Monthly Archives: November 2013

Arrests in Mali as France Expands African Commitment

UPDATE: The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) also announced today that it was ending a ceasefire with Mali’s government.  This announcement by the Tuareg rebel group followed clashes between ethnic Tuareg and Malian security forces in Kidal yesterday, which prevented the country’s Prime Minister, Oumar Tatam Ly, from making a planned visit.  The MNLA said that the actions by Malian forces amounted to an act of War.  At the beginning of the month the MNLA, along with the the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), announced they were forming a new coalition.  What affect this declaration by the MNLA might have on the activities of those groups is not known.

French forces in Mali detained a low-ranking member of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) yesterday during operations.  Alhassane Ould Mohamed, who is also known as Cheibani Ould Hama, was one of twenty-two prisoners who escaped in June from Niger’s central prison in the capital Niamey.  There Mohamed had been serving a twenty year prisoner sentence for his involvement in the killing of four tourists from Saudi Arabia in 2009.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

However, US authorities have also been looking to charge Mohamed in connection with the shooting of US Department of Defense attache,  William Bultemeier, in Niamey in December 2000.  According to an indictment in a court in New York City, Mohamed and an another unidentified individual attempted to carjack a vehicle being driven by Bultemeier.  A Marine Staff Sergeant, Christopher McNeely, was also in the vehicle.  Both men were killing in the altercation.  Mohamed was subsequently arrested, but escaped custody in 2002.  He was arrested in Mali in 2009, before being deported to Niger to stand trial for the killing of the Saudi Arabian tourists.  Mohamed was reported to have been turned over by French forces to Malian authorities.  One would imagine that his record of escaping custody would lead the US to seek his extradition.

Mohamed’s capture follows the arrest of Mali’s General Amadou Sanogo, who led the coup that toppled the country’s government in March 2012.  Sanogo was charged with murder for his alleged involvement in killing of individuals involved in a counter-coup attempt in April 2012 and deaths during the suppression of an Army mutiny in September 2012.  Sanogo had only recently been promoted to the rank of general, skipping three ranks in the process, suggesting he retained considerable influence in the country.  Despite having transitioned to civilian leadership, Mali’s government remains fragile and relies heavily on international forces to provide security.

France provides the bulk of this contingent, though they hope to turn over the mission to African-led UN-mandated forces early next year.  This move has been delayed by difficulties in getting the UN-mandated force established, however.  With the additional planned increase in French forces in CAR, France is redeploying over three hundred military personnel from its contingent in Kosovo.  The force in CAR is also intended to be an interim solution until an African-led UN-mandated force can be established some time next year.

France currently has approximately four hundred and fifty personnel in CAR, who are working to expand the capabilities of the country’s single-runway airport in advance of the planned reinforcements.  A french warship, the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Dixmude, docked today in Douala, Cameroon.  Dixmude was transporting a contingent of three hundred and fifty, along with vehicles and other equipment, bound for CAR.  Dixmude had also ferried forces to Mali in January at the start of Operation Serval.  The US also supported efforts to ferry international forces and materiel to Mali as part of Operation Juniper Micron.  It is not known whether France may call on the US to help support the build-up in CAR.

Peacekeeping Forces Across Africa Expand, Extend Mandates

France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today that the country would send an additional one thousand troops to Central African Republic, which the UN warns is rapidly descending into chaos.  As in Mali, the stated aim of this force, which roughly triples the size of French force deployed to CAR, is to immediately improve the security situation before the planned deployment of an African-led force to the country in six months.  Currently, just over four hundred French troops are deployed to CAR, along with African peacekeapers assigned to the African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA).  The UN expects to transition MISCA into a UN-led force, with a strength of six thousand military personnel and almost two thousand police personnel, next year.  This is again similar to the model used in Mali, where an African-led force transitioned to a UN-led force this summer.

