa. Out of public earshot, officials have talked about setting up a string of small bases across the northern tier of the continent. Indeed, over the last years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and outposts have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and, skipping Chad, in the Central African Republic, followed by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A staunch American ally with a frequent and perhaps enduring American troop presence, Chad seems like the natural spot for still another military compound -- the only missing link in a long chain of countries stretching from west to east, from one edge of the continent to the other -- even if AFRICOM continues to insist that there’s no American “base” in the works.
Even without a base, the United States has for more than a decade poured copious amounts of money, time, and effort into making Chad a stable regional counterterrorism partner, sending troops there, training and equipping its army, counseling its military leaders, providing tens of millions of dollars in aid, funding its military expeditions, supplying its army with equipment ranging from tents to trucks, donating additional equipment for its domestic security forces, providing a surveillance and security system for its border security agents, and looking the other way when its military employed child soldiers.
The results? A flight from the fight in Mali, a massacre in the Central African Republic, hundreds of schoolgirls still in the clutches of Boko Haram, and a U.S. alliance with a regime whose “most significant human rights problems,” according to the most recent country report by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “were security force abuse, including torture; harsh prison conditions; and discrimination and violence against women and children,” not to mention the restriction of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on the judiciary, property seizures, child labor and forced labor (that also includes children), among other abuses. Amnesty International further found that human rights violations “are committed with almost total impunity by members of the Chadian military, the Presidential Guard, and the state intelligence bureau, the Agence Nationale de Securité.”
With Chad, the United States finds itself more deeply involved with yet another authoritarian government and another atrocity-prone proxy force. In this, it continues a long series of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps across Africa. These include an intervention in Libya that transformed the country from an autocracy into a near-failed state, training efforts that produced coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso, American nation-building that led to a failed state in South Sudan, anti-piracy measures that flopped in the Gulf of Guinea, the many fiascos of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the training of an elite Congolese unit that committed mass rapes and other atrocities, problem-plagued humanitarian efforts in Djibouti and Ethiopia, and the steady rise of terror groups in U.S.-backed countries like Nigeria and Tunisia.
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, he has reported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam recently received an American Book Award.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2014 Nick Turse
Ebola, “Black River”,
Thank-you for giving your name
To a killer virus.
Those scientists, those doctors,
The ones who discovered the germ,
They looked at a map
Karmic payback for selfish Americans: Dickensian US Working Conditions Almost Guarantee Ebola Catastrophe
By Dave Lindorff
Ebola is coming! Ebola is coming! America is doomed!
That, in essence, is the message of the US corporate news media, always on the lookout for the next sensational story with which to stir up hysteria among the public in the interest of higher ratings.
Ebola is both preventable and controllable: Statement of the Pan African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network
World Leaders Take Action Now
Save precious lives, give peace a chance!
We are a Pan-African Network of Peacemakers from over 30 countries across the African continent and represent more than 20 organisations. Our 20-member Steering Committee has representatives from West, East, Central Africa, southern Africa and the islands. Some of our members are also from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, with strong African connections. We work at the grassroots level, training in Nonviolence and mobilising communities for Peacebuilding.
We are disturbed by the ongoing and alarmingly vicious spread of the preventable and controllable Ebola virus that is not only killing people but is spreading fear and further destabilising West African communities. While the Ebola Crisis has become a global emergency, we are concerned that there does not seem to be a concerted political will at the global level to launch sufficient, well-planned and immediate actions to put an end to the epidemic and save precious lives. As stated by the World Health Organization, WHO, it can take six to nine months to bring this devastation to an end. We are deeply disturbed that grossly unequal treatment is meted out by the world in its response towards this preventable crisis in West Africa. While those from more developed countries have received swift medical treatment and have positively responded to the trial drugs, those in African nations are succumbing to the virus unnecessarily. As observed by Peter Piot, the researcher who discovered the virus, “It took the death of a thousand African(s) and the repatriation of two Americans before a public emergency was declared.” Our failure to act now can only lead to more catastrophes in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and West Africa at large.
Failure to act now could also lead to intensified conditions for violence and conflict, as people scramble for food, medicines and other basic necessities. While recognizing the responsibility that the African Union has already taken, the swift intervention of Cuba and the work of grassroots commitments already underway, we appeal (to both governmental and non-governmental leaders from within and outside the continent) OR (the United Nations and leaders of countries with efficient resources) for urgent medical and humanitarian interventions which will ensure that a maximum number of lives are saved.
