The Cost of War project at Brown University in the US looks at the current conflict in Burkina Faso. A vivid case study shows how the US model of counter-terrorism leads to more, not less, instability and violence. US "security assistance" exports a militarised counter-terrorism model to dozens of countries through money, training and weapons. Many governments use the US narrative of terrorism and counter-terrorism, along with the financial, political and institutional resources that accompany it, to oppress minority groups, justify authoritarianism and enable illicit profits, all without addressing poverty and other structural problems that lead to widespread frustration with the state. All over the world, it has fed insecurity and strengthened militants, militants who respond to government injustices exacerbated by this aid. This model comes with dangerous costs. It now threatens to devastate the entire Sahel region.
This paper looks at the current conflict in Burkina Faso as a vivid case study of how the US model of counter-terrorism has led to more, not less, instability and violence. Although the level of terrorism in Burkina Faso was considered relatively low at the time, the United States laid the foundation for increased militarism in the region when it began providing security assistance to the country in 2009. Today, Burkina Faso is embroiled in an escalating conflict involving government forces, state-sponsored militias and militant groups, and civilians are paying the price. Civilians are paying the price. Militant groups have intensified and seized territory, ethnic tensions have skyrocketed, thousands of Burkinabe have been killed and over a million people displaced. A Burkina-based human rights group has warned that the government's ethnic killings could lead to the "next Rwanda".
Summary of the study:
Since September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush's "Global War on Terror" has spilled over into many U.S. military operations and other government programmes conducted by civilian offices for military purposes around the world. The U.S. is leading a significant part of the post-9/11 war effort in the name of offering "training and assistance in the
Counterterrorism" to over 79 countries.
Many governments use the U.S. narrative of terrorism and counter-terrorism, along with U.S.-supported financial, political and institutional resources, to oppress minority groups, justify authoritarianism and enable illicit profits, all without addressing poverty and other structural problems that lead to widespread frustration with the state.
Lead to frustration with the state. In a vicious circle, what the US calls security assistance has directly achieved the opposite. All over the world, it has fed insecurity and strengthened militants, militants who respond to government injustices exacerbated by this aid.
This paper examines the impact of US security assistance and the profound costs of 'aid' to other nations fighting their own 'wars on terror'. The paper draws on the case of
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in the Sahel region of West Africa, to which the US has provided counter-terrorism funding and training for years since 2009. It was only a few years later, from 2016 onwards, that Burkina Faso began to deal with militant violence, which was linked to what the
what locals call "jihadism". Today's conflict is rooted in complex regional dynamics, and multiple parties are responsible for the violence, but the focus here is on the role of the US.
Although the U.S. is not the primary actor on the ground, the U.S. understanding of counterterrorism policy is critical: the money spent on it has exacerbated the conflict that is now ravaging Burkina Faso and the entire region.
U.S. counterterrorism in Burkina Faso and the Sahel
Shortly after 9/11, the U.S. military and State Department began to expand their focus to so-called fragile states that could potentially harbour Islamist militants and thus threaten the United States.
In Africa, the US military presence had been limited since the end of World War II. Even humanitarian missions largely ceased after the "Black Hawk Down" incident in Somalia in 1993 - when members of a militia shot down a US helicopter.
After September 11, 2001, however, the U.S. began to return to the continent. Starting in 2002, the U.S. military began building relationships across Africa, expanding a base in Djibouti and gaining
gaining access to informal bases in Kenya, Ethiopia and the Seychelles, and then spreading further across the continent. Today, there are a variety of US bases and "lily pads", including staging areas for rapid reaction troops, small outposts where special forces can advise local troops, and places to host cargo or surveillance aircraft.
In 2007, the US military established Africa Command (AFRICOM), signalling commitment to expanding its African operations, which had previously operated out of other command centres. The command was based in Germany because no African country was willing to host it as it was too reminiscent of Western colonialism and these countries feared creating a target for militant attacks. Locating AFRICOM in Germany also facilitated coordination with the Europeans, who had a greater presence on the continent as a legacy of the colonial era. AFRICOM was tasked with preventing war in countries "where violent conflict has not yet arisen, where crises must be prevented".
This was reminiscent of the Cold War era doctrine of "active defence", according to which the US had to be able to "strike the first blow" by "using armed force from afar". After 9/11, officials articulated the same doctrine as "pre-emptive war", claiming that the US could initiate military intervention to eliminate a perceived threat "before the threat is imminent".
Over the past nearly two decades, the Pentagon has spent billions of dollars on its military presence in Africa. Today, there are an estimated 6,000 or more US troops stationed in Africa, with possibly thousands more on temporary deployments for shorter periods.
The US military conducts its fight against "terrorists"
on the continent through special operations, intelligence operations, drone strikes (in Somalia and Libya), the use of proxy forces under 127e legal authority (see footnote), joint military exercises with other countries, humanitarian missions that perform "hearts and minds" functions and serve minds, a growing reliance on military contractors to build infrastructure and provide other services, and above all, a wide range of financial support and operational activities characterised as training and assistance to other countries' armed forces.
In West Africa, the US has provided the French military with important intelligence and logistical support. They have also established an extensive network of low-profile US bases in the region, including at Ouagadougou International Airport in Burkina Faso. Between 2013 and 2018, there were combat operations by US forces in eight countries in the Sahel alone (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Tunisia).
