'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Mysterious Death of Sergeant Mitchell 

Funny what you discover when you read an article out of curiosity. Today, the San Francisco Chronicle published this article with the headline Monterey Soldier Dies in Mali. What was the soldier doing in Mali? Here's the explanation:

A 35-year-old Army soldier from Monterey was killed Saturday while serving a non-combat mission in Kidal, Mali.

Sgt. 1st Class Sean K. Mitchell was serving in a cooperative program between American and African troops which is meant to improve border security and bolster counter-terrorism efforts in the western African nation, said Major John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command.

Mitchell was killed when the tent he was working in was thrown during high winds, said Dorrian. Four other soldiers were injured, and are now being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, he said.

Mitchell was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group in Stuttgart, Germany. He was part of the Special Operations Command Europe's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, a joint program between the departments of State and Defense.

The program is a cooperative effort that centers on training African troops and "building their capacity and capability," to fight terrorism, Dorrian said.

Apparently, Mitchell was participating in the newly created United States Africa Command as part of the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative. According to Marine Corps General James L. Jones, willing partners in the program include Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia.

Wikipedia blandly informs us that: Discussion over the need for a new continental command has been ongoing since 2003–2004 with the rise of tensions in the oil rich Niger Delta region (see Nigerian Oil Crisis), which supplies a large amount of oil to the United States.

Indeed. Things are not going well in Nigeria these days, especially if you are a foreigner involved in the oil industry. One wonders, how long before the US gets imbroiled in this counflict? After all, the unrest in Nigeria has contributed to recent increases in the price of oil to a near record high. Or, are we involved there already?

As someone with a sociological bent, influenced by postmodernism, and its repudiation of grand historical narratives, I try to be wary of broad, reductionist explanations of events. Even so, I think that we can safely say that, under the Bush Administration especially, the consequences of covert American intervention tends to invariably escalate the level of violence.

Let's hope, against the historical record, that increasing US involvement in Africa will not involve the sort of violent covert operations, such as paramilitary death squad activity, that the US encouraged in Central America and Iraq. As for Sergeant Mitchell, the article rather oddly describes his death as a non-combat one. Possibly, but, given the nature of the mission, openly acknowledged in the article, it seems a little deceptive to describe it this way.

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