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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 1, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT

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good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. america's war in africa finally coming out of the shadows after the ambush of u.s. troops in niger. and tonight an author takes us inside the militarization of the continent under president obama and what is next for president trump. we are glad you joined us. nick turse on africa in just a moment. ♪ ♪
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. the recent ambush of u.s. troops in niger put a spotlight on africa. and, nick turis, author of "tomorrow's battlefield u.s. proxy wars and secret ops in africa." and "next time they will come to count the dead war and survival in south sudan" he joins us in new york. thank you for joining us. >> thank you for having me on. >> excuse the raspiness of the voice. i think i can get through it. an important conversation, why i am here. >> sure.
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>> let me start reviewing what happened on capitol hill today very quickly. so, general mattis was on the hill today testifying. and was essentially pressed on whether or not these troops, these american troops in niger were operating under the military authorization put on the books after, after, 9/11. he essentially set they were not operating under that war authorization of, of 2011. but instead were operating what he referred to as title 10. this would be the u.s. code that allows u.s. military troops to train and advise, in areas around the globe. so he tried to be very clear, that this was not u.s., these were not u.s. soldiers operating under military authorization. you can imagine that didn't sit well with some members of congress. members of congress, tim kane comes to find. democrat of virginia comes to mind immediately saying that we need to reauthorize war, war resolution, if we are going to continue doing this kind of
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stauf round the globe. -- stauf round tuff around the. this was outside the scope of what they were authorized, the military. or believe general mattis they weren't operating under military authorization. >> the united states military forces operate under, a number of different authorities. for secret clandestine covert activities. you know, in actuality, i mean the members of congress have it right. the united states has been conducting missions that the military calls training or advise and assist or train and equip for, you know, 15 years now. but, many of these missions have, as we have come to, understand through the incident in niger are indistinguishable. u.s. troops are in combat. they don't call it that. >> what were they doing? soldiers in niger?
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>> well, i mean the story changes by the day, depending on who is telling it. but, the best we can gather is that there were 12 members of the, u.s. special forces, green berets. accompanied by about 30 local nigerian troops. they were on what the military called -- at some points, called it reconnaissance mission. some times advise and assist. you know basically, a training operation. they were near a border village near the border with, mali. inside niger. somewhere deep into the mission it may have turned into what they call capture and kill mission. that, that, that a reconnaissance or, or training mission, morphed into something that's -- definitely a combat mission. the target was allegedly a -- a high ranking al qaeda or isis operative in the region. and sometime after this change
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in missions, the u.s. troops were ambushed by around 50 armed militants who were supposedly operating in nearby mali across the border, attack u.s. forces and, killed the four green berets and five nigerian troops. >> there have been all kind of issues raised about whether or not -- sergeant johnson was in any way subjected to racism. why he was where he was. why he was away from the others. do we have any, is there, any new, any new intel on -- what happened to him specifically? >> it's been very difficult to, to tease apart the -- the sequence of events. it's, it's possible that, that, something along those lines is, is to blame for this. but, at stage my reporting i haven't been able to come to a conclusion on that. >> let me ask, more broadly,
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what is it that the american public you thing, nick, does not know about what we are really doing in africa? put another way, how large, how big is the u.s. imprint in africa even though you have, general mattis today saying they were not engaged in any, not, acting under military authorization. what's, how big is the imprint on the continent at the moment? >> it is huge, tavis. when u.s. africa command began operations, in 2008, the command was really sold to the american public, also to people all across africa, as, as basically humanitarian operation. something like -- peace corps in camouflage. when it started its operations, africacom as it is known. running 172 missions on the continent per year. fast forward to 2017. this year, u.s. africa command has carried out 3,500 activities
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engagements,er exsize er eer e missions across the african continent. an increase of nearly 2,000% in u.s. military activity on the continent in less than a decade. this is a massive expansion. done without almost any oversight by congress. or the american people. it has been abseptember from the mainstream media as well. i think that -- that, you know americans should take a very close look at this. because -- there its a shadow war that is being waged that americans hatch ve no idea abou. >> what's causing the increase in the engagements? >> well, just after 9/11, you know, africa was identified by the pentagon as a, as a growth area. the idea was that -- that there were ungoverned spaces and fragile states in africa. that made it necessary for the united states to -- pump in
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counterterrorism money. send trainers, equipment, to various countries, like niger. all around the continent. at the time, however, the united states didn't recognize any transnational or even transregional terrorist organizations. there were plenty of militant groups in africa. they were locally based. they had local grievances. now, correlation doesn't equal destination. if you look at -- the u.s. military, and it is tracking of militant groups on the continent today. they say that there are more than 50 terrorist groups, or, illicit organizations operating on the continent. they have gone from zero to 50 over this time. at the same time, pouring billions of dollars into counterterrorism money. into the african continent and flooding it with u.s. bases. u.s. troops. so, even if the u.s.
