The War You've Never Heard Of: AFRICOM The US Invasion of Africa
February 7, 2018 Nick Turse / Vice News & Nick Turse / The Intercept
Six years ago, a deputy commanding general for US Army Special Operations Command revealed 116 missions were being carried out by Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other special operations forces across the globe. Today, according to US military documents, special operators are carrying out nearly 100 missions in Africa alone. There are now more special operations personnel devoted to Africa than anywhere except the Middle East -- 1,700 people spread out across 20 countries.
January 14, 2018: AFRICOM / Invasion of Africa plenary at the Conference Against US Foreign Military Bases. Chaired by Ajamu Baraka, Black Alliance for Peace. Presenters: Netfa Freeman, Organizer, Pan African Community Action (PACA); Margaret Kimberley, Editor, Black Agenda Report; Maurice Carney, Executive Director, Friends of the Congo.
The War You've Never Heard Of Documents reveal the US is waging a
Massive shadow war in Africa, exclusive Nick Turse / Vice News
(May 18, 2017) -- Six years ago, a deputy commanding general for US Army Special Operations Command gave a conservative estimate of 116 missions being carried out at any one time by Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other special operations forces across the globe.
Today, according to US military documents obtained by VICE News, special operators are carrying out nearly 100 missions at any given time -- in Africa alone. It's the latest sign of the military's quiet but ever-expanding presence on the continent, one that represents the most dramatic growth in the deployment of America's elite troops to any region of the globe.
In 2006, just 1 percent of all US commandos deployed overseas were in Africa. In 2010, it was 3 percent. By 2016, that number had jumped to more than 17 percent. In fact, according to data supplied by US Special Operations Command, there are now more special operations personnel devoted to Africa than anywhere except the Middle East -- 1,700 people spread out across 20 countries dedicated to assisting the US military's African partners in their fight against terrorism and extremism.
"At any given time, you will find SOCAFRICA conducting approximately 96 activities in 20 countries," Donald Bolduc, the US Army general who runs the special operations command in Africa (SOCAFRICA), wrote in an October 2016 strategic planning guidance report. (The report was obtained by VICE News in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and is published in its entirety below.)
VICE News reached out to SOCAFRICA and US Africa Command (AFRICOM) for clarification on these numbers; email return receipts show an AFRICOM spokesperson "read" three such requests, but the command did not offer a reply.
The October 2016 report offers insight into what the US military's most elite forces are currently doing in Africa and what they hope to achieve. In so doing, it paints a picture of reality on the ground in Africa today and what it could be 30 years from now.
That picture is bleak.
"Africa's challenges could create a threat that surpasses the threat that the United States currently faces from conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria," Bolduc warned. He went on to cite a laundry list of challenges with which he and his personnel must contend: ever-expanding illicit networks, terrorist safe havens, attempts to subvert government authority, a steady stream of new recruits and resources.
Bolduc indicated his solution was the "acceleration of SOF [special operations forces] missions [filling] a strategic gap as the military adjusts force structure now and in the future." Translation: US commandos "in more places, doing more" in Africa going forward.
At the same time, Bolduc says the US is not at war in Africa. But this assertion is challenged by the ongoing operations aimed at the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia, which operates often in all-but-ungoverned and extraordinarily complex areas Bolduc calls "gray zones."
In January, for example, US advisers conducting a counterterrorism operation alongside local Somali forces and troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia "observed al-Shabaab fighters threatening their safety and security" and "conducted a self-defense strike to neutralize the threat," according to a press release from AFRICOM.
Earlier this month, in what AFRICOM described as "an advise-and-assist operation alongside Somali National Army forces," Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two other US personnel were injured during a firefight with al-Shabaab militants about 40 miles west of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.
The battle occurred shortly after President Donald Trump loosened Obama-era restrictions on offensive operations in Somalia, thereby allowing US forces more discretion and leeway in conducting missions and opening up the possibility of more frequent airstrikes and commando raids.
