It’s one thing to train highly-armed, mobile counter-terrorist teams in developed countries where the rule of law is firmly established. It’s quite another to train up soldiers in countries where democracy is either impossible or undesireable (to the natives). As Chairman Mao famously opined, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Giving guns and training to elite units in countries without basic human rights (such as the natural right to keep and bear arms) does nothing to protect those rights, and much to destroy them. I mention this because of the U.S. reaction to Boko Haram’s recent kidnapping campaign. The New York Times reports that . . .
United States Special Operations troops are forming elite counterterrorism units in four countries in North and West Africa that American officials say are pivotal in the widening war against Al Qaeda’s affiliates and associates on the continent, even as they acknowledge the difficulties of working with weak allies.
Catch that? “The difficulty of working with weak allies” could mean a lot of things, none of them good for fans of democracy and human rights. Anyone remember whose boy Saddam Hussein was back in the day? Or Osama Bin Laden? Shall we talk about African military coups by soldiers trained and equipped by the U.S., or just U.S.-supported military coups generally?
The secretive program, financed in part with millions of dollars in classified Pentagon spending and carried out by trainers, including members of the Army’s Green Berets and Delta Force, was begun last year to instruct and equip hundreds of handpicked commandos in Libya, Niger, Mauritania and Mali.
The goal over the next few years is to build homegrown African counterterrorism teams capable of combating fighters like those in Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that abducted nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls last month. American military specialists are helping Nigerian officers in their efforts to rescue the girls.
“Handpicked.” You gotta love that. By whom? According to what criteria? The troops ability to find and kill terrorists or their loyalty to the government that let the U.S. in? Their desire to protect the people of their country or their ability to put paid to the old maxim absolute power corrupts absolutely? NOTE: it’s not just me saying these things.
“You have to make sure of who you’re training,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue II, the commander of United States Army soldiers operating in Africa. “It can’t be the standard, ‘Has this guy been a terrorist or some sort of criminal?’ but also, ‘What are his allegiances? Is he true to the country, or is he still bound to his militia?’” . . .
J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center of the Atlantic Council, a policy research group in Washington, said the United States must make tough political judgments before investing in ambitious counterterrorism training programs. Mr. Pham cited the lessons of Mali, where American-trained commanders of elite army units defected to Islamic insurgents that seized the north last year.
“The host country has to have the political will to fight terrorism, not just the desire to build up an elite force that could be used for regime protection,” Mr. Pham said. “And the military has to be viewed well or at least neutrally by a country’s population.” . . .
American officials say trainees must be carefully screened and monitored for possible human rights violations or shifting allegiances. “Any unit we train could be used to go after political opponents rather than Al Qaeda,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has visited Libya frequently.
Good luck with that [see: Mao quote above].
Meanwhile, I have a better idea: arm the citizenry. Let the people of Africa exercise their natural, civil and perhaps one day Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Does anyone seriously believe that Boko Haram could have kidnapped 300 school girls if their parents had been armed?
Sure there’d be an “adjustment” period as alliances shifted (to say the least). But as long as everyone is armed, no one power can emerge that will engage in the abhorrent practice that’s common to humanity around the world – from Mexico to Mali – mass murder. Unless they disarm the populace, of course.