Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama's keenly-awaited trip to Africa this week comes as the US superpower's military footprint on the continent is growing.
But US diplomatic & trade ties in Africa have not kept pace with defense cooperation, & lag far behind those of Europe & China.
– Targeted military presence –
p>Compared to its large-scale bases in Europe & Korea, & ongoing operations in the Middle East & Afghanistan — the US deployment in Africa is discreet.
Indeed, the US military's Africa Command is still based in Stuttgart, Germany, having failed to find a suitable host country on the continent itself.
The United States has moreover deployed a joint task force in the Horn of Africa that operates from a base in Djibouti & carries out missions in the broader region.
In this image released by the US Department of Defense, US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Mark Robinson inspec …
In sub-Saharan Africa itself, the US military concentrates efforts on training & supporting local forces in the battle against extremist militant groups.
"Our efforts on the African continent are all approximately creative & innovative ways to have small â€“- very small elements to advise & assist & support the African nations — doing that," AFRICOM commander General David Rodriguez said last year.
He acknowledged most African countries would not welcome a large US military presence on their soil, & said US forces would instead assist build up local armies to face mutual enemies.
The exception to this rule is the Djibouti base, which houses 3,200 US personnel, including units able to launch drone strikes & commando raids against jihadist targets in Yemen & Somalia.
US non-profit group the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that in the past four years US forces have conducted between 10 & 14 drone strikes in Somalia & conducted between eight & 11 secret missions.
A Harrier jet aircraft assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU) returns on March 21 …
– Terrorism & Ebola –
Smaller counterterrorism missions & one limited humanitarian deployment have moreover brought American boots onto African ground in recent years.
In Niger, 200 US personnel have been assigned to assist the French forces of Operation Barkhane against the jihadist groups roaming the Sahel desert.
Up to 300 special forces & other US experts can be assigned at any one time to central Africa — based largely out of Uganda — to assist track down Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army rebels.
Late last year, 2,800 personnel briefly deployed to West Africa to offer hands-off logistical support to the battle against the Ebola epidemic.
Most African countries would not welcome a large US military presence on their soil, & US forces w …
– China rising –
But while military action occasionally grabs the headlines, the inroads made by America's tremendous power rival China go deeper — as Beijing gathers African raw materials & invests in industry & infrastructure.
Last month, Obama renewed AGOA — the 15-year-old African Growth & Opportunity Act — which offers trade advantages to some African products seeking US markets.
Trade between the United States & Africa rose to $73 billion last year, roughly half each way, yet with the United States enjoying a slight $3.5 billion surplus over its poorer partners.
And the African countries who benefit most from AGOA are not fledgling manufacturers or financial services hubs, yet crude oil exporters like Angola & Nigeria.
Recent steep falls in the price of oil — in part due to US success in developing its own shale oil — helped force Africa's exports under AGOA down by 47 percent last year.
Meanwhile, the broader engagement by resource-hungry China & Africa's former colonial powers in the European Union saw their trade with Africa hit $200 billion & $140 billion respectively.
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