"It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion," Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander, said of the change. In April, the US military reportedly requested the locations of aid groups working in the country, an indication that yet a greater escalation in the war against al-Shabaab may be imminent.
"Looking at counterterrorism operations in Somalia, it's clear the US has been relying heavily on the remote-control form of warfare so favored by President Obama," said Jack Serle, who covers the subject for the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Recently, the US has augmented this strategy, working alongside local Somali forces and African Union troops under the banner of "train, advise, and assist" missions and other types of "support" operations, according to Serle. "Now they partner with local security forces but don't engage in actual combat, the Pentagon says. The truth of that is hard to divine."
US operations in Somalia are part of a larger continent-spanning counterterrorism campaign that saw special operations forces deploy to at least 32 African nations in 2016, according to open source data and information supplied by US Special Operations Command. The cornerstone of this strategy involves training local proxies and allies -- "building partner capacity" in the military lexicon.
"Providing training and equipment to our partners helps us improve their ability to organize, sustain, and employ a counter violent extremist force against mutual threats," the SOCAFRICA report says.
As part of its increasing involvement in the war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad Basin -- it spans parts of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad -- for example, the US provided $156 million to support regional proxies last year.
In addition to training, US special operators, including members of SEAL Team 6, reportedly assist African allies in carrying out a half dozen or more raids every month. In April, a US special operator reportedly killed a fighter from Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army during an operation in the Central African Republic.
US forces also remain intimately involved in conflict in Libya after the US ended an air campaign there against the Islamic State group in December. "We're going to keep a presence on the ground . . . and we're going to develop intelligence and take out targets when they arise,"Waldhauser said in March.
Though Bolduc said special operators are carrying out about 96 missions on any given day, he didn't specify how many total missions are being carried out per year. SOCAFRICA officials did not respond to several requests for that number.
The marked increase in US activity tracks with the rising number of major terror groups in Africa. A 2012 version of SOCAFRICA's strategic planning documents also obtained by VICE News lists five major terror groups.
The October 2016 files list seven by name -- al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Magreb, ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Murabitun, Boko Haram, the Lord's Resistance Army, and al-Shabaab -- in addition to "other violent extremist organizations," also known as VEOs. In 2015, Bolduc said that there are nearly 50 terrorist organizations and "illicit groups" operating on the African continent.
Terror attacks in sub-Saharan Africa have skyrocketed in the past decade. Between 2006 and 2015, the last year covered by data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, attacks jumped from about 100 per year to close to 2,000. "From 2010 to the present," Bolduc says in the report, "VEOs in Africa have been some of the most lethal on the planet."
"Many of Africa's indicators are trending downward," he writes. "We believe the situation in Africa will get worse without our assistance."
Colby Goodman, the director of the Washington, D.C.–based Security Assistance Monitor, pointed to some recent tactical gains against terror groups, but warned that progress might be short-lived and unsustainable.
"My continuing concerns about US counterterrorism strategy in Africa," he said, "is an over-focus on tactical military support to partner countries at the expense of a more whole-government approach and a lack of quality assessments and evaluations of US security aid to these countries."
Nick Turse is an award-winning investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Nation, and is a contributing writer for The Intercept. His latest book is "Next Time They'll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan." According to a Pentagon War Game, The US Will
Invade West Africa in 2023 After an Attack in New York Nick Turse / The Intercept
(October 22 2017) -- WHEN THE PENTAGON peers into its crystal ball, the images reflected back are bleak.
On May 23, 2023, in one imagining from the US military, terrorists detonate massive truck-bombs at both the New York and New Jersey ends of the Lincoln Tunnel. The twin explosions occur in the southern-most of the three underground tubes at 7:10 a.m., the beginning of rush hour when the subterranean roadway is packed with commuters making their way to work.
The attack kills 435 people and injures another 618. Eventually, we'll come to know that it could have been much worse. The plan was to drive the trucks to "high profile targets" elsewhere in Manhattan. Somehow, though, the bombs detonated early.
