Source Responsible Statecraft
WASHINGTON, U.S.--Last week was a difficult one for the U.S. military mission in Africa’s Sahel. For the better part of 20 years, the United States has employed a plethora of counterterrorism and security cooperation programs, providing a steady flow of funds, weapons, equipment and American advisers, even deploying commandos on low-profile combat missions to thwart the rise of militant Islamist groups in West Africa.
Last Monday, the Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a Pentagon research institution, offered an assessment of the effort. Its headline could have hardly been more dire.
Last year, attacks across the region jumped from 1,180 to 2,005. “This spike was the most significant change in any of the theaters of militant Islamist group violence in Africa,” the Africa Center announced.
The dismal assessment was, however, overshadowed by news out of Burkina Faso. The same day as the Africa Center issued its report, a young military officer appeared on state television to announce that the Burkinabe military had suspended the constitution and dissolved the government, replacing the country’s democratically elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, with Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, the commander of one of the country’s three military regions.
While the U.S. counterterrorism effort has failed to stem the tide of Islamist militancy in West Africa, it has produced a startling number of putschists. Damiba took part in at least a half-dozen U.S. training events, according to U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM.
“Military seizures of power are inconsistent with U.S. military training and education,” AFRICOM spokesperson Kelly Cahalan told Responsible Statecraft. But Damiba is the third U.S-trained Burkinabe officer to overthrow his own government since 2014 and one of at least nine mentees of the U.S. military in West Africa to stage a coup since 2008.
Last week’s Africa Center report and Burkinabe coup came on the heels of an attack, on Saturday, February 22, of a French military base in Gao, Mali that killed a French soldier and wounded a U.S. service member.
While American troops have been killed and wounded fighting in West Africa, the overwhelming victims of violence in the region have, however, been the very populations that U.S. counterterrorism efforts were meant to protect. And the accounting of this bloodshed may be the most damning finding by the Africa Center.