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anti-terrorism engagement in africa didn't cause the rise in terror groups, obviously the metrics are going in the exact opposite direct, what they should be. >> what would be the military's reason for -- such a broad and rampant expansion on the continent? >> well, you know the military has seen africa as a dangerous place filled with fragile states that are ripe for terrorist infiltration. i think that the, this is just how the u.s. military its, is viewed the african continent. unfortunately, it seems to take on -- you know many of the -- you know, the worst and, racist fears of, of africa from, from bygone centuries. a dangerous dark continent. and i think, in many ways, although, the u.s. military would never put it in those terms, it does see africa as a dangerous place and a place that needs, u.s. military
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intervention. of course, we have seen around the world that, that -- you know, in, in -- many cases, that u.s. military intervention does not have a positive effect on the situation. >> yeah. i'll come back to president trump in a second. how much of this expansion, or what was happening during the obama years? >> the obama years were the primetime of the expansion. africom was really in the opening stages at the end of the bush administration. during the obama years there was a -- a mass expansion of, of u.s. troops. u.s. special operations forces. djibouti, ethiopia, chad, cameroon, among others. so, it's really during the obama years that we saw major expansion. how its the military getting away with this. how are they, how are they being
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allowed to do this without any particular oversight? i think off the radar for congress and the american people i don't think are served very well. by the mainstream media on this. u.s. africa command has, basically held the line that they have one base on the continent. other names, contingency operative locations. these are bases. i think the media has done a relatively poor job of digging into this. and -- you know when africom puts out press releases or talks about its exercises, they're framed as training missions or humanitarian operations. and, there haven't been a lot of people who have been, digging into-- the other missions that go on across the continent. you know, i made myself persona
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nongrata at command for digging into this for five years or so. they've dent look on't like to e the i have to base a lot of reporting on freedom of information act requests getting ahold of documents paying close attention to, to congressional testimony. and things like that. if you -- if you look at what is out there, you can get the broad outlines. the u.s. military has done a good job of keeping this under wraps. >> why are you stow doggo doggel back this onion. what is at stake for the country? our democracy that emboldens you so to keep digging? >> well, i think it is dangerous to have, u.s. forces spread across a continent of more than 50 nations. you know, operating without, any kind of -- you know, stringent oversight. we have seen what happened in -- in, in, niger. to our forces. but, you know, this year, i reported on a, a u.s. base in or
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base in cameroon that the united states uses. local cameroonian forces their base. there is what i found. researchers from amnesty international as well. rampant torture going on in the space. this was under the guys of counterterrorism. focused on boca horam. a lot of the people targeted these were innocent civilians. when you -- have the united states involved in any way, they weren't imply katd icated in th torture they were present while torture was going on. the united states gets tarnished with this. people believe the united states is involved in it. and i think it breeds, type of resentment that, that, also ends up breeding possible potential terrorists. so you have -- you know, a self-defeating sort of loop that goes on with the operations you. may be creating more terrorists
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than you are actually -- eliminating. >> one of the things that lead to that, that suspicion, maybe even that reality, nick of creating additional terrorists is when the country in question feels like the u.s. has become an occupier. why saw that in iraq. afghanistan, and those are two of most recent countries that come to mind. but has this -- has this militarization of africa, risen to the level yet where there are certain places where, the citizens, the residents are starting to feel like u.s. has become an occupying force? i think we are running the dane danger of that. some times, dozens of u.s. outposts on the continent. american people are generally completely ignorant of these. but people in the nations know about them. they realize there is a foreign military presence. often working with the local security forces.
