by Harry Targ

"But in Indiana, our Indiana National Guard is the state partner with the Nigerien military. So we send Indiana guardsmen and women to Niger. They send their military leaders to Indiana for training. So it’s no secret-it hasn’t been a secret to me that-of what is occurring in Niger with the threat of ISIS and other cells of terrorist groups as well.” (Jim Banks, Congressman from Indiana, “Indiana Congressman on the Attack in Niger that Killed 4 U.S. Soldiers,” NPR, October 23, 2017).

Indiana and Niger

The media and President Trump have been sparring over the unsympathetic way he talked to a grieving young widow of one of four Special Forces soldiers killed in action in Niger on October 4. But ever so slowly politicians and reporters are beginning to ask a vital question: Why are U.S. troops in Niger and other countries across the African continent?

Part of the story has to do with agreements between state National Guard units and other countries. For example, on January 24, 2017 an article in the electronic publication of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) reported that the Department of Defense “State Partnership Program” would formalize a relationship between the Indiana National Guard and the African nation, Niger. 

Further, the newsletter of the National Guard lobby group indicated that the state of Indiana’s recent contract with Niger was the seventy-fifth agreement between a state national guard component and a foreign country under the Department of Defense “State Partnership Program.” 

Major General Courtney P. Carr, the Indiana National Guard Adjutant General said about the January, 2017 announcement: “Hoosier Guardsmen are dedicated to deepening our development and security cooperation relationships with our Nigerien partners.”

The NGAUS article pointed out that the Indiana National Guard has experience in humanitarian assistance and “will support the U.S. government’s ongoing diplomatic, development and security efforts to achieve shared goals.” Niger’s spokesperson General Seyni Garba, Chief of Defense, said “This partnership is timely because it offers a great opportunity for the Niger armed forces to further develop its capabilities to face all the major security challenges of the day.”

Perceptive Hoosier pundit Brian Howey reported on October 5, 2017, that the Indiana National Guard hosted a meeting between the State Adjutant General, Congressman Banks, and the Niger Chief of Defense at Camp Atterbury in August. General Garba warned that Niger was in the heart of the continent’s terrorist zone. Howey pointed out that U.S. Special Forces train at Muscatatuck Urban Warfare Center in Indiana. In addition, he quoted from a New York Times article referring to a $50 million drone base being constructed at Agadez, Niger. Howey concluded: Indiana’s Niger connection has just taken a sobering turn. (Brian Howey, “The Indiana-Niger Connection,” Howey. Politics Indiana, howeypolitics.com, October 5, 2017).

Techniques of Empire Today 

Although the imperial agenda and the ideological precepts justifying it have remained essentially the same for two hundred years, the techniques of empire have changed as growing resistance at home and abroad and new technologies allow. Changes in warfare, other violence, and imperial expansion include the following:

-Wars are internal much more than international and casualties are overwhelmingly civilian rather than military.

-The global presence of some form of the United States military is ubiquitous-between 700 and 1,000 military bases-in anywhere from 40 to 120 countries

- US military operations have been privatized. A 2010 Washington Post report found 1,911 intelligence contracting firms doing top secret work for 1,271 government organizations at over 10,000 sites. Ninety percent of such work is being done by 110 contractors.

-More “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” have been used to kill alleged enemies over the last eight years than the entire prior period of US military operations. Also drones have come home as their use by urban police forces show.

-US agencies, such as the CIA, have been engaged in the increased use of assassinations and efforts to undermine governments. One report indicated that there are 13,000 assassination commandoes operating around the world. And the new Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, has promised to make the CIA a “much more vicious agency.”

-So-called “humanitarian assistance” is used to support United States policies in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. A New York Times story reported that at least 40 American groups received $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.

-Military operations continue and expand without “boots on the ground.” As a result empires can kill with impunity because military operations are less visible than wars in prior years. Also the number of soldiers involved in twenty-first century wars is lower than twentieth century ones.

Just recently, Nick Turse and colleagues reported on data indicating that the United States has been engaged in secret military training of personnel in many countries. They called the policy “a shadowy network of U.S. programs that every year provides instruction and assistance to approximately 200,000 foreign soldiers, police, and other personnel.” (Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse, Moiz Syed, “How the U.S. Trains Killers Worldwide,” Portside, July 13, 2016). 

Their report is worth quoting further:
“The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries…involving on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states.” Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.”

Turse has also discovered that the recently constructed U.S. military African command (AFRICOM) has one base, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and 11 outposts or Cooperative Security Locations across the continent. Less transparent, Turse indicates, are 60 military outposts in 34 countries (60 percent of the continent) and U.S. military offices with defense attaches in 38 nations. U.S. military presence-sometimes small, sometimes large, in some cases U.S. army, in others private contractors-permeates the continent. 

Impacts of 21st Century Imperialism

By any measure the pain and suffering brought by 21st century imperialism is staggering. U.S. Labor Against the War recently reported that sources estimate 1.3 million people, mostly in the Middle East and South Asia, have died due to the war on terrorism initiated in 2001. They quote a research report that estimates that one million Iraqis have died since 2003 and an additional 220,000 citizens of Afghanistan and 80,000 from Pakistan. Other sources claim these figures are too conservative and remind us of the untold thousands upon thousands who have died directly from war and violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.

These figures, of course, address deaths directly attributed to war and terrorism but do not include economic sanctions, environmental devastation, massive flight of people from war zones, persecution by authoritarian regimes, and drone strikes and assassinations. Large areas of the globe, largely centered in the Middle East and North Africa, are ungovernable with foreign intervention and anomic domestic violence on the rise. In a troubling essay by Patrick Cockburn the author asserts that:

“We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars-in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover.” (Patrick Cockburn, “The Age of Disintegration: Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World,” The Unz Review: Mobile, June 28, 2016).

Cockburn suggests that this fragmentation has core features: no winners and losers, deconstruction of states, massive population upheavals, and migrations; in short death and destruction. And most Americans, through no fault of their own, as in Indiana, are not informed about their state’s national guard contractual relationship with another country. And the citizens of the United States in general are not knowledgeable about nor can they participate in decisions about whether U.S. troops, drones, private contractors, and military assistance should be engaged in other countries.