U.s. Foreign Policy And Surrogate Armies

Sincee the end of the Cold War there has been a gradual shift in the U.S. presence abroad. The peace of Europe which had been achieved since 1945 was maintained by the U.S. and Soviet occupation of Europe. Large numbers of U.S. and Soviet troops were spread across Europe in giant military bases, air fields and missile installations which kept the Europeans under control. They called this NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The aim was to build a solid bloc of military forces under their respective controls which would serve as a counterbalance of forces in conventional warfare and as a deterrent against strategic nuclear attack by either the U.S. or the Soviet Union.

This required large numbers of U.S. soldiers stationed in bases across the Western European theatre and many Soviet troops stationed in bases across Eastern Europe. There was a planned commonality of equipment by either side and periodic drills and war games to promote readiness and solidarity. In both cases NATO and The Warsaw Pact were committed to a similar method of control.  NATO and the Warsaw Pact solved the problem of commitment by instituting a culture of planning. With a clearly understood mission, these planners, composed of representatives of the armed forces from all the constituent nations (except France) analysed every possible contingency. For every contingency, they generated a plan. For every plan, they allocated forces. For every force, they devised endless training exercises designed to make execution as automatic as possible. This was their main achievement; they created a system of automated, conditioned responses that were to be executed so rapidly that participants did not have the time or opportunity to pause, reflect or potentially renege.

The planning and exercise process, quite apart from being necessary for military preparedness, was also an instrument that psychologically and operationally locked in the actors. Under such circumstances, given the doctrine and the particular plan that applied, units in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Netherlands, and Sicily, Poland, East Germany and Hungary, inter alia, all went into motion on cue. In operational terms, the goal was to make the commitment of forces as thoughtfree as possible. Even complex war fighting doctrines like Air-Land Battle, which foresaw a fluid and unpredictable battlefield, still contained highly routinized, automated procedures for the initiation of and response to conflict. NATO's internal battles were referred to countless planning cells that packaged a basic strategic challenge into an array of automated responses.

In many respects, scenario construction, contingency planning, war gaming, and repetitive exercises were the only thing holding NATO together, staving off the fear of a last minute double-cross. In the Eastern bloc the fear of sharp and critical response to deviations through military actions by the Soviet Union (in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia) kept discipline in the coalition. However, by 1992, the rock on which this church rested, the Soviet threat, had largely disappeared or, like the smile on the Cheshire Cat, appeared only when required. Without that threat, contingency planning collapsed. In Eastern Europe the Warsaw Pact disappeared along with its economic counterpart, COMECON as nations freed themselves from the yoke of Soviet domination. What was left in the wake of the end of the Cold War was the resurgence of petty nationalisms and search for a more national defence posture in both formerly-occupied sections of Europe. Old rivalries reasserted themselves in areas like the Balkans where the disintegration of Yugoslavia brought about minor conflicts.

The effect of the end of the Cold War on the Soviet military was devastating. The third largest army in the world, the East German, was out of business. Massive quantities of East German (e.g. ex-Russian) military supplies were being offered at cut prices to the world as the re-unifying German state moved to change over to NATO equipment. One of the Soviet Union’s major industries, the arms industry, had the bottom fall out of its market. This was coupled with the enforced withdrawal of Soviet forces stationed in bases across Eastern and Central Europe. The Warsaw Pact disappeared; the COMECON disappeared and there was not enough money in the reserves to keep paying, unilaterally, the costs of keeping Russian troops outside of Russia.

The soldiers were never paid much to begin with but the fall of the Soviet Union meant that they had very little indeed. These soldiers sold, with the connivance of their commanding officers, anything that wasn’t nailed down. They sold it for food and they sold it for trophies that they would carry home as they were demobilised. Most importantly there was no place in the physical Russian military establishment where these troops could be stationed. There were not enough bases inside Russia where the returning troops could be housed. There were no jobs for thousands of trained officers and NCOs. The offset costs for the Soviet Occupation paid by their former ‘satellites’ were no longer forthcoming. There were too many mouths to feed and too few bases in which they could be sheltered. No one was sure what to do but everyone recognised the danger of a disgruntled army full of people with grievances and with nothing to do.

