How to Destroy a Nation in 10 Years

Danny Sjursen offers a U.S. case study in Burkina Faso on how to destroy a country in a decade.

April 10, 2018: Burkinabe soldier arriving at Niamey, Niger, during Operation Flintlock, an annual, integrated military and police exercise inaugurated in 2005. (U.S. Air Force, Clayton Cupit)

By Danny Sjursen

If the U.S. government was trying to destroy Burkina Faso, it could hardly have done it any better. This  already impoverished, landlocked West African country is simply symptomatic of Franco-America’s Sahel-wide exercise in absurdity.

It goes like this: in the years following the 9/11 attacks there was no Islamist militant threat to speak of in this region. Nevertheless, on account of its hallucinatory fear, racialized mental-mapping and neocon-neo-imperial reflexes, the George W. Bush administration imagined and then induced not just a genuine jihadi rebellion, but an inter-communal implosion clear across the Sahel.

And because Burkina Faso was long considered one of the most stable countries in West Africa — and its conflict currently runs hottest of all — this tortured nation makes for an instructive case study in incompetence and indecency.

The entire concept of the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) was more bizarre than most people probably remember. At its genesis in 2007, the U.S. military was more than a little bogged down – trust me – failing to fight its way out of an Iraqi-paper bag the Bushies had pulled over their own heads. Plus, the Taliban boys-were-back-in-Afghanistan and ready to lasso old G.W.’s Obama successor into another surge-cum-quagmire.

Africa, especially West Africa, on the other hand, had essentially no Islamist militants to speak of. Burkina Faso actually had the least of all. In late 2013, a State Department report noted that

“there were no recorded terrorist incidents in Burkina Faso, which is not a source for violent extremist organization recruitment efforts or home to radical religious extremists.”

Yet, as if the Pentagon wasn’t losing enough needless and hopeless wars, it opened a new proconsular franchise for the continent. See, according to Bush’s racialized 19th century-colonialist cerebral cartography, he wanted the post-9/11 U.S.  military sword to be “ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world.” AFRICOM was then charged with the counterintuitive charter of preventing war in places

“where violent conflict has not yet emerged, where crises have to be prevented.” 

Apparently these folks never heard of the phase “violence begets violence,” which is strange for such proud evangelical Christians, since the aphorism’s origins trace back to Matthew 26:52 “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’”

A baker’s dozen-worth of years later, the entire African Sahel is a free-fire zone jumble of jihadi, state-directed, and communal carnage.

Map of Saharan Africa. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s the CliffsNotes version of how and why that played out in the current Burkinabe contender for the bloodiest Sahel savagery – highlighting the immense amount of Franco-American accelerant that really burnished the blaze.

The main match was lit in 2009, when Burkina Faso joined the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) – a joint State-Pentagon, but military-skewed, slush fund for training, advising, and equipping local regional security forces to counter negligible, if not nonexistent, terror. 

The core problem was philosophical — of America imposing, and Burkinabe political elites willingly applying, a counterterrorism formula that didn’t address, and actually inflamed, the long-neglected nation’s foundational cornucopia of conflict kindling.

April 26, 2011: U.S. AID official briefing participants during Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership Conference in Garmisch, Germany. (AFRICOM, Daniel P. Lapierre)

By handing scores of millions in Yankee-greenbacks to Burkinabe politicians with proven proclivities for corruption, plus weapons and training to state security forces with a historical knack, mainly, for coups and civil-suppression – Washington all-but ensured that the government’s response to the (initially nonexistent) threat would be both over-militarized and an overreaction.

It’s as if Washington handed the Burkinabe ruling elites a hammer, told them to keep an eye out for jihadi nails, and that if they found some we’d ship over more hammers. Is it really any surprise they promptly whacked away at already hated, and often marginalized Muslims in their midst.

Full-Spectrum Blowback

That then caused counterproductive blowback across the entire spectrum of the scantly understood – at least by U.S. policymakers – “perfect storm” of volatility and grievance underpinning and belying the illusion of Burkina Faso as a poster-child of “stability” in the Sahel.

After 9/11, politicians, pundits, and the Pentagon have tended to frame – and fit – every foreign conflict inside their nifty state-democracy versus Islamist-terror model. And, despite mountains of actual academic and scholarly expert research to the contrary, American policymakers somehow decided that the best way to fight terror was with state-terror – when, in fact, time and again it’s proven that force usually adds fuel to the fire.

