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US Army

‘Mention South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and those with good memories can attest to the lesson of history, which is that if you want to remain friendly with the USA, keep its military at arm’s length.’ So why would Ghana risk souring its relationship with the US, as Pakistan has already done, by allowing it to use Ghanaian territory for military purposes, asks Cameron Duodu.

I would never have believed it, but after 54 years of independence – and despite the noise we have made about our national sovereignty and how we adopted the policy of non-alignment in the Cold War in order to safeguard our sovereignty – there are still people in Ghana who believe that it would be in Ghana’s interest to allow the United States to operate a military base on Ghanaian soil. And that includes a base from which drones can be flown to kill the enemies of the US who operate in neighbouring countries.

The issue is far from being theoretical because Ghana is surrounded by countries in which there are large Muslim communities – the Ivory Coast, Togo and Burkina Faso. Ghana’s own Northern, Upper and Upper West regions also contain significant numbers of Muslims. And we all know that someone’s fervent adherent of Islam, is another person’s fanatic, waiting to be recruited into Al Qaeda or some other sinister Islamic sect.

Yet despite Ghana’s possession of all the ingredients for a potentially lethal demographic cocktail, there are individuals in the country who would tolerate the use of Ghanaian territory by the US for military purposes.

Their view can be represented by this posting to a Ghanaian Internet forum: President John Atta Mills could get Ghana a US base, 50 miles from Tamale, in Northern Ghana, which would build ‘a state of the art military hospital that the residents could use as well.’ Ghana could also get an airport that had ‘a civilian wing the country can use.’ And an infrastructure plan to be put in place to support an army of Ghanaian businesses, ranging from hotels to food production outfits, to support the complex. ‘The security agreements to be negotiated would permit us to secure our interests, wherever they maybe, as we help the America effort.’

The posting betrays ignorance about the troubled relations that exist between local populations and the personnel of American bases – such as are often reported even from such American close allies as Japan (Okinawa). And to imagine that an American hospital meant for the personnel of a military base would necessarily be available to locals, borders on naivety.

In any case, Africans will probably be called upon to make judgements on such issues sooner than they think. For a report in the Washington Post tells us that that the US has stationed drones (pilotless military aircraft) in the Seychelles Islands that have a range of about 800 miles. It also has some drones in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

The purpose of the drones, it is assumed, is to protect the seaways in the area from pirate activity, usually carried out from Somalia. But since the Somali pirates are generally suspected to be affiliated with Al Qaeda or other militant groups that hostile to the US, the use of the drones in Africa will open a new front in the worldwide ‘war on terror’ the US and its allies are waging. Even in the West, some people have doubts about the waging of a ‘war on terror’ that encompasses the entire globe. Can Africa afford to ‘sleep-walk’ into the centre of such a conflict?

For I haven’t heard, for instance, of a parliamentary debate in the Seychelles about the stationing there of US drones. Even in Ghana, the exact nature of cooperation with the US AFRICOM objectives have not been adequately thrashed out publicly. Before we know it, we could be experiencing something of a ‘mission creep’: We conduct joint training sessions with US troops; some troops stay to train our soldiers; then equipment arrives; and finally we find that some of the equipment can be assembled in to drones!

It is easy to see why Ghana would be a welcome addition to the American bases from which drones can fly to combat Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (North Africa) is known to operate in Mauritania and Niger, and probably Chad as well. The Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso cannot be dismissed out of hand, either. No one will know for sure, until they strike – if they ever do.

That is what is baffling the Nigerians at the moment. It appears as if there is now a link between the deadly Boko Haram Islamic sect, which has been killing scores of Nigerians, and Al Qaeda in Somalia. (Shortly before it carried out a dastardly attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja in August 2011, Boko Haram boasted, through an operative, that the organisation had sent people for training in Somalia, and that they had just returned to Nigeria).

The question is this: If Al Qaeda were to suspect that that it was being targeted by drones flown from Ghana, would Ghana be safe from its retaliation? Quite frankly, I shudder to think of the situation that would confront us. For Nigeria, whose security budget is probably bigger than our entire gross domestic product (GDP) is currently floundering in its attempt to combat Boko Haram. A government report has recommended that arrested Boko Haram suspects should be granted an ‘amnesty’.

But a newspaper war has broken out, in the meantime, between the Nigerian police and the country’s Defence Intelligence Agency, over how a suspected Boko Haram operative was handled by both organisations, with each is accusing the other of not treating the alleged operative seriously enough.

This is a sign that the intelligence organisations in Nigeria are under enormous pressure over their inability, so far, to check the activities of Boko Haram. In one instance, Boko Haram sent a suicide bomber to blow up the police headquarters in Abuja. The Inspector-General of the Nigerian Police was saved from death by the skin of his teeth.

So, if it is doing nothing at all, Boko Haram is destabilising Nigeria. And if seeing what is going on in Nigeria, our government creates a situation that can be seized upon to see Ghana with hostile eyes, our government would have broken the oath it has sworn to protect and defend Ghana.

One thing that cannot be ignored is the possibility that the disarray in the Nigerian security services is caused by officials within the organisations who are sympathetic to the ideals preached by Boko Haram. That situation could be duplicated in Ghana, with unimaginable consequences. So far, Ghana has been fortunate in not having encountered religious intolerance. Religion does not interfere much in our social interactions. But we should not tempt our luck.

No one can convince an American to allow him to station his country’s troops or weapons on American soil – for any reason. Why can’t we learn from the Americans and tell them plainly that we cannot consider them as our friends, if they ask us to expose ourselves to attack, in order to assist in America’s ‘war on terror’?

The same disease that is plaguing Nigeria – a divided national security system – is also affecting Pakistan, a country which the US has been considering as an ally in its war on Al Qaeda. Pakistan dies indeed receive US$3.16 billion a year from the US as aid. Yet a few days ago, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan of supporting a militant group called the Haqqani. This was the group that carried out a deadly attack on the US embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, recently, in which 25 people died. What could be a worse indictment of a supposed ally?

Admiral Mullen told the US Senate at a public hearing: ‘The Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.’

He added: ‘With ISI [Pakistani intelligence"> support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted a truck bomb attack [on 11 September">, as well as the assault on our embassy. We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the 28 June [2011"> attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.’

This type of situation – a ‘love affair between two countries that has turned sour’ – is not new. Mention South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and those with good memories can attest to the lesson of history, which is that if you want to remain friendly with the USA, keep its military at arm’s length. Pakistan must now be badly regretting that it didn’t learn from what happened between the US and other countries in southeast Asia. But it is too late for Pakistan to regret its past mistakes. It will continue to pay for those mistakes in blood. Any African country that takes the risk of becoming another Pakistan, needs to have its head examined.


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