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Sketches of West Florissant Avenue


Amid the teargas and rubber bullets on West Florissant Avenue were the less tangible, but no less real complexities that my camera could not capture. What follows is the humble observations of an outsider who spent seven days in Ferguson, made possible by your support.

Ferguson, Mo. — By the time I arrived at the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive, Michael Brown’s death was already a national story. Not because the unarmed black teen was shot several times in broad daylight by a white police officer named Darren Wilson, but because the violent clashes between protesters and police in the wake of his death made for must-see TV.

Crowds had gathered to call for justice for Michael Brown, which in the short term, meant calling for the arrest of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him.  In response, police dressed like soldiers pointed sniper rifles at unarmed citizens. They deployed tear gas. They fired rubber bullets. They lobbed stun grenades at unsuspecting citizens and used something called a “sound cannon” to disperse crowds.

During my seven days in Ferguson, my dispatches from West Florissant Avenue focused on these dynamics. They emphasized the weapons of war, the looting and Molotov cocktails, and the tension between police officers and protesters. But these raw moments, while compelling and important, are only one part of the story unfolding on West Florissant Avenue.

What follows are notes from West Florissant Avenue that eschew play-by-play reporting in favor of something less tangible, but no less real. They do not aspire to tell the whole story, but to shed light on the underlying complexities that my camera could not capture. They are the humble observations of an outsider.

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The US and France Are Teaming Up to Fight A Sprawling War on Terror in Africa


In July of this year, France launched Operation Barkhane, an ambitious counterterrorism initiative spread across five countries in Africa’s Sahel and Sahara regions. The mission seeks to build upon the success of the French military intervention that drove al Qaeda-linked jihadi militants from northern Mali in 2013, and comes at a time when the US is expanding its own counterterrorism operations on the continent, setting the stage for what some analysts consider a burgeoning Franco-American alliance in Africa.

“This is a new chapter in French-American relations,” Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst who is now a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told VICE News. “There is an unprecedented level of cooperation going on.”

In an August 11 memo to US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama, citing an “unforeseen emergency,” authorized the transfer of up to $10 million “to assist France in its efforts to secure Mali, Niger, and Chad from terrorists and violent extremism.” The move hints at a division of labor in which the US foots the bill for a cash-strapped French military that is both logistically and politically better placed than the US to engage in combat operations in the Sahel.

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The New French Militarism In the Sahel


France’s new counterterrorism mission in the Sahel represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward the African continent, and with its commitment to actively hunting and killing terrorists, Opération Barkhane could radically alter security dynamics throughout the region.

French government officials recently unveiled plans to launch a new counterterrorism initiative in the Sahel, code-named Opération Barkhane.The mission consists of over 3,000 troops spread across five countries who, according to The Economist, will be supported by 20 supply helicopters, ten transport aircraft, six fighter planes, three drones, and 200 armored vehicles.

Although the bulk of the forces and equipment required for Barkhane are already on the ground in Africa, it would be a mistake to characterize the operation as a mere reshuffling of French military assets in the region. In fact, Barkhane represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward Africa, which in turn was meant to be a departure from France’s previous post-colonial posture toward the continent.

“The objective is principally one of counterterrorism,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris last month. “The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffic to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups can rebuild themselves between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean.”

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