May 1, 2010: Burkinabe soldiers completing paperwork in Ouagadougou, Burkino Faso, before deploying to Mali for a counter-terrorism exercise. (U.S. Air Force, Jeremiah Erickson)

Consider some stats – a security assistance report card of sorts. Since 2009, Washington has spent more than $69 million on Burkina Faso’s security forces, and in fact, more Burkinabe personnel (13,000+) were trained by American soldiers and contractors than in any other Sahelian state. So what did the American taxpayers get for their money? What was the haul for that hefty investment, you ask? Turns out, less than nada – unless you count a boatload of Burkinabe bodies, most of them innocents.

The number of reported attacks, fatalities, and displaced persons all reached record highs last year – and between 2018 and 2019 alone, conflict-related deaths increased more than seven-fold.

Plus, some good that 11 years-worth of U.S.-training – including classes in “human rights” – did the Burkinabe security forces, since they and the government-backed (and recently armed) ethnic militias have themselves killed half the civilians who’ve perished since the conflict kicked off. Moreover, the military officer who briefly seized power in a 2014 coup happened to attend two U.S.-sponsored counterterrorism training seminars. Well, that’s pretty standard – since no less than eight American-trained African military officers have turned coup-artist since AFRICOM opened for (the fiasco) business.

Crazier still, Burkinabe military and political elites essentially brag about all this extrajudicial killing. Simon Compaoré, the president of the ruling People’s Movement for Progress and a former interior minister, told an interviewer that:

“We’re not shouting this from the rooftops, but it’s what we do. If the jihadists kill five-to-10 soldiers, the morale in the army is going to be very low. We need to make sure their morale doesn’t get destroyed. If we discover there are spies, we need to neutralize them right away.”

Which raises the question: what’s the point of having the Leahy Laws – which prohibit funding and assisting foreign security forces credibly accused of gross violations of human rights – on the books, if the statutes are ignored as soon as they’re inconvenient? 

In spite of Burkina Faso’s critical governance and corruption issues, and credible reports of bloody human rights violations by the security forces, Washington even now continues to send millions of dollars in security assistance to the country’s capital, Ouagadougou.  Talk about a classic case of “throwing good money at bad!”

Here’s the hard truth that I can’t for the life of me adequately conjure from an air-conditioned American apartment: if the conflict’s casualty rate remains on track, then some 600 more Burkinabe civilians will be slaughtered by Christmas. Naturally, the U.S.  government didn’t exactly ask We the People before helping to create then catalyze the conflict, and few Americans know or care where Burkina Faso falls on a damn map. But in the ethical court of criminal complicity, ignorance and apathy are no defense for aiding and abetting mass murder. 

This indecency is done in our names – Burkinabe blood is on our hands.

Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, the director of the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), contributing editor at He co-hosts the podcast “Fortress on a Hill.” His work has appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, The Nation, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative and Mother Jones, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught history at West Point. He is the author of three books, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the SurgePatriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War and, most recently, A True History of the United States. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.

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The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

15 comments for “How to Destroy a Nation in 10 Years

  1. michael888
    July 4, 2021 at 11:36

    Some of us still remember what the US (Clinton and Albright) did in Rwanda/ Zaire (the Hutu genocide at the hands of US and European supported Tutsis; millions died.) hxxps://

    Since then Obama has passed a number of (still ongoing) National “Emergencies” with Sanctions against African countries: Somalia (2010), South Sudan (2014), Central African Republic (2014), and Burundi (2015). These countries are generally all South of the Sahal; those Sahal countries have no Emergencies with Sanctions (WARS), but the CIA has never stopped “sowing discord” and “fomenting ‘democracy'” all over Africa.

    There must be mineral treasures throughout Central Africa waiting for “pacification” of the residents so Neoliberals can swoop in and make their fortunes.

  2. July 3, 2021 at 17:06

    Great article, thanks Danny. Whenever I hear these types of stories, I always come to the same conclusion. There is no possible way that these outcomes are complete mistakes, made over and over again. When the US military goes in to “stabilize” a region, it always becomes more destabilized. So I have come to the conclusion they aren’t that incompetent. They know exactly what they are doing. They are arming bad guys in the region to attack other people in the region, and that causes extreme instability and protracted fighting. It has to be their intended goal. No one would do the same thing so many times, and keep claiming they just did another oopsy mistake.