The Soviet Union’s power was its armed forces and its ability to destroy substantial parts of the world with its nuclear weapons. It was a powerful military presence and, within the constraints of the Cold War, able to exert its influence across the globe. As an industrial power, however, it was a dwarf. It could barely feed itself as harvest after harvest failed. It was a major importer of grain. Its heavy industries produced copious quantities of capital goods but very few commercially successful consumer goods. There was no realistic way in which Russian products could compete with the factories of Czechoslovakia or East Germany, let alone West Germany, France or Great Britain for a place in the world market.

The key point of the ending of the Cold War was that there was a political feeling in most countries, East and West, that the end of the Cold War should bring about a ‘peace dividend’; a reduction in the levels of defence spending to concentrate on the rebuilding of domestic infrastructures and economies. The Western European nations shed most of their air capacity; reduced their manpower, and left the defence burden for others as they saw no enemy which threatened them as they had been threatened by the Cold War arrays of forces. In Eastern Europe the main task was upgrading their military equipment to fit in with obtaining supplies from the West and a reduction of their dependence on Russia for their military equipment and maintenance. In Russia the challenge was finding something to do with all the returning Russian soldiers sent home from their Warsaw Pact bases and getting enough funds together to pay them in a disintegrating Russian economy.

The U.S. was not oblivious to the need for a ‘peace dividend’ at home and the calls for reducing the U.S. military footprint in Europe. There was increasing pressure on the Congress to cut back on the “Empire of Basesâ€Â[i]. Although there was a slight consolidation of the numbers of U.S. bases in Europe there was a new ‘enemy’ which had appeared to the U.S. military planners as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That was the forces of Islamic fundamentalists along the lines of the Ayatollah Khomeini model in Iran, which had grown dramatically in the response of the Islamic world to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

In defence of a Communist government which the Soviets had installed in Kabul, the Soviets sent its troops across the Afghan border on Christmas day 1979. They rapidly occupied the area around the capital but their opposition, the mujahidin scattered to the rural areas. Initially the Soviets had overwhelming firepower and air supremacy. However, with the introduction of “Red-eyeâ€Â and “Stingerâ€Â missiles and modern equipment the mujahidin were able to shoot down Soviet helicopters and to destroy Soviet tanks. These were largely supplied by the U.S. in Operation Cyclone (“Charlie Wilson’s Warâ€Â). The mujahidin began a war of attrition with the occupying Soviet troops. This was very expensive in men, material and propaganda. It was bleeding the Soviet military dry and winning no friends around the world. Equally as important it distressed the parents and families of these soldiers who were suffering and dying in Afghanistan, creating a major gulf between them and the Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev Governments.

By the time of Gorbachev’s accession to power the war in Afghanistan was deteriorating badly. Resources were draining from the USSR budget and military progress had stopped and containment was the policy. Gorbachev told the military that they had a year to sort things out. They embarked on a policy of creating an Afghan Army which would notionally take over from Soviet troops, who would then be free to return home. This did not work so, at the end of 1986, they prepared to bring their troops home. The first contingent returned to the USSR from May to August 1988 and the rest from November 1988 to February 1989. It was an expensive and humiliating experience.

After the war ended, the Soviet Union published figures of dead Soviet soldiers: the initial total was 13,836 men, an average of 1,537 men a year. According to updated figures, the Soviet army lost 14,427, the KGB lost 576, with 28 people dead and missing. Material losses included: 118 aircraft; 333 helicopters; 147 tanks; 1,314 IFV/APCs; 433 artillery guns and mortars; 1,138 radio sets and command vehicles; 510 engineering vehicles; 11,369 trucks and petrol tankers[ii] It was a very costly business.

Throughout the Soviet war in Afghanistan the U.S. was careful not to engage military personnel in open conflict with the Soviets. The U.S. chose to support the mujahidin forces against the Soviets with military hardware supplied by Operation Cyclone and to use contracted personnel, with plausible deniability, to assist the mujahidin with planning and advice via Pakistan; including Osama Bin Laden. This barely disguised support of bands of surrogate soldiers fighting a war, using American equipment and assisted by US civilian trainers and agents, became the model for the U.S. ‘peace dividend’. With the rise of asymmetric warfare against irregular troops of belligerents the US adopted a warfare model of minimal US troop engagements and maximum use of surrogate fighters supplied by the US and often trained, supervised and supported by an ever-increasing band of private military contractors who provided a security blanket for the troop emplacements and their bases.