Map of Central Africa Republic

Map of Central African Republic

France’s established position in Africa, including its permanent basing of military forces there, has led it to take a leading role in a number of interventions on the continent recently, most notably its operation in Mali, which began in January with significant US support.  In Mali, however, the French have had to delay their planned withdrawal as the security situation remains tense and as it becomes unclear whether the UN-mandated force will be able to fully assume responsibility for the peacekeeping operation there.  It is possible that the French might experience similar difficulties extricating themselves from CAR.  These difficulties in rapidly deploying regional forces for such contingencies, along with the various security threats on the continent, are likely what prompted France’s chief of their defense staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, to suggest that it might be time to allow French forces on the continent greater latitude in their operations.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

In addition to the decisions regarding peacekeeping in CAR, the UN Security Council also urged greater efforts against the Lord’s Resistance Army, also operating in the region, and extended the mandate of peacekeepers on the Sudan-South Sudan border.  With regards to the LRA, the UNSC urged more support for the UN Regional Strategy against the group, which includes direct action, support for regional security forces, and addressing of the broader humanitarian situation in areas where the LRA operate.  The US has been significantly involved in this effort as well.  In Abyei, an oil-rich region disputed by Sudan and South Sudan, the mandate of UN peacekeepers has now been extended until May of 2014.  The mission had already been extended for six months in May of this year, at which time the size of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) was also enlarged to just over one thousand personnel.

Election Turnout in Mali Called “Abysmal”

The people of Mali went to the polls yesterday to cast votes for representatives to fill one hundred and forty-seven seats in the country’s new national assembly.  It is not immediately clear how many of Mali’s six and a half million eligible voters actually cast ballots, but Abdel Fatau Musah, director for external relations for the Economic Community of West African States is said to have described the turnout as “abysmal.”  Malian election officials are now in the process of counting the votes.  Over 1,000 candidates were registered for the elections and any races not decided in the first round will be decided in a run-off on December 15th.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

While there were some reports of harassment of voters at polling stations in the country’s restive north, along with other reports of ballot boxes being stolen, the low voter turnout is of greater concern.  In talking about the turnout, Musah made mention of the possible “psychological effects” of a “country that was rocked by a terrorist attacks and with a coup d’état.”  However, it is just as likely that it is not just the effects of months of conflict, but that security concerns remain very clear and present despite significant outside intervention since January.  Maps released by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in March showed the vast majority of the country to be essentially outside government control.  Militants have carried out numerous attacks, including high profile incidents against foreigners.

The French, who launched their intervention, codenamed Operation Serval, in January of this year, have been looking to extricate themselves from the country by early next year.  The hope would be that by that time UN authorized peacekeeping would be in a position to take over.  However, it is unclear whether this will necessarily be the case.  The French have already delayed their withdrawl timeline and US support for the operation, through an operation codenamed Juniper Micron, continued at least through October.

Also, on an unrelated note, things may slow down here at Codebook: Africa this week due to the demands of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Things will likely continue to be slow through to the new year, as well, because of the broader holiday season as well.  Rest assured, however, that I will be paying attention to developments and I will make time to mention anything notable that comes up.

Details of US Security Assistance Efforts in North Africa

Yesterday at a hearing on the Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa held by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory provided some important information on US security assistance efforts in North Africa.  Dory specifically detailed efforts being conducted by the US government in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  Here are the salient points:


US Government departments and agencies, to include the department of defense are working with the Algerian government to expand cooperation and build security force capabilities.  This includes information sharing and training exercises, as well as equipment for “counterterrorism  purposes” and to enhance “defense capabilities.”  The testimony identified previous military equipment delivered by the US as including eight C-130 aircraft and an unnamed border security system built by Northrop Grumman.   The US military is also said to run an International Military Education and Training (IMET) program with the Algerian military to help modernize and enhance the professionalization of their forces.


The US military, as well as other government agencies, are heavily invested in the development of Libyan security forces and their capabilities.  Most notably, the United States has offered to provide “General Purpose Force” military training for 5,000-8,000 Libyan personnel.  These forces would be used to protect the government and help establish order, which has been a significant issue since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.  This is part of a larger US and international effort that builds on consensus reached at a Paris Ministerial-level meeting on supporting Libya’s security and justice sector needs in February and British Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement at the G-8 Summit in June about expanding international support for Libya’s security sector.  In addition to the US training offer, both the United Kingdom and Italy have committed to train 2,000 Libyan General Purpose Forces personnel, each.  Dory said that the US expected to begin training in 2014 using funds from the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and would be conducted at an unnamed facility in Bulgaria, which would be US leased and US run.

