THE U.S. MILITARY has long insisted that it maintains a “light footprint” in Africa, and there have been reports of proposed drawdownsin special operations forces and closures of outposts on the continent, due to a 2017 ambush in Niger and an increasing focus on rivals like China and Russia. But through it all, U.S. Africa Command has fallen short of providing concrete information about its bases on the continent, leaving in question the true scope of the American presence there.
Documents obtained from AFRICOM by The Intercept, via the Freedom of Information Act, however, offer a unique window onto the sprawling network of U.S. military outposts in Africa, including previously undisclosed or unconfirmed sites in hotspots like Libya, Niger, and Somalia. The Pentagon has also told The Intercept that troop reductions in Africa will be modest and phased-in over several years and that no outposts are expected to close as a result of the personnel cuts.
According to a 2018 briefing by AFRICOM science adviser Peter E. Teil, the military’s constellation of bases includes 34 sites scattered across the continent, with high concentrations in the north and west as well as the Horn of Africa. These regions, not surprisingly, have also seen numerous U.S. drone attacks and low-profile commando raids in recent years. For example, Libya — the site of drone and commando missions, but for which President Donald Trump said he saw no U.S. military role just last year — is nonetheless home to three previously undisclosed outposts. …
According to the documents obtained by The Intercept through the Freedom of Information Act, AFRICOM’s network of bases includes larger “enduring” outposts, consisting of forward operating sites, or FOSes, and cooperative security locations, or CSLs, as well as more numerous austere sites known as contingency locations, or CLs. All of these are located on the African continent except for an FOS on Britain’s Ascension Island in the south Atlantic. Teil’s map of AFRICOM’s “Strategic Posture” names the specific locations of all 14 FOSes and CSLs and provides country-specific locales for the 20 contingency locations. The Pentagon would not say whether the tally was exhaustive, however, citing concerns about publicly providing the number of forces deployed to specific facilities or individual countries. “For reasons of operational security, complete and specific force lay-downs are not releasable,” said Tresch.
While troops and outposts periodically come and go from the continent, and some locations used by commandos conducting sensitive missions are likely kept under wraps, Teil’s map represents the most current and complete accounting available and indicates the areas of the continent of greatest concern to Africa Command. “The distribution of bases suggests that the U.S. military is organized around three counter-terrorism theaters in Africa: the Horn of Africa — Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya; Libya; and the Sahel — Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso,” says Moore, noting that the U.S. has only one base in the south of the continent and has scaled back engagement in Central Africa in recent years.