The US Defense Department (DOD) began deployment of at least 300 additional troops to the West African country of Cameroon this week, the White House announced on Wednesday. The troops will help the Cameroonian army to fight the Islamists known as Boko Haram.
President Obama sent a letter to the US Congress to confirm the deployment. In the letter, the US President confirms that at least 90 troops are already there. The troops will "remain in Cameroon until their support is no longer needed".
The troops in Cameroon appears to expand the US military engagement in Africa. The US has been developing a huge logistical system stretching across the whole continent. The engagement started with what is known as "Forward Operating Sites" and “Cooperative Security Locations” throughout the Sahara/Sahel, Gulf of Guinea, and Horn of Africa regions, established by the pentagon before 2004. Since 2004, US founded AFRICOM, or Africa Command, to manage the military engagement.
Today, AFRICOM manages at least 7,000 troops across the continent, almost the same number of troops in Afghanistan and twice the number of US troops currently stationed in Iraq. AFRICOM's official mission is “training local forces.”.
In May 2015, during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Nigeria to congratulate Nigerian President Buhari for his election, Kerry met for private discussions with AFRICOM commander General Rodriguez, after which Buhari emerged to hail US leadership in the continent-wide struggle against “cultist jihadism, ” promoted by Boko Haram. In January 2015, John Kerry, said that the US was “prepared to do more” militarily in Nigeria to help fighting Boko Haram.
“I think it’s going to take a huge international and multinational effort there to change a trajectory that continues to go in the wrong direction,” Rodriguez told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in January.
The military deployment in Cameroon was expected after General Rodriguez said in December 2014 that “President Biya, as well as other senior leaders, have asked for support in both equipment and training. We have already begun our effort and we will continue to grow the effort based on their demand. We will support the Cameroon effort to improve their capacity, and to work with them and defeat Boko Haram and protect the population in the northern part of Cameroon.” .
With the deployment, Africans and Human Rights activists worry that the Cameroonian dictator may see his grip on power reinforced.
Cameroon was a German colony from 1884 to 1918, passing into French and British control after World War I. It became independent during the 1960s African independence movement. After the first democratic years, it has been ruled by authoritarian rules, the latest being Paul Biya, aged 82 years, who has been President for the last 33 years. Paul Biya is ofter ranked 19th in Parade Magazine's Top 20 list of "The World's Worst Dictators"
Paul Biya has a reportedly huge personal fortune around $200 million. With his wealth mostly based in Europe, he reportedly owns several mansions. He is currently the longest ruling Non-Royal head of state in the world.