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spreading across the African continent in late March, the U.S. State Department took to Twitter to boast about American health assistance there. A March 25 tweet from the department highlighted more than $100 million in U.S. medical assistance to foreign countries, including in Africa, as evidence of America’s emphasis on mitigating “endemic and emerging health threats” and its “long-term investment in the lives of Africans.”

When it comes to Africa, the messaging suggests, America’s focus is on saving lives, not ending them. But a wealth of evidence reveals that the opposite is true in the two African countries of greatest interest to the U.S. military: Libya and Somalia.

Since U.S. Africa Command became fully operational in 2008, American troops have seen combat in more than a dozen African countries and conducted more than 1,500 air attacks, commando raids, and other ground missions in Libya and Somalia alone. Yet these two countries, where U.S. forces have spent hundreds of millions on airstrikes, have fared especially poorly in terms of direct U.S. health assistance.

Libya and Somalia are also the only two African countries where the U.S. stands accused of killing civilians and failing to take responsibility for their deaths. “This sends an appalling message to the citizens of those countries — namely, that the U.S. cares more about propping up their governments than about helping people suffering on the ground there,” said Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security with Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA. “The irony is that message will only encourage ill will toward the United States and U.S. forces, and ultimately fuel support for the armed groups the U.S. is fighting.”

THE U.S. MILITARY has sought to portray AFRICOM as something more akin to the Peace Corps than a geographic combatant command like Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations and war-making across the Greater Middle East.

A parade of top generals and boosters have promoted the idea that AFRICOM would wield soft power through a “whole-of-government” approach, partnering with civilian agencies to “advance U.S. national interests” on the African continent. As a “hybrid” command, officials vowed, it would stand apart from its war-fighting brethren and approach its corner of the world differently.

“It is, at its heart, a different kind of command with a different orientation,” said then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates at AFRICOM’s inauguration in 2008, stressing that it would forge “civilian-military partnerships.” Earlier this year, in testimony before members of the House Appropriations Committee, AFRICOM’s chief, Gen. Stephen Townsend, was still touting the command’s “whole-of-government” mindset. Problems like Covid-19 “don’t really have military solutions” and necessitate working with partners like the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Townsend said in March.

Two weeks later, the State Department’s Africa Media Hub tweeted about America’s focus on helping, rather than harming, Africans. The tweet was accompanied by a color-coded map showing which African countries have received the most direct “global health assistance” from the United States since 2001.

In April, the Africa Media Hub tweeted out an enhanced version of the map that included U.S.-funded national reference laboratories, whose core functions include supporting disease diagnosis and surveillance, as well as investigating outbreaks. The maps demonstrate that when it comes to the most militarily important countries on the continent, America’s synergistic whole-of-government approach to wielding soft power to achieve national security goals is more fantasy than reality.

AFRICOM engages in six “lines of effort” — primary objectives to be accomplished over years of sustained military operations. Most, such as “strengthen partner networks,” relate to general undertakings, but two target individual African nations: “Develop security in Somalia” and “Contain instability in Libya.” Of at least 13 African countries where U.S. forces have engaged in combat in the last decade, these nations have seen the U.S. military’s most intense (Libya) and sustained (Somalia) attacks.

The State Department maps also show that these two countries have received among the least U.S. health aid on the continent: less than $500,000 for Libya and between $500,000 and $99 million for Somalia.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has carried out more attacks in Libya, targeting militants associated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, than anywhere but the war zones of the Greater Middle East. The United States has conducted no fewer than 776 airstrikes — and likely far more — in the North African nation from 2011 to the present, according to figures provided to The Intercept by retired Air Force squadron commander Lt. Col. Gary Peppers and by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group.

The bulk of those attacks occurred during the Obama administration, which launched the first large spate of strikes in 2011 to support the rebels who ultimately ousted then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. That war shattered the Libyan state and turned the country into a haven for Islamist militants, leading to another surge in U.S. strikes in 2016.

That summer, the fledgling post-Gaddafi regime — the Libyan Government of National Accord — asked for American help in dislodging ISIS fighters from Sirte. The Obama administration designated the city an “area of active hostilities,” loosening guidelines designed to prevent civilian casualties and allowing the U.S. military a freer hand in carrying out airstrikes. Between August and December 2016, according to a statement from AFRICOM, the U.S. carried out “495 precision airstrikes” in the city.


This article appeared earlier in theintercept

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