This spectacular attack, which would result in the highest casualties on US soil since 9/11, isn't the hackneyed work of a Hollywood screenwriter -- it is actually one of the key plot points from a recent Pentagon war game played by some of the military's most promising strategic thinkers.
This attack, and the war it sparks, provide insights into the future as envisioned by some of the US military's most important imagineers and the training of those who will be running America's wars in the years ahead.
The "5/23" terror attack was a small but pivotal part of a simulated exercise conducted last year by students and faculty from the US military's war colleges, which are the training grounds for prospective generals and admirals.
Sprawling and intricate, the 33rd annual Joint Land, Air and Sea Strategic Special Program (JLASS-SP) brought together 148 students from the US Air Force's Air War College, the Army War College, the Marine Corps War College, the Naval War College, the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, the National War College, and the National Defense University's Information Resources Management College.
They collaborated for several weeks of remote war-gaming conducted via "cyberspace tools, telephones and video teleconferencing," according to Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept. It culminated in a five-day on-site exercise at the Air Force Wargaming Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
The materials used in JLASS-SP -- obtained via the Freedom of Information Act -- detail the chaotic tenure of an imaginary 46th president, Karl Maxwell McGraw, and offer a unique window into the training of the Armed Forces' future leaders.
The documents consist of hundreds of pages of summary materials, faux intelligence estimates, fictional situation reports, and updates issued while the exercise was in progress -- The Intercept is publishing one of these fictional situation updates here.
They are highly detailed and, at a time when the press and lawmakers are increasingly asking questions about US military involvement in Africa, offer a stark assessment of the potential perils of armed action there.
While it is explicitly not a national intelligence estimate, the war game, which covers the future through early 2026, is "intended to reflect a plausible depiction of major trends and influences in the world regions," according to the files.
MCGRAW, A FORMER independent Arizona senator who rode his populist "America on the Move" campaign to victory in the 2020 election, ushers in a wave of equally independent congressional candidates and the promise of "TRUE change" in Washington. His presidency is, instead, buffeted by a seemingly endless string of crises.
Just after entering office, in February 2021, a cyberattack shuts down the control system of the Susquehanna nuclear power plant in Berwick, Pennsylvania, "shaking the confidence of the American people in the government's ability to protect critical infrastructure."
For the next two years, while dealing with the fallout from an Asian economic crisis, state-sponsored cybercrime, and the rise of new anti-globalism and right-wing extremist groups, the McGraw administration claims success in thwarting numerous overseas terror attacks, including a plot to bomb a number of US embassies and consulates throughout Europe.
But in West Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is expanding its presence and building on long-running failures of US anti-terrorism efforts in the region, including US support for French and African military operations that began in 2013 and now appear more or less permanent.
By 2021, according to the war game's scenario, AQIM boasts an estimated 38,000 members spread throughout Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, and a network of training camps in Mauritania, as well as outright bases in Western Sahara. At the same time, AQIM strengthens its ties with the terror groups al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Central Africa's Lake Chad Basin to create a "network of synchronization across the African continent and beyond," including shared funding, training methods, and IED-making materials.
As this pan-African Islamist terror cartel grows, so does AQIM's global reach, eventually allowing it to carry out the devastating attack on the Lincoln Tunnel and another, that same day, on the Canadian Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital, killing 135 people including the Canadian Ambassador and his staff.
With near-complete congressional backing and the assent of the government of Mauritania, President McGraw joins forces with Canada to launch Operation Desert Strike. A major US and Canadian ground force, backed by air and sea power, lands in Mauritania on June 15, 2023 with McGraw promising the American people a "well-planned, rapid, and efficient operation that would conclude in three years."
As with so many other American wars and interventions since 1945, however, US military operations do not go as planned and instead seem to follow the well-worn path of America's many other forever wars.
"WE ARE FACING a tough and adaptive enemy," Major General Roger Evans, the commander of Operation Desert Strike, tells the press in January 2026. "But this coalition is tougher and more adaptive." Even in wargames, however, there's a credibility gap between what imaginary generals say about fictitious wars and the (made up) facts on the ground.