We call upon the AU to strengthen its response by appointing a special Envoy on the Fight against Ebola with immediate effect. The Special Envoy must have a mandate to take all necessary measures, and with both the budget and the authority to take short-term action so as to respond effectively to the rapidly changing circumstances. We also call for the Special Fund to address immediate and long term medical and socio-economic needs of those nations and communities affected by the crisis.
At the same time, we strongly caution against any militarisation of humanitarian assistance to the affected areas. Utmost care must be taken to ensure that the deployment of military health personnel is strictly subjected to civilian authority. We are concerned that this medical and human crisis not be exploited for continued military, political or economic advantages by any country or party.
The Ebola crisis is a manifestation of under-development and the deplorable health-care delivery systems in most parts of Africa, often emerging from war and violent conflicts. Liberia has been hit hard by this crisis because it is a fragile state, recovering from decades of turmoil and civil war. We call for immediate steps to improve the health and medical infrastructure for all countries on the African continent to ensure better healthcare now and for the future.
We can only defeat the Ebola epidemic if we acknowledge that this is not a local problem, but a global threat with common responsibilities for which there should be coordinated international actions utilizing without bias the latest medical and health care technologies available in our world With coordinated international people-centred action, we can heal the sick and build healthy, peaceful societies as well.
The Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Steering Committee
Miguel Gomes Antonio (Angola) SACHI
Elavie Ndura (Burundi/USA)
Rosemary Garsi (Cameroon) Embrace Dignity
Koldobi Velasco (Canary Islands) AA-MOC
Diaku Dianzenza (DRC / South Africa)
Sherif Joseph Rizk (Egypt)
Kesia-Onam Togo-Birch (Ghana) WANEP
Benard Lisamadi Agona (Kenya) CAPI
Steve Sharra (Malawi) LCD Malawi
Fiona Mwale (Malawi) AWANICh
Paulina Dempers (Namibia) Namibia United African Alliance Community
Oussenia Alidou (Niger / USA) African Women Coalition Against War
Olufemi Oluniyi (Nigeria / USA) AFPREA
Nozizwe Madlala- Routledge (South Africa) Embrace Dignity
Moses Monday John (South Sudan) ONAD
Mamoun Abdallah (Sudan) SONAD
Musa Hlophe (Swaziland)
Abdeslam Omar Lahsen (Western Sahara) AFRAPRADESA
Charity Mungweme (Zimbabwe / South Africa) Action Support Centre
Miles Rutendo Tanhira (Zimbabwe / Sweden) Journalist
By John Grant
I’m a leftist, but I have a weakness for my brothers and sisters on the right. For some reason, I’m compelled to see what troglodytes like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly are thinking. They’re all quite entertaining as they do their best to un-man Barack Obama and advocate day-in, day-out for a war with Islam. They are masters of malicious fog.
Then there’s a writer like New York Times columnist David Brooks, a man who must sit around observing current events until he figures out a safe, center-right position he can express in the most reasonable, muddled language possible. Reading David Brooks is like trying to get a grip on jello.
The Limits of America’s African Experiment in Nation Building
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]
Juba, South Sudan -- The soft glow of the dancing white lights is a dead giveaway. It’s Christmas in July at the U.S. Embassy compound. Behind high walls topped with fierce-looking metal impediments meant to discourage climbers, there’s a party under way.
Close your eyes and you could be at a stateside summer barbeque or an office holiday party. Even with them open, the local realities of dirt roads and dirty water, civil war, mass graves, and nightly shoot-to-kill curfews seem foreign. These walls, it turns out, are even higher than they look.
Out by the swimming pool and the well-stocked bar, every table is packed with people. Slightly bleary-eyed men and sun-kissed women wear Santa hats and decorations in their hair. One festive fellow is dressed as Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation complete with a white sweater, black dickey, and bright white loafers. Another is straddling an inflatable killer whale that he’s borrowed from the collection of playthings around the pool and is using as improvised chair while he stuffs his face from an all-American smorgasbord. We’re all eating well tonight. Mac and cheese, barbequed ribs, beef tenderloin, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and for desert, peach cobbler. The drinks are flowing, too: wine and whisky and fine Tusker beer.
Yuletide songs drift out into the sultry night in this, the capital of the world’s newest nation. “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime,” croons Paul McCartney.