The US is also working to establish a Libyan special operations forces capability.  This effort is funded in two ways.  The first is an $8.42 million special operations support company and medical training program funded through Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The others is a $7.75 million special operations forces company build program funded through the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF; Section 1207 of the NDAA), which is a joint Department of Defense and Department of State fund.  It is unclear whether these programs are related to the special operations training effort that was reportedly stalled following a raid on a US-run training camp in September.

$14.9 million in GSCF funds are also to be used to improve Libyan border security capabilities and those of its neighbors, Algeria, Chad, and Niger.  Establishment of a Libyan border security company is part of this effort.

Lastly, the US is working with the Libyan government on a chemical weapons abatement program at Waddan said to total $45 million dollars.  These efforts are being conducted by contractors, who have set up a static detonation chamber and hope to have eliminated the rest of the stockpile by the end of the year.  The little reported US follow-on mission to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in 2011, Operation Odyssey Guard, involved securing Libya’s chemical weapon stockpile and the beginning of efforts to eliminate it.


Morocco is a major non-NATO ally of the US with which there is a long history of cooperation.  Every year the US holds a bilateral training exercise, African Lion, with Moroccan forces.  The two countries conduct various other engagements regularly as well, such as an IMET program.   The US also works to provide Moroccan forces with significant materiel support through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense Articles programs.


The US government is working with Tunisia to expand the capabilities of its security forces to help in regional counter-terrorism efforts and improve border security.  The US provides training and material assistance to the country through the FMF program and conducts an IMET program with the country’s security forces.

A copy of the full testimony can be found here.

LRA’s Joseph Kony Reportedly In Contact With CAR Government

The African Union’s Special Envoy for the Issue of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Ambassador Francisco Madeira, has said he has received new information about the LRA’s leader Joseph Kony from Central African Republic (CAR) President Michel Djotodia.  President Djotodia, formerly the head of the Seleka rebel movement who seized power earlier this year, said he and his associates had been in contact with Kony, who is reported to be ill with an unknown condition.  There is also the suggestion that Kony may be considering surrendering or dissolving his group.

Lord's Resistance Army Area of Operations, for the period of 1 February 2012 to 31 January 2013

Lord’s Resistance Army Area of Operations, for the period of 1 February 2012 to 31 January 2013

Both Ambassador Madeira and UN special representative for Central Africa Abou Moussa were said to be working to try and confirm the information. The LRA has made numerous overtures in the past about surrendering or disbanding and continually failed to follow through.  The major stumbling block has been the desire on the part of Kony to secure immunity for himself and other LRA leadership figures.  Both Kony and his second in command Vincent Otti, among others, are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.  In addition, information supplied by former Seleka rebel contacts has proven to be dubious as recent as this month, when information passed along has suggested that LRA would surrender en masse on the 3rd.

Kony and the bulk of the LRA are, however, believed to be located in CAR at present, where they have exploited the current unrest following the political upheaval in the country in March.  CAR had previously been a major center of gravity in international efforts against the LRA, including the African Union Regional Task Force and US support from Operation Observant Compass. Just today, in a report presented to the UN Security Council by Moussa, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community broadly to step up its effort to help combat the LRA, saying that “I regret that very little donor assistance has been provided in this regard.”

The report also stressed concerns about possible spillover of the instability in CAR into neighboring countries.  This is a real and present danger, given that armed gunmen launched a raid into Cameroon from CAR over the weekend, the third such incursion since March.  It also brings into question whether, given the other factions affecting stability in the region, whether the LRA is as critical a threat as it once was.

Profiles of AFRICOM’s Express Exercise Series Available

Exercise Cutlass Express 2013 ended on November 18th, and I realized this was probably a good time to create profiles on the Express exercise series here on America’s Codebook: Africa.

Boarding team members from East African nations return after a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercise of Cutlass Express 2013.

Boarding team members from East African nations return after a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercise of Cutlass Express 2013.

The official release marking the conclusion of this year’s exercise has the following to say about Cutlass Express and the series broadly:

“Cutlass Express is one of four African regional “Express” series exercises facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. The objective of the exercise was to increase regional cooperation, Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)/information sharing, and improve communications and interoperability among participating forces in order to counter piracy and maritime threats.”

