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AFRICOM and the Libya War


U.S. participation in the war in Libya appears to be coordinated out of a former French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti, a tiny country of a half million souls at the very tip of the Horn of Africa. This is the forward base of AFRICOM, the unified command for African action set up in 2007 by former President George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has continued in that post under President Barack Obama. Why the United States has set up such a special Africa operation, and what this portends, bears examination.

The original reason given for the creation of AFRICOM, with its main base not in Africa but in Stuttgart, Germany, was to coordinate anti-terrorism efforts in countries such as Somalia, where the collapse of organized government had led to a very unstable and dangerous situation. But although some African countries were happy to take military hardware from the United States, many of them, including especially South Africa, expressed qualms.

Other than the anti-terrorism motive, commentators have raised the issue of oil. Oil industry analysts predict that by the year 2015, the United States will be getting 25 percent of its imported oil from African sources. The biggest oil producers in Africa are Libya, with 47 billion barrels in proved reserves (and maybe lots more yet undiscovered), Nigeria (37.5 billion barrels), Angola (13.5 billion barrels), Algeria (13.4 billion barrels) and the Sudan (6.8 billion barrels). Smaller African countries, including Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, have large-scale oil production proportional to their size. Writing in 2008, Antonia Juhasz posits an oil politics motive for the creation of AFRICOM. "The concern is that, as it has in Iraq, a larger US military presence in Africa will strain the overburdened military while increasing internal hostilities, regional instability and anger at the United States," he said, adding, "The ultimate objective of the two efforts is the same: securing big oil's access to the region's oil."