Just 15 minutes away, near the airport in an area known as Tongping, things aren’t quite so wonderful. There’s no fried chicken, no ribs, no peach cobbler. At Juba’s United Nations camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), they’re eating sorghum and a crude porridge made from a powdered blend of corn and soy beans provided by the United Nations’ World Food Program. Children at the camp call it “the yellow food.” “It’s no good,” one of them tells me, with a quick head shake for emphasis.
I mention to a few of the embassy revelers that I’m heading several hundred miles north to Malakal. A couple of them assure me that, according to colleagues, it’s “not that bad.” But while we’re chowing down, an emaciated young girl in Malakal clings to life. This one-year-old arrived at the hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, or MSF) at the U.N. camp there several days earlier, severely malnourished and weighing just 11 pounds. It’s uncertain if she’ll survive. One in 10 children who arrive at the hospital in her condition don’t.
A Man-Made Famine
As John Kerry, then-chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put it in 2012, the United States “helped midwife the birth” of South Sudan. The choice of words may have been cringe-worthy, but hardly divorced from reality. For more than 20 years, a bipartisan coalition in Washington and beyond championed rebel forces here. As the new nation broke away from Sudan, after decades of bloody civil war, the U.S. poured in billions of dollars in aid, including hundreds of millions of dollars of military and security assistance, and sent military instructors to train the country’s armed forces and advisers to mentor government officials.
It would be Washington’s major nation-building effort in Africa, a new country destined to join Iraq and Afghanistan as a regional bulwark of democracy and a shining example of American know-how. On South Sudan’s independence day, July 9, 2011, President Obama hailed the moment as a “time of hope” and pledged U.S. partnership to the new land, emphasizing security and development. There’s precious little evidence of either of these at the U.N. camps and even less in vast areas of the countryside now teetering on the edge of a catastrophic famine.
Since a civil war broke out in December 2013, at least 10,000 South Sudanese have been killed, untold numbers of women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, and atrocities have been committed by all parties to the conflict. As a result, in the eyes of the United Nations, in a world of roiling strife -- civil wars, mass killings, hunger, and conflicts from Iraq to Gaza, Ukraine to Libya -- South Sudan is, along with the Central African Republic and Syria, one of just three “L3 emergencies,” the world’s most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. The country has also just displaced Somalia -- for six years running the archetypal failed state -- atop the Fund for Peace’s 178-nation list of the world’s most fragile nations.
Today, close to 100,000 people are huddled on United Nations military bases around the country, just a fraction of the almost 1.5 million who have been put to flight and are waiting out the war as internal exiles or as refugees in the bordering nations of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. Such massive levels of displacement guarantee another nightmare to come. Since so many subsistence farmers weren’t around to plant their crops, despite fertile ground and sufficient rain, seeds never met soil and food never had a chance to grow.
“At this point in time, because it’s the rainy season, there’s nothing we can do in terms of agriculture,” says Caroline Saint-Mleux, the regional emergency coordinator for East and Central Africa at CARE International. Above us, the sky is darkening as we sit in plastic chairs in the muddy “humanitarian hub,” a grimy ghetto of white tents, nondescript trailers, and makeshift headquarters of aid agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross and MSF, on the outer edge of the U.N. base at Malakal. Her organization did distribute a limited number of seeds to farmers still on their land earlier in the year, but can do no more. The planting season is long past. “It would be a waste of energy at this point,” she says, resignation in her voice.
Famine "is a very realistic possibility,” Deborah Schein tells me. She’s the coordinator for the United Nations in Upper Nile State, where Malakal is located. Right now, experts are crunching the numbers and debating whether to formally declare a famine. Whether its this fall or early next year, aid workers say, it's definitely coming and the sooner it comes, the more lives can be saved. Recently, U.N. Security Council President Eugène-Richard Gasana called attention to “the catastrophic food insecurity situation.” Already, 3.9 million people -- about one in three South Sudanese -- face dangerous levels of food insecurity. However, unlike in Ethiopia in the 1980s, where drought led to crop failures that killed one million people, Vanessa Parra, Oxfam America’s press liaison in South Sudan, says this country is facing an “entirely man-made famine.”
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Women walk through the muddy U.N. Mission in South Sudan camp in Malakal. (Nick Turse)
If it were dry, it would take only five minutes to walk from Deborah Schein’s office at the U.N. base in Malakal to the Médecins Sans Frontières field hospital in the adjoining IDP camp where 17,000 South Sudanese are now taking refuge. But the rains have turned this ground into fetid mud and an easy walk into a slip-sliding slog.