In the West African Sahel, such operations gained strength long before militant Islamist violence emerged after the destabilisation of Mali in 2012.
Although US strategists saw the main terrorist threat in Africa as emanating from the Horn of Africa and East Africa, the US State Department established the Pan-Sahel Initiative in 2003. It began
with the training of military rapid response units from Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Quickly, U.S. personnel began to see the initiative not as a training programme but as a means
track down suspected terrorists, particularly those associated with an Algerian group with ties to Al Qaeda (the precursor to what would later become Al Qaeda in the Islamic
In 2005, the Pan-Sahel Initiative was incorporated into the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism
Partnership (TSCTP) and was expanded to include Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia.
But as late as 2010, a regional expert estimated that "the threat of violent jihadist activity in the Mauritanian, Malian, Nigerian and Chadian Sahel regions is very low".
Burkina Faso was added to the TSTCP in 2009, although US officials did not see a terrorist threat there. A 2014 State Department report states, "In 2013, there were no
incidents in Burkina Faso, which is not a source of recruitment for violent extremist organisation and does not harbour radical religious extremists." To explain the US government's increasing military focus on Sahelian West Africa since 2002, despite the relative peace and stability in the region, some scholars point to the region's natural resources and the perceived importance of maintaining a geopolitical presence to counter the influence of China and Russia.
Others draw attention to racist, neo-colonial US discourses about the unknown and therefore threatening "white spaces" on the map on the map. President Bush used centuries-old racist language to claim that he wanted the US military to be "ready to strike at any time in any dark corner of the world".
In theory, the TSCTP took a holistic approach to counter-terrorism, including development assistance and public diplomacy. To this end, the programme comprises a loosely coordinated set of initiatives led not only by the Pentagon but also by the State Department, USAID and the Department of Justice, including activities such as public embassies and vocational training. In practice, however, rather than focusing on the structural challenges, such as widespread poverty, that cause instability in the region, the focus tends to be on training elite counter-terrorism units as the most cost-effective way to undertake a "vital, albeit limited" effort to combat local al-Qaeda offshoots.25
Over the years, the Defence and State Departments have disagreed on what is best, through partner country forces (the State Department's position) or through direct action,
boots-on-the-ground action against "terrorists" (the Pentagon's position).
Ultimately, the authorities opted for both and agreed on a broad goal: "contain, disrupt, mitigate, counter and ultimately defeat the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, its affiliates and associated extremists.
Be that as it may, the TSTCP's approach was geared towards military operations. In the context of underdeveloped countries with fragile political and economic institutions, one internal critic described this approach as "throwing a band-aid on a chest wound".
Although the TSTCP has long been accused of mismanagement and inadequate oversight, the US has continued to fund it, spending over $1 billion since 2005. Most recently, in September 2020, the State Department's Office of the Inspector General released an audit of eight TSTCP operations that concluded they were characterised by waste and deficiencies.
The report judged that at least six TSTCP contracts, amounting to $201.6
million were "potentially wasteful expenditures". More than half of the invoices for these contracts lacked supporting documentation. Over the years, watchdog groups have systematically highlighted similar problems with the TSTCP.
Since 2009, when Burkina Faso joined the TSTCP, the US government has donated
weapons, ammunition and vehicles to the Burkinabe government and trained the Burkinabe armed forces in no fewer than 15 security programmes:
Year after year, U.S. taxpayer money flowed into Burkina Faso in the form of armoured personnel carriers and trucks, communications equipment and generators, protective vests
and night-vision equipment, rifles and machine guns. It supported Burkinabe troops in surveillance, reconnaissance, roadside bomb detection and weapons deployment, and helped them build their capabilities. Burkinabe soldiers and policemen attended courses in military intelligence, they learned leadership skills at Fort Leavenworth, Kan, the basics of commanding infantry troops at Fort Benning, Ga, and they took counterterrorism courses at bases in California and Florida.
As noted earlier, the content of US training for Burkinabe forces varies, as do the specific units being trained. For example, in 2018, among other courses, the Pentagon offered "gendarmes"
(members of a police force with military-like combat units) a course in human rights, and
taught "logistics management" to 16 soldiers. U.S.-based contractors gave unspecified training to at least 40 gendarmes and soldiers in battalions across Burkina Faso (such contractor courses receive little or no oversight). Other Burkinabe officers travelled
to the US or Europe to attend high-level strategy courses. In general, research has shown that such training is a key mechanism for cementing relations between the US military and foreign forces and for disseminating US military goals and worldviews. Human rights courses can also
serve as an attempt by the military to justify continued training without accountability for past practices. Regardless of the intent of the trainers, there may be negative consequences.
Not surprisingly, the budget for U.S. security assistance to Burkina Faso has skyrocketed since 2009. Years before the outbreak of militant violence in Burkina Faso, U.S. security assistance set the stage for the Burkinabe government to address the problem of terrorism
when it emerged, to counter it with military force. Since 2009, and especially since 2013, the influx of U.S. funding for Burkina Faso's military has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the
in the country's military spending. When militant groups eventually invaded northern and eastern Burkina Faso, the US logic of using government troops in a fight
against terrorist enemies seemed natural - indeed, inevitable.
the whole paper in English:
all our reports in English: https://www.internationale-friedensfabrik-wanfried.org/blog/categories/english