While flying on a C-17 Air Force cargo plane, author David Vine was curious about where the wounded soldiers he was sharing the plane with had come from. The three soldiers, all amputees, were intubated and unconscious, so Vine asked a member of the Air Force medical team about the soldiers. Vine had assumed the men came from Afghanistan, and although he assumed correctly, the medical team member added that they also get “A lot from the Horn of Africa … You don’t really hear about that in the media.”
No, no you do not. Although it’s a well known fact that the U.S. has been carrying out drone strikes in and around Africa for years, and that the African drone program is expanding, hearing that actual ground combat casualties have been coming out of the region, enough for the medical team member to comment about them, is incredibly interesting, and obviously unfortunate for the men who’ve been wounded.
In the later years of the Bush Administration, and even more so throughout Obama’s presidency, there has been an ever increasing emphasis on drone warfare. This emphasis has led to the creation of many small, secluded bases in Africa, out of which these drones, as well as small units of ground personel, are based. Various United States Special Forces units also operate out of these bases from time to time. You can see a layout of some of these small African bases here.
These small bases, which were being created by the Pentagon even prior to 9/11, are the future of U.S. Military might throughout the world. There are also bases like these outside of Africa, quite a few others in fact, and the U.S. plans to build even more. These bases are referred to as “Lily Pads.” They’re essentially small jumping off points that are strategically placed pretty much anywhere the U.S. would ever need them. There are currently Lily Pads, or plans to build Lily Pads, in Eastern Europe, Africa, Central America, the South Pacific and East Asia, even Antartica.
The small size of these bases represent the future of warfare. They exist to facilitate the strategic use of American Special Forces and drone aircraft wherever and whenever they are needed. Currently Special Forces in Africa are operating in war zones all over the continent, including Mali, which is a deployment that was only recently discovered after three American commandos, along with the three prostitutes they were with, died in a car crash in the war torn country. The circumstances of the crash have been described as “mysterious.” Not to make a joke at the expense of fallen American troops, but United States servicemen who are supposed to be operating with varying levels of indiscretion really need to lock it up with all the foreign prostitute stuff.
The bases also serve to demonstrate American power in the region while minimizing the adverse effects and unrest with the local populations that are often caused by larger, more conspicuous military bases. Considering all of this it makes perfect sense that these “Lily Pad” bases are springing up all over Africa. Not only is the U.S. battling Al-Qaeda and various other Islamist militants (like the ones fighting in Mali’s civil war) but they are also fighting a culture and influence war with China, a country that has increased its trade with Africa roughly 1000% in the last decade.
This makes Africa the first true test of the effectiveness of the these “Lily Pad” bases. However, the deployment of the Lily Pads in Africa is but a first step for this new strategy. Obama and the Pentagon plan to focus the majority of their Lily Pad expansion in East Asia. Clearly China is the main factor behind this. The Asian superpower is already surrounded by about 200 American bases spread out between Japan, South Korea, and other locations. It’s unclear how many Lily Pad bases will be built in East Asia, but suffice it to say that the U.S. has been talking to just about every country in the region, even Vietnam, and trying to work out one sort of deal or another in regards to military deployment.
The other important aspect of the Lily Pad is that while they are relatively small bases, they are created with capacity to expand drastically if necessary. If a major incident occurs in any given region, certain Lily Pads can be expanded to handle the necessary amount of troops needed. Combine that with the United States’ ability to deploy any of its 11 carrier groups and suddenly there is a very real, very rapid ability to put a significant and effective air, land, and sea force in a region at an historically unprecedented rate. My assumption is that units such as the 82nd Airborne, Army Rangers, 10th Mountain Division, and perhaps various Marine brigades would be the first to be a part of any sort of Lily Pad expansion deployment. That is completely a guess though.
Vine warns, however, that the strategy may end up creating the enemies they are supposed to prevent, specifically with China:
For China and Russia in particular, ever more U.S. bases near their borders threaten to set off new cold wars. Most troublingly, the creation of new bases to protect against an alleged future Chinese military threat may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: such bases in Asia are likely to create the threat they are supposedly designed to protect against, making a catastrophic war with China more, not less, likely.
That’s a valid concern, to be sure, although the building of Lily Pads in places like West Africa, where increasing oil trade has all the major powers scrambling for influnce, might incense China just as much as the addition of comparatively small bases nearer to their home. After all, some of the largest U.S. Military bases in the world are already in Japan and South Korea, and have been since the end of World War II.
Regardless of who they might piss off (everyone, TFTC) the Lily Pad bases seem to be the grand stroke in America’s plan to reinvent its military to adapt to 21st Century warfare. You might not hear about them much, but if the United States has its way, they’re going to be one of the main keys to American global domination for the foreseeable future.
- [via The Nation]