At the end of a gray, mucky expanse that nearly sucks the boots off your feet, an MSF flag flies outside a barn-sized white tent. Before you enter, you need to visit a foot-washing station, then have your feet or boots disinfected. Even then, it’s impossible to keep the grime out. “As you can imagine, this is not the best environment for a hospital,” says Teresa Sancristoval, the energetic chief of MSF’s emergency operations in Malakal.
Step inside that tent and you’re immediately in a ward that’s electric with activity. It’s hard to believe that this 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week hospital is manned by only three expat doctors and three expat nurses, plus a medical team leader. Still, add in various support personnel, local staff, and the many patients and suddenly this giant tent begins to shrink, putting space at a premium.
“The great majority of the hospital is pediatrics,” says Sancristoval, a compact dynamo from Madrid with the bearing of a field general and intense eyes that go wide when making a point. Not that she even needs to point that out. In this first ward, the 15 metal-frame beds -- blue paint peeling, thin mattresses, four makeshift bamboo posts topped with mosquito nets -- are packed tight, all but two filled with mother and child or children. Some days, there’s not a bed to spare, leaving patients ill with infection and wracked by disease to sleep on whatever space can be found on the floor.
On a bed adjacent to the main thoroughfare sits a tiny girl in a yellow top and pink skirt, her head bandaged and covered in a clingy mesh net. Nyajuma has been in this hospital for two weeks. She was lying here inside this tent, wasted and withered, the night we were having our Christmas feast at the embassy about 400 miles south in Juba.
Nyajuma weighed only 11 pounds on arrival. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average one-year-old girl in the U.S. weighs more than double that. She was quickly started on the first of two powdered therapeutic foods to combat her severe malnutrition, followed by a regimen of Plumpy’nut, a high-protein, high-calorie peanut paste, four times a day along with two servings of milk.
It would have been bad enough if her only problem were severe malnutrition, but that condition also exacerbated the skin infection beneath the bandages on her head. In addition, she suffers from kala azar, a deadly disease caused by a parasite spread by sandflies that results in prolonged fever and weakness. On top of that, she is being treated for two other potentially lethal maladies, cholera and tuberculosis. Her mother, resting beside her, looks exhausted, world-beaten. Pregnant on arrival, she gave birth five days later. She lies next to Nyajuma, listless, but carefully covers her face with her arm as if to shield herself from the harsh world beyond this bed.
During her first week at the hospital, nurse Monica Alvarez tells me, Nyajuma didn’t crack a smile. “But now, voilà,” she says lifting the child, sparking a broad grin that reflects the sea change in her condition. Nyajuma is enduring the rigors of kala azar and tuberculosis treatments with great aplomb. “She’s eating well and she’s smiling all the time,” says Alvarez, who's quick with a smile herself. But Nyajuma is still in the early stages of treatment. Once stable, severely malnourished children can be transferred to ambulatory care. But it takes roughly six weeks for them to make a full recovery and be discharged. And in today’s South Sudan, they are the lucky ones.
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One-year-old Nyajuma sits on a bed next to her mother at the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital at the U.N. Mission in South Sudan camp in Malakal.
Of those who make it to the hospital in such a condition, 10% don’t survive, Javier Roldan, MSF’s medical team leader, tells me. “We have people who come in in later stages or have a co-infection because malnutrition has compromised their immune system, which makes treatment much more complicated.” He talks of the difficulty of losing patients for want of better facilities, more staff, and greater resources. “The outcome of a baby weighing one and a half kilos [3.3 pounds] in Europe or America would be no problem at all, but here there’s quite a high mortality rate," says Roldan. "It’s very frustrating for the medical staff when you have patients die because you don’t have the means to treat them.”
And Malakal is no anomaly. At the MSF feeding station in Leer, a town in adjoining Unity State, they’ve treated roughly 1,800 malnourished children since mid-May, compared to 2,300 in all of last year. North of Leer, in Bentiu, the site of repeated spasms of violence, the situation is especially grim. “Over five percent of the children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition,” says CARE’s Country Director for South Sudan Aimee Ansari. “On the day I left Bentiu, CARE helped parents transport the bodies of children who had died from malnutrition to a burial site.” In all, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), almost one million South Sudanese children under five years of age will require treatment for acute malnutrition in 2014. UNICEF projects that 50,000 of them could die.