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army, police forces. which are, in many cases, repressive, and cited by the u.s. state department as engaging in human rights abuses. so, i think the united states can be seen in a lot of the places as -- as you know either akin to a colonial power, or occupying force. in league with forces repressing or mistreating their own populations. >> let me ask you an impolitic question. preface saying this. president obama's father was, from kenya. you laid out clearly how kenya and countries saw increased presence of american military operations during the eight years of president obama. and he again is part kenyan. nobody seemed to care about it. in the error of donald trump.
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only reason to my mind. if you can disabuse me. i'm happy to hear. only reason we are talking niger now, not because four precious american soldiers were killed. but in part because the it became ate media story when trump got into it with the widow of one of the officers. then a congresswoman was called liar. chief of staff, john kelly got involved. a huge media sort of circus. over what trump said or didn't say to the widow of one of the soldiers. what ary doing in africa? what are the soldiers doing? why are we there? i raise that how to ask a simple question. wanted to preface it properly. and the question is, why do you think, or do you think the american people even care about this again if it only became a story because the of trump. his predilection to twirlt and
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offending people. be not for that. it may not be conversation. do the american people care about our militarization of the continent? >> well i think the american people have been happy to look away. very similar incident actually happened earlier this year. in somalia a navy seal was killed with forces there. it was president trump's extremely bungled attempt to express his condolences. that pus this on tt this on the. hopeful now, perhaps through, shows like this one.
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there will be questions, soulsearching. how far we have come in africa, what the next steps will be? >> beaver i come to congress. wh -- before i come to congress and what they ought to be doing about the issues we are discu discussing tonight. most that follow africa know china has a huge imprint, footprint on continent of africa now. it is growing every day. what other countries are starting to increase their shadow. there is some european investment. therere is, been some, some, russian engagement in places like libya. you are right, really china that has been the-- the other driving foreign force. throughout africa.
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china has gone with a complete leap different strategy. economic strategy across the continent. what they have done is a lot of big public works projects. where you seep stadiums, airpts. being built. chinese. talk about quality of construction. seen some of it in africa during my reporting. china its interested in engaging africa, african nations on, on -- on a, on one level. economics what the united states has din doing across the continent. one country after another. playing a counterterror
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whack-a-mole. it is a very different, you know, type of, of -- engagement with the continent. i think china is many cases winning the public relations battle. >> been there a few times. one is infrastructure, you said. one approach is to build the infrastructure. the other its to do as you said. we are doing on the continent. let me ask you this. may be too early to answer the question, nick. increasingly at the hand of the u.s. military. on going some time now. do you have of a better sense of that than i do. >> well, you know, very muddled.
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from temperature ga from the united nations. he began with an indelicate line how his friend were headed to africa. heading to a luflt the cot of t countries hoping to make a lot of money. he praised a country that does not exist. he said name be yeahibia's heal system was doing great. it may be namibia and zambia. but nambia its not actually a country. beyond that. trump talked counterterrorism. talked about some -- really intractable problems on the continent in south sudan. democratic republic of kongos. difficult to get a read from that exactly what his vision, for africa is. trust his generals.
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taking the handcuffs off in many cases. he allowed for -- greater authorities for strikes in somalia. we might see the same type of thing happening in niger, mali. we have seen air strikes in libya. so, i think that we are likely to see, even a greater militarization than during the obama era. that, that, trump will, abdicate responsibility to, to commanders on the ground. and that they will, take that opportunity, to, to increase their authorities and increase u.s. military operations. >> what hope do you have that congress can or will interveen and slow down the plans? if you want to look back. they abdicated responsibility when it comes to war powers, by and large since world war ii. but, you know, maybe, hope springs eternal.
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that, that, president trump might be able to engender a movement in congress to take some of their, their, powers back. what should they be doing with regard to the expansion of our military on the continent. in some ways i think the questions are above my pay grade. first place they can start is effective oversight. if you look at when the commanders come into the senate and the house every year. they read a prepared statement. then they take questions. questions are not probing. they rarely touch on issues. like, where is the u.s.
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operating. what are u.s. troops on the ground doing on a day-to-day basis. congress has to start demanding answers. we are going to have the next niger and the next and next. >> nick, thank you for your work. good to have you on the program sharing your insights. great conversation. thank you, sir. >> thank you so much for having me on. >> my pleasure. that's our show. thank you for watching. good night from los angeles. and as always, keep the faith. ♪ ♪ for more information on today's show. visit it tavis smiley at >> hi, join me next time for conversation with j.b. smooth, actor/comedian. that's next time. we'll see you then.
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