The four Express series exercises are Cutlass Express, Obangame Express, Phoenix Express, and Saharan Express.  Cutlass Express is conducted every year in the waters off East Africa, primarily the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.  The other exercises, also conduct annually, have the same basic objectives, but are conducted in other regions.  Obangame Express is conducted in the Gulf of Guinea.  Phoenix Express is conducted in the Mediterranean Sea.  Saharan Express is conducted in the Atlantic Ocean off North Africa.

Phoenix is the oldest, predating the creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008 by three years, at which time it was a US European Command (EUCOM) sponsored exercise.  Both Phoenix Express and Saharan Express regularly involve European participants.  This is not surprising as illegal immigration from North Africa to Europe is a major issue for the European Union, highlighted last month by the Lampedusa tragedy.  Narcotics trafficking has also become a significant concern.  Countering illicit trafficking is a major component of all the Express exercises.  More detail about the specific exercises can be found on their respective pages.

US Air Force Special Operations Forces Deploy to Libya…in 1951

One thing that strikes me about a lot of reporting about US military involvement in Africa is this great sense of “newness” that seems to be generally applied to it.  The stories talk as if the US military, no longer saddled by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, has “rediscovered” the continent.  With today’s news seeming to more of an unfortunate continuation of the daily grind I’ve been reporting here in recent weeks, I thought it might be worth taking some time in a different direction.

The title of this post might initially seem like something you would expect to be a current event before you see the date.  As focus on US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan gives way to a broader focus, its important to be aware that the US military has historical ties to Africa that continued through the Cold War and were well in place before the events of September 11th, 2001.  Though it is correct to say that Africa was likely lowest on the list of priorities before then, it does not mean it was entirely forgotten either.

For instance, the US Air Force had established a presence in the 1950s in Libya.  Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli subsequently became a major Strategic Air Command base, primarily intended for bomber recovery.  The Libyan desert also provided ample space to establish a bombing range and US Air Forces in Europe operated a water survival school there as well.  This all continued until 1970, when Moammar Gadhafi refused to extend the lease of the facility to the US.  The Libyan government subsequently took over the facility, and it was among the targets bombed in 1986 during Operation El Dorado Canyon.

Map showing the locations of Air Resupply and Communications Service elements from 1951-1954, including Wheelus AB, Libya (from the official USAF history Apollo's Warriors: United States Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War)

Map showing the locations of Air Resupply and Communications Service elements from 1951-1954, including Wheelus AB, Libya (from the official USAF history Apollo’s Warriors: United States Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War)

Perhaps more interestingly, between 1952 and 1953, Wheelus was home to the 580th Air Resupply and Communication Wing (later the 580th Air Resupply Group, which remained at Wheelus until 1956).  The Wing had received notice of the impending deployment in November 1951.  The Air Resupply and Communications Service was the innocuous sounding name given to Air Force units in the 1950s tasked with supporting unconventional warfare missions.  Such units are among those considered to be predecessors to the current Air Force Special Operations Command.  In the 1950s, as the US formalized its concepts of unconventional warfare, the US Army, US Air Force, and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had an intimate and yet often fractious relationship as each entity looked to achieve primacy in the effort.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of specially modified B-29s to conduct parachute training.  These aircraft were converted from bombers like the one shown here.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of specially modified B-29s to conduct parachute training. These aircraft were converted from bombers like the one shown here.

With its mix of specially modified B-29s Superfortresses and SA-16 Albatrosses, the Wing provided desert environment and parachute training to US Army Special Forces units (notably the 10th Special Forces Group in Germany) and CIA personnel.  In addition, the Wing performed a number of actual operations inserting and extracting agents behind the Iron Curtain, primarily in areas of Soviet influence in southern Europe.  On at least one instance, SA-16s from the Wing were called upon to rescue the pilot of a U-2 spy plane that had been forced to ditch in the Adriatic Sea after an engine flame out.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of SA-16As, similar to the one seen here, to insert and extract personnel from behind the Iron Curtain.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of SA-16As, similar to the one seen here, to insert and extract personnel from behind the Iron Curtain.

This quick look at Wheelus Air Base and the 580th Air Resupply and Communications Wing is just one example of many of US military involvement and interaction in Africa.  I’ll look to feature more historical examples in the future.