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AFRICOM's gambit: Why a US military command is waging a ‘media war’ on Americans

Nebojsa Malic
Nebojsa Malic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

AFRICOM's gambit: Why a US military command is waging a ‘media war’ on Americans
A regional US military command tasked with hunting down terrorists across Africa seems to be far more interested in waging psychological operations targeting the American public, the Pentagon and the White House. How curious.

Most countries in the world divide their own territory in military areas of responsibility. Not so the US, whose combatant commands span the entire globe – and beyond. One of these, the Africa Command (AFRICOM) is responsible for the entire African continent – with the exception of Egypt, which somehow ended up in the realm of the neighboring Central Command (CENTCOM).

RT

Tasked with going after terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), AFRICOM has recently focused its efforts on using friendly journalists, media leak and bombastic social media statements to bypass its military and civilian superiors and lobby in Washington for more power, influence and money.

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action,” goes a quote attributed to James Bond author Ian Fleming. So it was definitely noticeable when AFRICOM made a third bid to attract attention in under a month.

On Wednesday, the left-progressive magazine Nation published an exclusive story based on an AFRICOM document showing that the command was worried about President Donald Trump freezing US funding for the World Health Organization and how China might exploit that for expanding its influence in Africa. Journalist Ken Klippenstein says the document, dated April 23, was leaked to him.

The leak came only a day after AFRICOM posted a series of tweets accusing Russia of sending fighter jets to Libya. One of them quoted its commander, General Charles Townsend, saying that they “watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya – every step of the way.”

Except no proof of this was actually offered, and AFRICOM’s statement qualified the claim with weasel-words such as “assessed” and “likely.” Russian officials have dismissed the claim as ridiculous, especially the part about supposedly camouflaging the fighters’ origins by giving them a fresh paint job in Syria.

Also on rt.com Moscow DENIES US general’s claim of ‘Russian mercenary jets in Libya’. Is this AFRICOM’s new ‘worse than ISIS’ moment?

AFRICOM has been very sore about Moscow’s alleged military presence in Libya – where its own troops withdrew from in March 2019, per Trump’s orders – claiming that Russia is “destabilizing” Libya and making worse the “migration crisis affecting Europe.” In Tuesday’s statement, it accused Russia of not being “interested in what is best for the Libyan people” but “working to achieve their own strategic goals instead.”

That’s a bit rich, considering that it was the US and its NATO allies that carried out the 2011 regime-change intervention, turning Libya from the most prosperous country in Africa into a hellhole infested with warlords, terrorists and slavers ever since.

While leaking to The Nation appealed to the American left, AFRICOM has previously reached out to the right as well. Back in April, the command used a friendly reporter at the conservative Washington Examiner to claim that the (alleged) Russian presence in Libya is “more dangerous than ISIS,” which actually operated in Libya at one point in time.

“We believe that there will be a need in the future, an opportunity for us to get back into Libya again,” the unnamed official was actually quoted as saying at one point, giving away the endgame.

Also on rt.com Amid pandemic, Pentagon pushes ‘Russia more dangerous than ISIS’ fear porn – and not for the first time

Between bombastic tweets, anonymous insinuations to friendly conservative reporters and leaks to liberal ones, the picture that emerges is of AFRICOM waging a psychological operation (psyop), a propaganda war on the US public bypassing the Joint Chiefs, the Pentagon and even the commander in chief himself to lobby for a bigger piece of the military pie.

This may seem far-fetched, but it isn't strictly speaking without precedent. Some might remember General Phillip ‘Bwana’ Breedlove, who headed the European Command until May 2016. Emails from his personal account – published in July 2016, following his retirement from the US military – revealed months of effort to lobby the Pentagon and the White House to give EUCOM more attention, including spinning tall tales about a “Russian invasion” of Ukraine. The emails also revealed how Washington-based lobbyists identified the right way of approaching certain officials and the best channels for influencing the Obama administration when it came to Ukraine – notably, Vice President Joe Biden.

At one point, Breedlove even accused Moscow of “weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve” – just as AFRICOM is doing now.

Also on rt.com Breedlove’s war: Emails show ex-NATO general plotting US conflict with Russia

All of which raises the question: when did combatant commands – an organization system invented during WWII to streamline command, control and communication between various branches of the military – morph into de facto feudal fiefdoms, with their commanders as barons more focused on currying favor in Washington than doing their actual job in the field?

In AFRICOM’s case, that job literally involves hunting down terrorists – or helping locals do so themselves, since the command is headquartered in Germany and has only a few actual bases in Africa. Not that any of that is going well at all. So AFRICOM shifted its focus on the home front instead.

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One possible explanation may be money. Back in February, a rumor began spreading around Washington that the Trump administration was considering “zeroing out” AFRICOM’s budget. Both the rumor itself and the reported reactions to it have been hotly denied, but that might just help shed some light on Townsend’s gambit. As with any bureaucracy, survival is the highest priority. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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