When U.S. troops were ambushed in Niger last October, the widespread reaction was surprise: The U.S. has military forces in Niger? What are they doing there?
Yet in many ways, the Niger operation typifies U.S. military missions underway in roughly 20 African countries, mostly in the northern half of the continent. The missions tend to be small, they are carried out largely below the radar, and most are focused on a specific aim: rolling back Islamist extremism.
In almost all of the missions, the Americans are there to advise, assist and train African militaries — and not to take part in combat. Still, those supporting roles can often take U.S. forces into the field with their African partners, as was the case in Niger.
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All the old colonial powers, plus some new ones (e.g. China), have been conducting a soft invasion of Africa for years. The pretext for some may be "rolling back Islamist extremism", but exactly what does that mean? All things considered, couldn't the US forces be labelled "Christian extremists"?
This is all about resources, which Africa has and outsiders want. Yes, the Islamist (and other) extremists will be rolled back, but it mainly will be to allow the bulldozers in to strip mine their wealth. No Africans (other than US supported dictators) are likely to benefit.