Ivory Coast: Testing Ground For U.S.-Backed African Standby Force


The announcements of presidential election results last month in West Africa and Eastern Europe have served as the pretext for the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union to again embark on the warpath of sanctions, embargoes, travel bans, “regime change” plots and even the threat of military force.

The reelection of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on December 19 has been followed by the U.S. State Department supporting EU sanctions against him and other leaders of the nation. On January 20 the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding the European Council “impose a ban on visas and freeze any EU bank accounts of senior government officials and members of the judiciary and security agencies responsible for rigging the elections and persecuting the opposition.” The EU’s 27 foreign ministers will formalize that decision at their first meeting of the year on January 31.

State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed American backing for the actions, about which, he added, “we are consulting closely with our counterparts in the European Union.

“We are very much aware and supportive of steps that the EU is taking, and we are also, in light of our concerns, prepared to take additional steps to restore sanctions that have previously been lifted.” [1]

On December 2 the opposition-controlled Independent Electoral Commission in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) released provisional results showing that presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara had defeated incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo in the November 28 runoff election. The following day the nation’s Constitutional Council declared the Electoral Commission’s results invalid and proclaimed Gbagbo the winner.

Former colonial master France, the U.S. and the European Union backed the result which best suited their interests – an Ouattara victory – and secured support from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Security Council.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara were sworn in as president and in the interim the drumbeats of military intervention to depose Gbagbo have steadily risen in intensity.

Whatever the respective merits of the two candidates’ contentions, that the U.S. has entered the fray on behalf of the one declared the loser by the nation’s top court exactly a decade after the 2000 U.S. presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court would prove embarrassing to any country other than the world’s sole military superpower.

ECOWAS has suspended Ivory Coast’s membership in the fifteen-nation group (Niger was suspended in 2009) and pressure is being put on ECOWAS to activate the West African Standby Force brigade under its control for an invasion of Ivory Coast.

The African Standby Force, under the nominal direction of the African Union but trained by U.S. Africa Command and NATO, was to have been activated last year and to have provided brigades of an estimated 3,000-4,000 troops each for five regions in Africa: East, west, north, south and central. The West African brigade is to grow to 6,500 troops.

Previous ECOWAS military deployments in Liberia in 1990, Sierra Leone in 1997, Guinea-Bissau in 1999 and Sierra Leone again in the same year were conducted under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) multinational armed force and the 2003 deployment to Liberia under the ECOWAS Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL), but the proposed intervention in Ivory Coast will be the first to employ the West African (ECOWAS) Standby Force brigade with troops from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Before the initial activation of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) on October 1, 2007, the person who would become its first and still current commander, General William Ward, affirmed:

“AFRICOM will assume sponsorship of ongoing command and control infrastructure development and liaison officer support. It would continue to resource military mentors for peacekeeping training, and develop new approaches to supporting the AU and African Standby Forces.” [2]

Regarding NATO’s role in establishing and supporting the African Standby Force, the U.S.-led military bloc has stated:

“Joint Command Lisbon is the operational lead for NATO/AU engagement, and has a Senior Military Liaison Officer at AU HQ in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. NATO also supports staff capacity building through the provision of places on NATO training courses to AU staff supporting AMISOM [African Union Mission for Somalia], and support to the operationalisation of the African Standby Force – the African Union’s vision for a continental, on-call security apparatus similar to the NATO Response Force.” [3]

The African Standby Force is not only similar to but based on the NATO Response Force, a 25,000-troop globally deployable strike force which was launched in the former Portuguese African possession of Cape Verde with the massive Steadfast Jaguar war games in 2006. Last year NATO began airlifting Ugandan troops assigned to AMISOM to Somalia for combat operations. Uganda is also a mainstay of the East Africa Standby Force.

The ECOWAS/ECOMOG intervention in Sierra Leone in 1999 was followed the next year by Britain’s Operation Palliser in the nation, commanded by Brigadier David Richards, now the United Kingdom’s Chief of the Defence Staff. In the interim Richards was commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan and Britain’s Chief of the General Staff and Commander-in-Chief of Land Forces.

The British invasion of Sierra Leone in 2000 included airborne troops, Special Air Service commandos and helicopter units. The Royal Navy dispatched the HMS Illustrious aircraft carrier, diverted from NATO exercises in the Bay of Biscay, along with seven other warships. British military forces remain in Sierra Leone almost eleven years later and the country was used by ECOWAS militaries for the intervention in Liberia in 2003.