There was heavy reliance on U.S. air power, both winged and rotor; on naval power in blockading ports; and only a reluctant and lean use of troops on the ground. The first Gulf War was fought that way. Unfortunately, after the embassy bombings in 1998 and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan the U.S. decided to support the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud to fight the Taliban. This required little U.S. input as Saudi Arabia was largely paying the bill through the Pakistanis. After the events in N.Y. and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush was authorized by the U.S. Congress on 14 September 2001, by legislation titled Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists which was passed and signed on 18 September 2001, by both President Bush and Congress. This legislation authorized the use of U.S. Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on 11 September 2001. The authorization granted the President the authority to use all "necessary and appropriate force" against those whom he determined "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the 11 September attacks, or who harboured said persons or groups. The War on Terror had begun.

This War on Terror continues in Afghanistan and has only recently ended in Iraq. It was not a war fought with a conventional enemy but rather with irregular bands of insurgents representing a variety of political objectives. What is important about the lessons of the War on Terror in Afghanistan in Iraq is that they set a norm for U.S. military posture around the world. That is:

  • Support for weak , corrupt and unrepresentative governments
  • Supporting indigenous armed forces which do not have the support of the citizens
  • Building and staffing many bases across a vast and hostile territory
  • Delivering cash to an administration which steals most of the money
  • Paying for repairs to an infrastructure which is largely irreparable.
  • Turning over control of many civil and military functions to private contractors

In 2004, the Pentagon was building the first of its 505 bases in Iraq. These bases were not like the wretched encampments portrayed in TV series like M*A*S*H. Some of these were large enough to qualify as full-scale American towns, with PXs, fire departments, bus routes, the usual range of fast-food joints, internet cafes, and the like. There are over 450 similar bases in Afghanistan.

You might think that the U.S. military is in the process of shrinking, rather than expanding, its little noticed but enormous collection of bases abroad. After all, it was forced to close the full panoply of 505 bases it built in Iraq, and it's now beginning the process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan. In Europe, the Pentagon is continuing to close its massive bases in Germany and will soon remove two combat brigades from that country. Global troop numbers are set to shrink by around 100,000. Yet Washington still easily maintains the largest collection of foreign bases in world history: more than 1,000 military installations outside the 50 states and Washington, DC. They include everything from decades-old bases in Germany and Japan to brand-new drone bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean and even resorts for military vacationers in Italy and South Korea.

In Afghanistan, the U.S.-led international force still occupies more than 450 bases. In total, the U.S. military has some form of troop presence in approximately 150 foreign countries, not to mention 11 aircraft carrier task forces -- essentially floating bases -- and a significant, and growing, military presence in space. The United States currently spends an estimated $250 billion annually maintaining bases and troops overseas.[iii] The U.S. is quietly building a new generation of bases the military calls "lily padsâ€Â. These are small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies.

An important aspect of these military bases is that they employ thousands of Third Country Nationals (TCN) who are contracted to private military companies to do a variety of often non-military tasks. In June 2008, when the US began its withdrawal from Iraq, there were 70,167 TCNs to 153,300 regular US military personnel; in late 2010 there were still 40,776 TCNs to 47,305 regulars. TCNs (men and women) were recruited in the countries of the South to work on the 25 US military bases in Iraq, including Camp Liberty, an “American small townâ€Â built near Baghdad, which at its peak had a population of over 100,000. They made up 59% of the “basic needsâ€Â workforce, handling catering, cleaning, electrical and building maintenance, fast food, and even beauty services for female military personnel.

Some, especially African recruits, were assigned to security duties, paired up with regular troops: 15% of the static security personnel (guarding base entrances and perimeters) hired by the PMCs on behalf of the Pentagon were Sub-Saharans. Among these low-cost guards, Ugandans were a majority, numbering maybe 20,000. They were sometimes used to keep their colleagues in line: in May 2010 they quelled a riot at Camp Liberty by a thousand TCNs from the Indian subcontinent.[iv]

In 2007 more than 3,000 Ugandans were deployed to Iraq. In 2008 they numbered 10,000. Most were employed by American PMCs such as Torres, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Sabre and SOC. However, these Ugandans were hired through domestic Ugandan security firms. These PMCs founded by former US military personnel linked up with others founded by former high-ranking officers of the Ugandan armed forces. Kellen Kayonga — sister-in-law of one of the best-known security company directors in Uganda, General Salim Saleh, who is a younger brother of President Yoweri Museveni — founded Askar Security Services. Since 2005 Askar has recruited manpower on behalf of Special Operations Consulting (SOC, now renamed SOC-SMG), a Nevada-based company founded by two former US officers. Askar’s main competition in Uganda — the Pakistani company Dreshak International — opened a branch in Kampala the same year and began working for another US-based PMC operating in Iraq, EODT. Since 2006 a dozen more “conflict entrepreneursâ€Â have set up operations in Uganda.[v]