Exercise documents offer a more pessimistic assessment of the three-and-a-half-year-old war. "A steady increase in violence in northern Mauritania and Mali continues to frustrate Operation Desert Strike commanders as they struggle to counter a stubborn enemy," reads a report. According to the fictional files, during December 2025 attacks are up a staggering 90% over November's numbers.
Mounting terrorist strikes -- like the Christmas Eve bombing outside a Canadian base in eastern Mauritania that kills eight coalition troops and wounds another 15, an assault on a US military convoy that claims the lives of seven American soldiers, and an ambush that kills one Green Beret and sees another reportedly captured by al Qaeda-allied militants -- are just one indicator of the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Maghreb.
As the conflict enters its fourth year, weapons and militants continue to freely pour into the war zone. "We're doing our best to work with the nations in the region to control the flow of enemy fighters and weapons into Mali, Mauritania, and Algeria, but there are not enough forces to be everywhere," coalition spokesman Colonel Byron Scales admits.
That coalition, too, is frequently a problem in and of itself. In November 2025, the United States is slated to begin transferring responsibility for the war to the African Union and decrease its military footprint. But that deadline comes and goes as the AU demands more money and fails to adequately scale up its efforts.
That, coupled with Canadian Prime Minister Richard Baker beginning to withdraw his forces on April 1, 2026 and NATO rebuffing President McGraw's request for additional support, makes it clear that the war would become ever more American and grind on far beyond McGraw's own withdrawal deadline of December 2026.
Despite -- or perhaps, increasingly, because of -- the presence of 70,000 US forces and their Canadian allies, civilians in the region continue to suffer mightily. In 2025, the terror group Boko Haram, reinvigorated by the war, carries out 12 suicide bombings in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, alone.
That December, the group rampages through the Nigerian town of Damaturu, killing more than 100 people in a series of coordinated bombings and gun attacks. Days later, AQIM's Christmas Eve bombing of the Canadian military base in Mauritania claims the lives of 83 civilians shopping in the nearby marketplace.
"WE WILL CONTINUE to work with our partners to root out and destroy al Qaeda. We are making progress, but it will take time," Major General Evans tells the public in early 2026. Just how much time and how much progress, however, is only offered in a private assessment sent to the head of US Africa Command on March 8, 2026.
In that communique, Evans catalogues the many setbacks plaguing Operation Desert Strike: the resilience of AQIM, the upcoming loss of Canadian forces, the weakness of Malian and Mauritanian troops, and the African Union's reluctance to provide soldiers, among them.
Even a decade into a fictional future, however, the recommendations for another failing, forever war-in-the-making sound far less like futuristic thinking and far more like the predictable solutions to America's present-day military adventures:
I recommend that we delay our pullout from Mauritania and Mali for a minimum of 12 months. Additionally, given the loss of the Canadian forces, and the desire not to "give-back" the gains we have made in their sector, I recommend a surge of three additional Army [brigade combat teams], or [US Marine Corps] Regiments, for a period of 12 months.
While this is a difficult scenario given the competing global demand for forces, the mission will fail if some adjustment is not made to keep forces on the ground here in Northwestern Africa.
Evans' message is the last issued for the Operation Desert Strike segment of the war game, so we don't know the AFRICOM commander's response or what President McGraw eventually decides when presented with the options to either double down on the war to avenge the deaths of a devastating terror attack, or to "fail."
Given the range of responses over the last decade-plus to setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria and Somalia, Yemen and Libya, you don't need a crystal ball, or to attend a US military war college, to have a pretty good idea of President McGraw's decision. It seems safe to assume that America's fictitious war in West Africa will continue into the 2030s, just as its wars of the 2000s have staggered into the late 2010s.
One can almost imagine the fictional military officers of President McGraw's fantasy world conducting their own wargames, charting out their own fictitious forever wars that grind on without end into distant fictional futures.