Africa as Battlefield

Source: Jacobin Magazine

The US is trying to win “hearts and minds” in Africa. It’s not going well.

Today, as the US military increasingly sees Africa as a “battlefield” against Islamist extremism, a significant number of its operations there have taken on the form of a textbook hearts-and-minds campaign that harkens back to failed US efforts in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s and more recently in the greater Middle East.

In Vietnam, the so-called civilian half of the war — building schools, handing out soap, and offering rudimentary medical care — was obliterated by American heavy firepower that wiped out homes, whole hamlets, and whatever goodwill had been gained. As a result, US counterinsurgency doctrine was tossed into the military’s dustbin — only to be resurrected decades later, as the Iraq War raged, by then-Gen. and later CIA Director David Petraeus.

In 2005–6 Petraeus oversaw the revision of FM 3-24, the military’s counterinsurgency (COIN) field manual, and a resulting revolution in military affairs. Soon, American military officers in Iraq and Afghanistan were throwing large sums of money at complex problems, once again with the objective of winning hearts and minds.

They bought off Sunni insurgents and poured billions of dollars into nation-building efforts, ranging from a modern chicken processing plant to a fun-in-the-sun water park, trying to refashion the rubble of a failed state into a functioning one.

As with Petraeus’s career, which imploded amid scandal, the efforts he fostered similarly went down in flames. In Iraq, the chicken processing plant proved to be a Potemkin operation, and the much ballyhooed Baghdad water park quickly fell into ruin.

The country soon followed. Three years after the US withdrawal, Iraq teeters on the brink of catastrophe as most of Petraeus’s Sunni mercenaries stood aside while the brutal Islamic State carved a portion of its caliphate from the country, and others, aggrieved with the US-backed government in Baghdad, sided with them.

In Afghanistan, the results have been similarly dismal as America’s hearts-and-minds monies yielded roads to nowhere (when they haven’t already deteriorated into “death traps”); crumbling buildings; overcrowded, underfunded, and teacher-less schools; and billions poured down the drain in one boondoggle after another.

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