The Camps and the Countryside
At the U.N.’s Tongping camp in Juba -- where nearly 11,500 of the area’s tens of thousands of internally displaced persons are taking refuge -- the food situation is “not very good at all.” So John, a 17-year-old resident, emphatically assures me beneath the relentless midday sun. “Outside, when I was living at home, we could have fruit or whatever we wanted.” Here, he eats no fresh food and no vegetables. Its sorghum and “the yellow food” mixed with sugar, oil, and water. “This food doesn’t even compare,” he says more than once.
Still, people here aren’t dying of malnutrition and even those in the ruder, more dismal locales in Bentiu, and Malakal are luckier than most since they have access to aid from NGOs. At a time when South Sudan needs them most, however, almost eight months of war, insecurity, and attacks on aid workers have severely limited the reach of humanitarian organizations. Speaking of the entire NGO community, Wendy Taeuber, country director for the International Rescue Committee in South Sudan, says, "The remoteness of rural areas of South Sudan combined with the rainy season means that there are hundreds of thousands of IDPs still in need of additional assistance."
Sitting in the trailer that serves as his office, I ask Paulin Nkwosseu, the chief field officer for UNICEF in Malakal, about the situation of those in less accessible areas along the Nile River where World Food Program distributions are limited. “Due to the crisis, people have no income and no food, so they’re surviving on monthly food distributions from WFP,” he tells me. “But they say that the food distributed by WFP is not sufficient for the whole family.”
UNICEF works with NGO partners to reach people outside the camps, but it’s a struggle. Nkwosseu walks over to a large wall map and begins to point out Nile River towns to the north like Wau Shilluk (currently suffering a cholera outbreak), Lul, Kodok, and Melut. These, he says, are hubs where South Sudanese from rural areas go when faced with hunger. The reason is simple enough: the river is one of the few viable transport options in a country the size of Texas that has almost no paved roads and whose dirt tracks in the rainy season are quickly reduced to impassable mud.
Even using the Nile is anything but a slam-dunk operation. Earlier this year, for instance, a convoy of barges transporting food and fuel to Malakal was attacked by armed men. Even absent the acts of rebels, soldiers, or bandits, food barges are regularly delayed by everything from mechanical issues to drawn out negotiations with local powerbrokers. Air drops are costly, impractical, and -- thanks to a lack of airfield infrastructure -- often unfeasible. Security is minimal and so thousands of tons of food stocks have simply been looted. Even when road transport is possible, vehicles are attacked and food is stolen by both government and rebel troops, eager to feed themselves. When food supplies do make it to the river towns, many in need are unlikely to make it in from the water-logged countryside in time.
Among African nations, South Sudan has had an almost unprecedented relationship with the United States. Aside from Liberia -- a nation settled, hundreds of years ago, by former American slaves, whose capital is named after a U.S. president -- it is the only African country for which Americans have evidenced a deep bipartisan commitment and “longstanding humanitarian and political interest as well as a deeper kinship,” says Cameron Hudson, who was the director for African affairs on the staff of the National Security Council from 2005 to 2009.
“For nearly a decade leading up to the 2011 declaration of independence, the cause of the nation and its citizens was one that was near and dear to the heart of two successive U.S. administrations and some of its most seasoned and effective thinkers and policymakers,” Patricia Taft, a senior associate with the Fund for Peace, wrote in a recent analysis of South Sudan. “In order to secure this nation-building ‘win,’ both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations poured tons of aid into South Sudan, in every form imaginable. From military aid to food aid to the provision of technical expertise, America was South Sudan’s biggest ally and backer, ardently midwifing the country into nationhood by whatever means necessary.”
For all America’s efforts, the wheels started coming off almost immediately. “We’ve gotten pretty good at understanding what goes into building a state, institutionally, but as far as what creates a nation that’s actually functional, we fell short,” Taft tells TomDispatch. The U.S., she says, failed to do the necessary heavy lifting to encourage the building of a shared national identity and sat on its hands when targeted interventions might have helped reverse worrisome developments in South Sudan.
Still, the U.S. repeatedly pledged unyielding support for the struggling young nation. In August 2012, for example, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Juba, was emphatic that the U.S. “commitment to this new nation is enduring and absolute in terms of assistance and aid and support going forward.” A year later, announcing the appointment of Donald Booth as President Obama’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, made special reference to America’s “enduring commitment” to the South Sudanese people.
