Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The US Military Is Training Third World Coup Leaders Again

Posted by M. C. on April 19, 2022

by Ted Galen Carpenter

Fear regarding the strength of Islamic extremism in Africa now appears to have reached the point that AFRICOM leaders are content to do the same. A willingness to work with graduates of the SOA who orchestrated coups and committed human rights abuses in Latin America disgraced the US military. The apparent indifference of the US military hierarchy to similar behavior by African alumni of US training programs creates the prospect of a similar disgrace.

Americans should be experiencing an uneasy sense of déjà vu. In the last two years, U.S.-trained officers have overthrown West African governments at least four times.  There are indications that other graduates have undermined civilian governments in other portions of the continent. But U.S. military officials have been less than informative. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) can’t explain why there has been a surge in coups. Indeed, AFRICOM insists that it doesn’t even know how often they’ve happened. That position reflects convenient ignorance, at best.

Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Rohling, the commander of US Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, insists that the Pentagon’s objective is to “showcase a way, the American way, that we train and build leaders not only in their tactical tasks, but in the ethos of the United States Army.” But as analyst Nick Turse, a fellow at The Nation Institute, observes, those values have been lacking in Africa, especially in West Africa, “where U.S.-trained officers have attempted at least nine coups (and succeeded in at least eight) across five West African countries, including Burkina Faso (three times), Guinea, Mali (three times), Mauritania, and the Gambia. The four most recent coups by US trainees have occurred in Burkina Faso (2022), Guinea (2021) and twice in Mali (2020 and 2021).”

The latest cases of officers who had received US military training going on to stage an epidemic of coups in Africa is reminiscent of the long, odious history of the School of the Americas (SOA). The US Army established that training center in 1946 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The curriculum emphasized the most up-to-date military tactics, especially in counterinsurgency warfare. But that was not the sole mission of the school. In addition to core military training, the goal supposedly was to educate officers from allied countries in Latin America about the importance of democratic values and civilian control of the military. During the next 54 years, the SOA trained more than 63,000 soldiers from 21 countries,

It is not certain whether US officials were sincere about promoting a commitment to democracy, or whether that stated objective was merely cynical propaganda. In any case, the results were appallingly bad. A December 2000 ABC News story by investigative reporter Barbara Starr noted that “The list of graduates from the School of the Americas is a who’s who of Latin American despots. Students have included Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia.”

In addition to the School of the Americas being an incubator for future coup leaders, graduates amassed a horrid record on human rights. Critics derided the institution as a school for dictators, torturers, and assassins. The track record seemed to support that assessment. According to Starr, “graduates cut a swath through El Salvador during its civil war, being involved in the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the El Mozote massacre in which 900 peasants were killed, and the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests.”

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