During the latter operation the U.S. redeployed two warships from the Horn of Africa off the coast of Liberia with an initial contingent of 2,300 Marines. In July Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed an order adding another ship and bringing total troop strength to 4,500 Marines and sailors. In the same month U.S. special forces, part of an “anti-terrorism” unit, and an elite rapid response Marine unit were deployed on the ground in the country. U.S. efforts were coordinated with those of 1,000 Nigerian troops assigned to the ECOWAS Mission In Liberia, who were airlifted into the capital on August 15.

After President Charles Taylor stepped down and went into exile in Nigeria, Washington set a $2 million bounty for his capture and extradition.

The role of ECOWAS military forces is to prepare the way for and give an African cover to Western armed interventions in West Africa.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the University of Colorado and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, was sworn in as Taylor’s successor following the 2005 runoff election she was accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush. Three months afterward she spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. where she said:

“We made this visit essentially in response to President Bush’s kind invitation, but to use that opportunity to thank him, to thank the U.S. government, to thank the American people for all that was done to support Liberia in its transition from war to peace.” [4]

Earlier Johnson Sirleaf worked for the World Bank in Washington and was the first chairperson of George Soros’ Open Society Initiative for West Africa

The president installed in Sierra Leone in 2002, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, received his post-graduate education at two universities in Britain and practiced law in London before going to work for the United Nations. After stepping down as his nation’s head of state, he was in charge of the Commonwealth’s observer mission for the 2007 election in Kenya and the head of the African Union’s observer mission for the Zimbabwean election the next year.

Alassane Ouattara, the West’s current man in Ivory Coast, received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in the U.S. and served as an economist for the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. from 1968 to 1973 and as its deputy managing director from 1994-1999.

In 1990 he was appointed, not elected, prime minister by Ivorian president for life Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who ruled his country from its independence in 1960 to his death in 1993.

Houphouët-Boigny was not only France’s but the U.S.’s main ally in West Africa. He gave support to forces opposing leftist and pan-Africanist governments throughout the region, including those which overthrew Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana in 1966, Marien Ngouabi in Congo-Brazzaville in 1977 and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso in 1987, the latter two killed in the process. He also supported groups opposed to President Sékou Touré in Guinea-Conakry and Mathieu Kérékou in Benin and collaborated with the U.S. and apartheid South Africa to back UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) in its war against the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) during the independence struggle against Portugal and later when MPLA formed Angola’s first government.

He severed relations with the Soviet Union in 1969 and did not renew them until the Gorbachev era in 1986. He didn’t recognize the People’s Republic of China until 1983.

Laurent Gbagbo founded the Ivorian Popular Front in 1982 in opposition to the Houphouët-Boigny regime. After he assumed the presidency in 2000, he paid visits to Russia and China and strengthened relations with those countries as well as others like Belarus and Iran.

During the last years of Houphouët-Boigny’s reign Ouattara was his faithful lieutenant. According to an American magazine account of the event in 1993:

“The African president’s death was announced by Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara in a televised speech. Ouattara wept as he announced the death of Ivory Coast’s only ruler since it gained independence from France in 1960.” [5]

Later, while serving as the Deputy Managing Director at the International Monetary Fund in Washington in 1998, Ouattara announced plans to return to Ivory Coast, which he did the following year. The government of then-President Henri Konan Bédié issued an arrest warrant for him, leading him to flee Ivory Coast, but in December of 2009 a military coup removed Bédié from power, which allowed Ouattara to return once more. His characterization of the military takeover was expressed in this manner:

“This is not a coup d’etat. This is a revolution supported by all the Ivorian people.” [6]

He was acting perfectly in character, then, when he issued these comments on January 20 of this year:

“The position of Ecowas now should be using other measures, including legitimate force. Clearly military intervention now is necessary, to remove Mr. Gbagbo. I talk to President Jonathan (of Nigeria) two times to [a?] a week, and he has given me assurances that we’re still on course (for military intervention). If Mr. Gbagbo does not want to leave, military intervention has been used elsewhere in Africa and Latin America, so why not Cote d’Ivoire?”

“I don’t think mediation should be on the agenda (anymore).” [7]

In fact, an invasion by the ECOWAS African Standby Force is exactly what is being finalized by the U.S. and its NATO allies with the connivance of local surrogates, Senegal in the first place.