Lately, however, words like “enduring and absolute” have been replaced by the language of limits. Speaking in Juba just days before the July Christmas party, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard drew attention to the fact that the U.S. had given generously to South Sudan, but that such assistance would be of little use if the war continues. “There is a limit to how much aid can be provided in a year with so many crises around the world,” she said.
That doesn’t bode well for those already going hungry and those who will be affected by the coming famine, forecast by some to be the worst since Ethiopia’s in the 1980s. Here, limits equal lives lost. A $1.8 billion U.N. aid operation designed to counter the immediate, life-threatening needs of the worst affected South Sudanese is currently just 50% funded, according to Amanda Weyler of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Sudan. She explains that "any shortfall in funding potentially means that we cannot save lives of people that we may otherwise have been able to help.”
In a statement emailed to TomDispatch, Anne Richard acknowledged this very point, though she couched it in the language of “needs,” not lives. She put the blame on South Sudan’s warring factions while lamenting the plethora of crises around the world. “Even if Congress again funds our budget so that we can provide a solid share of support to aid organizations and U.N. appeals, we can’t cover them completely and other donor countries will also be stretched. At some point, we may see reports of food and water shortages and healthcare needs going unaddressed,” she wrote. “Ultimately, these crises are man-made and will not be alleviated until the fighting stops.”
Do They Know It’s Christmastime At All?
It’s an overcast day, but the sun is strong behind the clouds and it’s bright inside the white tent of the Médecins Sans Frontières field hospital. It’s also hot. One of several large, aged metal fans pushes the heavy, humid air around these cramped quarters as the staff moves purposefully from patient to patient, checking progress, dispensing medicine, providing instructions. Children cry and shriek, babble and laugh, and cough and cough and cough.
A scrawny black and white cat slips through a maze of legs moving from the rudimentary pharmacy to the examination room past the bed where Nyajuma sits. She’s putting on weight, 2.5 pounds since her arrival and so, for her, things are looking somewhat better. But as the country plunges into famine, how many other Nyajumas will arrive here and find there’s not enough food, not enough medicine, too few doctors? How many others will never make it and simply die in the bush?
“When there’s a clash, when the conflict starts, it’s in the news every day. Then we start to forget about it. In South Sudan, the needs are only getting bigger, even bigger than in the beginning,” MSF’s Javier Roldan tells me. “When the conflict becomes chronic, the situation deteriorates. Food access is getting even more difficult. Fewer donors are providing money, so the situation for civilians is deteriorating day by day.”
That embassy party in Juba seems light years away, not just in another state but another world -- a world where things in Malakal don’t seem so bad. It’s a world where choice cuts of beef sizzle and cold lager flows and the pool looks cool and inviting, a world where limits on aid are hard realities to be dispassionately explained and cursorily lamented, not death sentences to be suffered.
From Iraq to Afghanistan, American-style nation building has crumbled, exposing the limits of American power. Before things are over in South Sudan, Washington’s great experiment in Africa may prove to be the most disastrous effort of all. Just three years after this country’s independence, two years after Hillary Clinton stood in this city and pledged enduring and absolute assistance, at a time when its people are most in need, the U.S. is talking about limits on aid, about backing away from the country it fostered, its prime example of nation-building-in-action in the heart of Africa. The effects will be felt from Juba to Jonglei, Bor to Bentiu, Malek to Malakal.
If things continue as they have, by the time the U.S. Embassy throws its actual Christmas bash, the civil war in South Sudan will have entered its second year and large swaths of the country might be months into a man-made famine abetted by an under-funded humanitarian response -- and it’s the most vulnerable, like Nyajuma, who will bear the brunt of the crisis. Experts are currently debating if -- or when -- famine can be declared. Doing so will exert additional pressure on funders and no doubt save lives, so a declaration can’t come fast enough for Kate Donovan of UNICEF in South Sudan. “Waiting for data to be crunched in order to make sure all the numbers add up to famine is deadly for small children,” she says. “It is like ringing fire alarms when the building is already burnt to the ground.”
If history is any guide and projections of 50,000 child malnutrition fatalities are accurate, the outlook for South Sudan is devastating. What Donovan tells me should make Washington -- and the rest of the world -- sit up and take notice: “Half the kids may already be dead by the time famine is actually declared.”
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, he has reported from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. This story is the second in a series of on-the-ground reports from Africa pursued in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.
Copyright 2014 Nick Turse