Having recruited so many started a price war. Uganda’s labour ministry failed to intervene. In 2009 average pay fell below $700. Meanwhile, Sabre was getting $1,700 from the US government for every Ugandan guard recruited. Askar was paid $420,000 dollars for sending 264 guards to Iraq for Beowulf International, another PMC. The Ugandan military was doing well from renting Ugandans to the PMCs employed by the U.S.

This relationship was expanded when the U.S. decided to carry on its War on Terror in East and Central Africa. The U.S. needed soldiers to fight against the terrorists in Somalia and the erstwhile terrorist Joseph Kony of the LRA. It found it could make a good deal with the military leadership of Uganda and Rwanda to rent their soldiers to carry on the military activities in the region. Now Salim Saleh, Museveni, Kagame and their underlings didn’t have to only hire their soldiers and civilians to the PMCs, they could rent them directly to the U.S. AFRICOM and pocket the money themselves without sharing with the PMCs. This fits in well with their other activity, raping and plundering the resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo which they have been doing since 1996.

The U.S. and other Western nations have been paying millions of dollars to the Ugandan and Rwandan leaders (military men) to fund the TCNs in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as soldiers to pursue Al-Shebaab and the LRA. More importantly, they have bought immunity from prosecution for the violence and butchery carried out in the DRC as they steal the cassiterite, diamonds, gold and coltan from the poor souls in their path in the Kivus. It is Western tax dollars which fund the M23 rebels in the DRC.

The U.S. has a serious problem. It wants to fight against Al Qaida in Africa where it is growing ever stronger. It wants to fight against the burgeoning drug trade in West Africa. It needs to fight Al Qaida in the Maghreb in Mali and Boko Haram in Nigeria. However, it cannot send in its own troops in anything but a marginal training and educational role. The plain fact is that while the U.S. has no trouble killing and maiming Arabs, Europeans and Asians directly it has grave difficulties killing black people and Latinos. There is a large and powerful constituency in the U.S. that would cause immense political problems to any President or Congress who ordered U.S. troops to shoot black Africans or Latinos. There might well be rioting in many of the U.S. major cities as a result. A good proportion of the U.S. military is black and a sizeable proportion Latino. Their willingness to shoot may well be in doubt unless in self-defence.

That leaves the U.S. planners in a quandary. There is a clear necessity for military action against the variety of terrorist groups in Africa; particularly those that threaten Western oil companies and mineral trading companies. Absent the ability to do it directly the U.S. is compelled to create surrogate armies from the indigenous forces to do the killing for them. There are hundreds of euphemistically designated programs which support this. Most of the US’ African outreach is disproportionally built on military links to client military chiefs. The Pentagon has military ties with fifty-three African countries. The new AFRICOM program, of which the LRA initiative is a part, combines many of the US military programs from the past, including the JCET training and co-operation programs and the various ‘Operation Flintlock’ joint exercises.

  • Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative/Partnership (formerly Pan Sahel Initiative) (TSCTI) Targeting threats to US oil/natural gas operations in the Sahara region Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Libya.
  • Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program (ACOTA) (formerly African Crisis Response Initiative) (ACRI)) Part of "Global Peace" Operations Initiative (GPOI) Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia.
  • International Military Training and Education (IMET) program Brings African military officers to US military academies and schools for indoctrination Top countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa.
  • Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) (formerly Africa Center for Security Studies) Part of National Defense University, Washington. Provides indoctrination for "next generation" African military officers. This is the "School of the Americas" for Africa. All of Africa is covered
  • Foreign Military Sales Program Sells US military equipment to African nations via Defense Security Cooperation Agency Top recipients: Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe.
  • African Coastal and Border Security Program Provides fast patrol boats, vehicles, electronic surveillance equipment, night vision equipment to littoral states
  • Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) Military command based at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. Aimed at putting down rebellions in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Somaliland and targets Eritrea. Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti
  • Joint Task Force Aztec Silence (JTFAS) Targets terrorism in West and North Africa. Joint effort of EUCOM and Commander Sixth Fleet (Mediterranean) Based in Sigonella, Sicily and Tamanrasset air base in southern Algeria Gulf of Guinea Initiative, US Navy Maritime Partnership Program Trains African militaries in port and off-shore oil platform security Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, Togo.
  • Tripartite Plus Intelligence Fusion Cell Based in Kisangani, DRC to oversee "regional security," i.e. ensuring U.S. and Israeli access to Congo's gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, and coltan. Congo-Kinshasa, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, United States
  • Base access for Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs) and Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) U.S. access to airbases and other facilities Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Namibia, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, Algeria.
  • Africa Command (AFRICOM) Headquarters for all US military operations in Africa Negotiations with Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Djibouti, Kenya, and Libya. Only Liberia has said it would be willing to host AFRICOM HQ.
  • Africa Regional Peacekeeping (ARP) Liaison with African "peacekeeping" military commands East Africa Regional Integration Team: Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania. North Africa Regional Integration Team: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya. Central Africa Regional Integration Team: Congo (Kinshasa), Congo (Brazzaville), Chad.
  • South Africa Regional Integration Team: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola. West Africa Regional Integration Team: Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Western Sahara.
  • Africa Partnership Station (APS) Port visits by USS Fort McHenry and High Speed Vessel (HSV) Swift. Part of US Navy's Global Fleet Station Initiative. Training and liaison with local military personnel to ensure oil production security Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon, Sao Tome & Principe.

There are several others with similar tasks. The problem is that these alliances with African client militaries often keep in power military dictators whom the citizens of their countries would like to remove from office. Those same problems listed above as deriving from the new U.S. military posture apply equally to Africa:

  • Support for weak , corrupt and unrepresentative governments
  • Supporting indigenous armed forces which do not have the support of the citizens
  • Building and staffing many bases across a vast and hostile territory
  • Delivering cash to an administration which steals most of the money
  • Paying for repairs to an infrastructure which is largely irreparable.
  • Turning over control of many civil and military functions to private contractors

The Ugandan people have chafed under the corrupt and brutal rule of Museveni and his brother for years. Uganda is divided into several ethnic areas. For much of its political and colonial history the political elite have been drawn from the South and Central areas of the country. During Uganda's colonial period, the British encouraged political and economic development in the south of the country, as part of its divide and conquer policy, in particular among the Baganda . In contrast, the Acholi and other northern ethnic groups supplied much of the national manual labour and came to comprise a majority of the military, creating what some have called a "military ethnocracy".  The rise of Idi Amin delivered power to the North, mainly to the Acholis and Langas and the Southerners suffered. The North remained in power until the overthrow of Tito Okello regime in 1985 which came to a crashing end with the defeat of Okello and the Acholi-dominated army by the National Resistance Army led by now-President Yoweri Museveni in January 1986.

In September 1996 the government of Uganda put in place a policy of forced displacement of the Acholi in the Gulu district into displacement camps. Since 1996 this policy has expanded to encompass the entire rural Acholi population of four districts - one million people. These camps have some of the highest mortality rates in the world with an estimated 1,000 people dying per week during 2009. The LRA has derived most of its support from the displaced and dominated Acholi people who have been driven from their homes and whose families remain in displacement camps. The Ugandans would love to rid themselves of Museveni but they are entrenched and enriched by Western governments which pay them vast sums every year. The rest they steal with impunity from the DRC; just as Kagame and his henchmen steal from the DRC with the same impunity.

There is a lovely Russian word which describes the results of U.S and Western military surrogacy in Africa - kvastism. This is a word that is derived from the Russian (indeed pan-Slavic) word for tail; as in the tail of a dog. In its simplest form it can mean the "tail wagging the dog"; an alliance being led by its tail. However, Russian is a more subtle language as well. Its diminutive, kvastik, can mean something coming to the "tail end" of its life. Perhaps the excesses of the M23 in the DRC will have opened the eyes of the West to the deadly repercussions of turning a blind eye to the pillage in the Congo and extending immunity to killers, bandits and rapists.. In both senses of the word, kvastism is an appropriate epithet



[i] A term used by Chalmers Johnson in his 2000 book Blowback, The Costs and Consequences of the American Empire, Macmillan

[ii] Russia and the USSR in wars XX century. Moscow: OLMA-Press, 2001

[iii] David Vine, “The Lily-Pad Strategyâ€Â Tom Dispatch 15/7/12

[iv] Alain Vicky, “Slaves to the private military in Iraqâ€Â, Le Monde Diplomatique 5/12

[v] Ibid.



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