France had intervened in Ivory Coast starting in 2002, initially to serve as a buffer between the government of President Gbagbo and rebel forces infiltrating from Burkina Faso, and at first engaged in fighting with rebel forces headed by Guillaume Soro, now Ivory Coast’s prime minister.

But in 2002 France forced a so-called peace agreement with the Ivorian government (similar to that forced on Macedonia by the U.S., NATO and the EU two years earlier which brought the Kosovo-based National Liberation Army leader Ali Ahmeti into the parliament and his party into a coalition government) and Soro was made prime minister. It is intriguing to note that the year before he threatened France with another debacle like that at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 as he “reminded France of its fate in Indochina where Vietnamese nationalists threw off French colonial rule in bloody fighting in the 1950s.” [8]

Tens of thousands of Ivorians protested outside the French embassy in Abidjan in January of 2003 against the French-engineered “national reconciliation” pact with Soro’s New Forces (Forces Nouvelles) rebels and French troops fired stun grenades into the crowd. The U.S. embassy was also besieged.

In January of 2004 Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade called for United Nations forces to support French troops in Ivory Coast, stating “he would expect the French to provide the weapons and other countries, possibly the United States, to help with transport.” [9]

French troop strength in the country had grown to over 3,000 the following month with the U.S. deploying an initial military contingent as well.

In November of 2004 Ivorian planes bombed a rebel stronghold in the north of the country, killing nine French soldiers and an American national, and French forces responded by shooting down two government Sukhoi fighter-bombers and a helicopter. In fact France destroyed the entire Ivorian air force: Four Sukhois and six helicopters. General Charles Wald, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, which before AFRICOM included most all of Africa in its scope, applauded the French action, saying: “We strongly believe the French took the exact right action: they destroyed those aircraft.” [10]

France scrambled three Mirage jet fighters from Chad to Gabon (where it maintains a military base) and set up a forward base in Togo for its aircraft. President Jacques Chirac “ordered the destruction of any other aircraft that violated the ceasefire and his office announced that two companies of troops were being rushed to the area to buttress the 4,000-member French peace-keeping force.” [11]

France was at war with the government of Ivory Coast. Its troops clashed with Ivorian civilians in the commercial capital of Abidjan after the downing of the aircraft. As the New York Times put it at the time:

“Since civil war erupted in 2002, the French, who exercise significant economic influence in their former colony, have been accused of aiding rebels and have repeatedly come under attack by supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo.” [12]

The country’s speaker of the parliament accused France of occupying the nation and conniving with Soro’s and other rebel groups operating out of neighboring states, saying that “Since the beginning of the crisis, we have had the feeling and the evidence that it is Jacques Chirac who has armed the rebels at first.

“The Ivorian people and government hope that this occupation army will leave the territory and go away.” [13]

The speaker, Mamadou Coulibaly, told French public radio on November 7 that French troops had recently killed 30 and wounded 100 civilians, and on the same day reinforcements arrived in Ivory Coast from the French base in Gabon.

Coulibaly also warned that France was in for a “long, hard war” and that “Vietnam will be nothing compared with what we are going to do here.” [14]

On November 10 France deployed two ships – Le Foudre with 250 marines, tanks, five helicopters and light vehicles and the cruiser La Fayette – off the shores of Ivory Coast.

A week later the Ivorian government announced it would take legal action at the International Court of Justice against French troops accused of killing what were then disclosed to be 60 civilians and the wounding of over 1,300 in Abidjan.

In what is a fascinating parallel with current events, then-French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie accused Belarus of being responsible for the deaths of the nine French troops killed earlier in the month, claiming “the assault had been a planned act carried out by Belarussian mercenaries who piloted two Sukhoi Su-25 planes.” [15] The government of Belarus denied the charges.

The situation settled down in 2005 but in January of 2006 the ruling Ivorian Popular Front accused France and the so-called international community, which demanded the dissolution of the national parliament, of carrying out a “constitutional coup d’etat,” pulled out of the putative unity government and ordered 10,000 French and UN troops present in the country to leave. President Gbagbo persisted in that demand to the end of the year.

In December the government foiled a coup attempt planned for the 17th “with the support of a military force present in Ivory Coast.” [16]

On March 4, 2007 a new peace accord was signed by the government of President Gbagbo and the New Forces of Guillaume Soro, who then became prime minister.

Ivory Coast had been at peace until last month. In the election of October 31 of last year Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front received 1,756,504 votes, 38.04 percent of the total; Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans won 1,481,091, 32.07 per cent; and former president (1993-1999) Henri Konan Bédié 1,165,532, 25.24 per cent.

