- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
The U.S. military is investigating a report that its service members were present at a Cameroonian base where U.S.-trained security forces allegedly detained and tortured civilians.
The allegations arose in an Amnesty International report released earlier this month, which documented over 100 cases of arrest and torture of civilians by Cameroonian security forces as they pressed civilians for intelligence about the Boko Haram terrorist group.
The report included photographs of U.S. military personnel at one base where the abuses allegedly occurred, although there have been no reports of Americans taking part in the torture, or witnessing it.
There are about 300 American military personnel plus civilian contractors in Cameroon helping the government there fight Boko Haram, a group that has terrorised several Western African nations for years. The deployment is part of Washington’s push to train and advise small nations across the globe to fight extremist forces, with U.S. troops operating surveillance drones, training local forces, and helping to plan missions.
Asked about the report, Capt. Jennifer Dyrcz, a military spokesperson, told FP in an email that “U.S. Africa Command has ordered that an inquiry be conducted into these allegations.” Dyrcz said due to the open inquiry she was unable to provide many details. However, “a portion of the inquiry will include determining what reported information, if any, AFRICOM was aware of prior to this allegation.”
Much of the Amnesty report revolves around alleged abuses at Salak, a remote outpost near Cameroon’s borders with Nigeria and Chad. The detentions and torture are said to have been carried out by the Rapid Intervention Battalion — Cameroon’s army elite unit — which has long partnered with U.S. Special Forces in training and advising exercises.
Certain units of the Rapid Intervention Battalion are already banned from receiving U.S. military assistance due to “credible information” implicating them in human rights abuses, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Michael Hoza, told Amnesty in a letter. The State Department has confirmed civilian deaths and torture at the hands of those units.
The Salak military base has undergone new construction over the past several years, satellite photos show.
One former detainee at the base told investigators that he saw “white men in Salak many times and I heard them talking in English. I think they were Americans. Everyone said they were Americans.”
Another man, who was held at Salak for several months in 2016, said he “saw white men there on several occasions. Most of the time, I saw them from [the holes of] windows of my cell.”
Last month, President Trump sent a letter to Congress detailing American troop deployments around the world. The letter said 300 U.S. troops remain deployed in Cameroon, “supporting United States airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations in the region.”
The deployment was begun in October 2015 by President Barack Obama, with most troops heading to a base near the town of Garoua, where they operated drones conducting surveillance of the border region to sniff out Boko Haram fighters.
Photo Credit: Reinnier KAZE/AFP/Getty Images