    “Oops! We did it again, dang! Don’t worry, we’ll get it right next time :)”

    Their entire intent is never to win a war, it is to destabilize regions of the globe that the government does not want to develop and prosper. We want them waging constant war, with constant instability. It also just happens to fatten up the weapons and war contractors.

  3. Fran Macadam
    July 3, 2021 at 16:50

    What is this phrase, ‘Franco-American’? How does France fit in?

  4. Vera Gottlieb
    July 3, 2021 at 11:56

    What I have been saying for a very long time…’wherever the US goes, shit is sure to follow’. And so it has been, and still is, in country after country where the US has meddled.

  5. Realist
    July 3, 2021 at 05:06

    Sub-Saharan Africa has always been at war with Oceania.

    Moreover, since war is peace, they should thank us for bringing stability to what was just one more troubled land that could not competently manage its own affairs. All you Burkina Fasoans, shout a hurrah for Big Uncle Joe… unless you know what’s good for you!

  6. July 2, 2021 at 22:37

    “Which raises the question: what’s the point of having the Leahy Laws – which prohibit funding and assisting foreign security forces credibly accused of gross violations of human rights – on the books, if the statutes are ignored as soon as they’re inconvenient? ”

    I thought laws didn’t apply to presidents and their errand boys. That’s what Trump told us.

  7. Sr. Gibbonk
    July 2, 2021 at 22:08

    The continual blood letting orchestrated and carried out by this nation since the end of the second world war can only be described as pathological. Many millions of ‘the other’ have been slaughtered and many of our own killed and maimed in the unending thirst for global dominance by this flailing empire.

    In The Underdogs, Mariano Azuela’s novel of the Mexican revolution, the character Valderrama embodies the lust for violence that all empires are afflicted with. When told the tide was turning against the revolutionaries with the defeat of Villa by Obregon and with Carranza triumphing everywhere

    Valderrama’s gesture was contemptuous and solemn like that of an emperor:

    “Villa? … Obregón? … Carranza? … X … Y … Z …!” What is all that to me?… I love the revolution as I love the erupting volcano! The volcano because it is volcano; the revolution because it is revolution! … But the stones that remain above or below after the cataclysm, what do they matter to me?”

    Behind the pretense of the U.S. being the world’s ‘indispensable nation’, lies the dark shadow of Valderrama.

  8. teresa smith
    July 2, 2021 at 20:24

    When will the madness of the US end? Probably sooner than later as most people too concerned that Brittany Spears didn’t win her “fredom”. I really don’t know what to say anymore. It is obscene.

    • bobLich
      July 3, 2021 at 13:38

      It is profitable for the Military Industrial Corporate Complex. US is unfettered capitalism where profit is what rules. Selling expensive killing gear that is made to attack and kill is profitable.

  9. Jeff Harrison
    July 2, 2021 at 16:59

    Ah, yes, the Clueless Wonders strike again.

  10. July 2, 2021 at 16:57


  11. July 2, 2021 at 15:39

    OT Kyle FLIPS OUT Off The Intercept.

    Kyle FLIPS OUT On Biden & Media Over Assange (w/ Assanges
    24,808 views #KyleKulinski #SecularTalk #FreeAssange


  12. Andrew Thomas
    July 2, 2021 at 15:39

    I suspect that I am on a very short list of Americans who could have found Burkina Faso on a map, knows it is part of Francophone Africa, and even that its name used to be Upper Volta. Having said that, everything else in this beautifully written essay was news to me except AFRICOM’s existence. And, naturally, terrible news. Bravo for your mastery and insistence upon truth telling, Major. And to CN for being there to publish it.

  13. Connie
    July 2, 2021 at 15:15

    It’s a classic example of fixing something that’s not broken.

    • Realist
      July 3, 2021 at 05:13

      We didn’t own it till we broke it.

      (“You break it, you buy it.” Colin Powell explained the concept at the UN before we invaded Iraq.)

      Now we’ve accomplished both in Burkina Faso.

      Another trophy for the mantle in Washington’s Empire.

Comments are closed.