The election was monitored by the UN, whose envoy, Y. J. Choi, stated it was “peaceful and democratic, and that the results of the elections were determined through a fair and transparent process.” [17]

The head of the ECOWAS Observer Mission for the election, Benin’s Theodore Holo, said: “Our mission did not observe any major irregularities likely to taint the freedom, credibility and transparency of the 31st October 2010 presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire.”

The mission “also found out that the voting process was smooth and in accordance with current standards, particularly in terms of collation and vote counting.” [18]

With Gbagbo six percentage points ahead of Ouattara in the first round, it was likely that he would also win the November 28 runoff election, which is what the Ivory Coast’s top court ruled happened.

That was not a result acceptable to the West.

In a recent article, Pierre Sané, former Amnesty International Secretary General and former UNESCO Assistant Director General, warned:

“Africa nowadays is subjected to a struggle for power which, beyond the obvious ethnic and religious national divergences, essentially opposes two concepts of society, and which, in simple words, see leaders promoting global liberalism to others, who support a sovereign and socialist pan-Africanism. As we celebrate 50 years of independence, all Africans should mainly consider what is really at stake through today’s events in Côte d’Ivoire. Gullibility after 50 years is unforgiveable!” [19]

He may have been alluding in part to recent threats like the following from State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley, the same who pledged U.S. efforts against Belarus:

“Nothing is preventing President Gbagbo from leaving Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). And as we’ve said, we don’t know where he might go. But we believe at this point it’s important for him to leave soon. And the opportunity for him to leave with a dignified exit is an opportunity that is…that window is closing fast.” [20]

His words were matched by American actions. The State Department announced earlier this month that the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department is taking punitive actions against Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and three of his senior advisers. Their property will be blocked and U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.

The International Monetary Fund announced it would only work with a government headed by its former employee Alassane Ouattara.

The ultima ratio of the U.S. and its European NATO allies is a military invasion by the West African Standby Force.

According to a Sierra Leone newspaper, a meeting of ECOWAS military chiefs in Mali on January 20 “adopted a resolution to depose incumbent Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo from power by force.”

Nigeria has expressed some hesitancy and Ghana even more so, but “Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali and Togo are expected to participate, while Niger is still to confirm.” [21]

Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week as head of an ECOWAS delegation and afterward confirmed that “Burkina Faso will take its full share of responsibility when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decides to use force to oust outgoing Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.” [22]

After Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga met separately with Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo and Ouattara on January 17 without the first conceding the presidency, the die is cast.

Ghanaian President John Mills told Odinga that “Ghana would only back ECOWAS on a military intervention if the peaceful negotiations fail” as in the view of the Western “international community” they have, and former president of Ghana Jerry Rawlings recently warned that “Africa has suffered enough and I do not believe that we should be allowing ourselves to be misled into waging war against ourselves simply to satisfy some colonial or foreign interest.” [23]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated late in December that his country “is against UN Security Council interference in resolving internal problems in Cote d’Ivoire” and that “the situation in Cote d’Ivoire could impact the African continent as a whole.” [24]

The current African contingent in the UN Security Council – Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa – has also cautioned against military action in Ivory Coast.

But Nigerian General Olusegun Petinrin, speaking after the ECOWAS chiefs of general staff meeting in Mali last week, stated: “We are ready on the military level. It is up to heads of state to give us instructions.”

Another Nigerian military officer told Agence France-Press that the ECOWAS Standby Force would work with UN troops in the country – 9,500 soldiers with 2,000 more on the way, despite Gbagbo’s long-standing demand they leave – “if the military intervention is decided.”

“ECOWAS military chiefs in December outlined an intervention force headed by Nigeria which would also provide the most troops including a combat squadron and attack helicopters.” [25]

In recent days top U.S. military officials have visited West Africa and its near environs.

General David Hogg, commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), traveled to Ghana, Togo and Benin from January 10-14 to meet with senior military leaders and land force commanders.

“Hogg spent the week visiting with key leaders in all three West African nations and toured the peacekeeping training facility in Togo for a first-hand look at the capabilities of their land forces.”

“In addition to meeting with military leaders, Hogg toured the Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) training center in Togo. The largest PKO missions in the world are in Africa, and all three nations visited allocate almost one quarter of their soldiers to a variety of missions on the continent.

“The goal of the PKO center in Togo is to become a regional center for enlisted soldiers throughout West Africa, he said.

“That regional focus is also a priority focus of the USARAF mission.” [26]

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MarForAf) “recently received the first wave of new mentors bound for Liberia to participate in Operation Onward Liberty (OOL) – a U.S. Department of State-funded, U.S. Africa Command program aimed at rebuilding the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).”

“The OOL mission is a five-year program to ensure Liberia has the capability and capacity to defend her borders and come to the aid of her sister countries if that need should arise.”

“Operation Onward Liberty is a joint-service venture with support from Economic Communities of Western African States partner nations, and the United Kingdom which provides a Ministry of Defense-level advisor.”

Earlier efforts of the Liberia Security Sector Reform program run by U.S. Army Africa and Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa “saw a force of 2,000 AFL soldiers recruited, extensively screened, mentored and trained by State Department contractors for a period of two years. U.S. Africa Command took over the program January 1, 2010 and tasked the Marines from MarForAf with spear-heading the program and referred to the program as LDSR [Liberia Defense Sector Reform], highlighting the fact that MarForAf efforts [are] concentrated on the defense sector, a subset of the overall security sector that the U.S. State Department is committed to support.” [27]

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Africa received a new commander on January 18, Lieutenant General John Paxton Jr., former chief of staff for the Multi-National Force-Iraq and veteran of earlier campaigns in Somalia and Bosnia.

On January 10 AFRICOM chief General Ward arrived in Rwanda to visit the Ministry of Defense headquarters and meet with the country’s defense minister and chief of defense staff, “with whom he discussed bilateral military issues.” [28]

Deputy Commander of the U.S. Africa Command J. Anthony Holmes, in charge of civil-military activities, is to visit Nigeria from January 24-28 to meet with senior military, security and civilian officials.

“In Lagos, Ambassador Holmes will call on senior Nigerian Navy commanders and visit joint naval training facilities. In Abuja, Ambassador Holmes will meet with the Honorable Minister of Defence and address military officers at the National Defense College….” [29]

The Pentagon also has its Africa Partnership Station naval program available to deploy an armada of warships to the Atlantic coast of Africa in support of an invasion of Ivory Coast. [30]

The West African Standby Force will be used as the West’s proxy, either as advance guard or surrogate, as with ECOWAS forces in Sierra Leone and Liberia, respectively. If the member states of ECOWAS are either hesitant concerning or unable to array the forces needed to mount an intervention in Ivory Coast, France with its bases in the region and AFRICOM with its foothold in West Africa will engage directly.

1) Russian Information Agency Novosti, January 21, 2011
2) Stars and Stripes, September 30, 2007
New Colonialism: Pentagon Carves Africa Into Military Zones
Stop NATO, May 5, 2010
3) North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
February 24, 2010
4) Sirleaf Credits Bush for Ridding Liberia of Charles Taylor
U.S. Department of State, March 22, 2006
5) Jet, December 27, 1993
6) BBC News, December 29, 1999
7) Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2011
8) Australian Broadcasting Company, December 23, 2002
9) Reuters, January 7, 2003
10) Agence France-Presse, November 9, 2004
11) Agence France-Presse, November 6, 2004
12) New York Tomes, November 7, 2011
13) Xinhua News Agency, November 7, 2004
14) Financial Times, November 11, 2004
15) Interfax, November 11, 2004
16) The Analyst (Liberia), December 14, 2006
17) UN News Center, November 12, 2010
18) Economic Community of West African States, November 1, 2010
19) Pierre Sané, The Côte d’Ivoire Elections: Chronicle Of A Failure
Sahara Reporters, January 7, 2011
20) Voice of America, January 4, 2011
21) John Momoh, Is Attack On Ivorian Gbagbo Imminent?
Concord Times, January 20, 2011
22) Afrique en ligne, January 20, 2011
23) Citifmonline, January 16, 2011
J.J. Rawlings
24) Voice of Russia, December 31, 2010
25) Agence France-Press, January 20, 2011
26) U.S. Army Africa, January 18, 2011
27) U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa, January 13, 2011
28) New Times, January 10, 2011
29) Panafrican News Agency, January 22, 2011
30) Militarization Of Energy Policy: U.S. Africa Command And Gulf Of Guinea
Stop NATO, January 8, 2011

Rick Rozoff

Rick Rozoff is a journalist and blogger and many of his articles may be found at the Stop NATO blog.

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