Monthly Archives: January 2014

Marines Start New Rotation of SPMAGTF-Africa

On January 8th, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment arrived in Italy to assume their role as the latest rotation of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Africa (SPMAGTF-Africa).  SPMAGTF-Africa is a security cooperation element assigned to US Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MARFORAF).  It works with US partners in Africa and regional organizations to help develop security force capabilities and otherwise help those entities counter various threats on the continent.  Developing professional security forces is also seen by the US military as a means to promoting good governance and national development.

A KC-130T Hercules carrying Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 takes off from NAS Sigonella on route to a security cooperation engagement in Burundi on February 16, 2013.

A KC-130T Hercules carrying Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 takes off from NAS Sigonella on route to a security cooperation engagement in Burundi on February 16, 2013.

SPMAGTF-Africa was originally established in the summer of 2011 from numerous Marine Corps Forces Reserve units, and eventually came to consist of almost two hundred personnel.  Forward deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy, where the unit remains stationed today, the task force had the ability to self-deploy with two assigned KC-130T aircraft.  These aircraft also gave the task force a limited crisis response capability.

Initially known as SPMAGTF-12, because the planned first deployment would come in 2012, the unit subsequently deployed Theater Security Cooperation Teams to numerous Africa nations that year to help assist in the development of those countries’ security forces.  In total, two groups of reserve Marines rotated through the unit in 2012.  This was followed by two more in 2013.  In 2013, members of SPMAGTF-Africa were called upon to support the airlift of Burundian Army personnel to Central African Republic in support of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) there.  The Marines were already in Burundi helping to train military logistics elements in that country before being called upon to help with Operation Echo Casemate.

This new SPMAGTF-Africa rotation for the task force is notable in that it is the first to involve active component Marines.  All previous rotations had been made up of reserve component Marines.  As the US draws down in Afghanistan, Marine Corps units are more free for assignment to rotational task forces like SPMAGTF-Africa, SPMAGTF-Crisis Response, and the rotational element now deployed to Australia.  SPMAGTF-Africa provided the model for these new task forces and will continue to play an important part in ongoing US military engagement with partners in Africa.

South Sudan Makes Moves on Detainees

Today there have been reports of two important developments on the matter of individuals detained followed a reported coup in South Sudan this past December.  Seven of the eleven individuals arrested, who have come to be known as the “Garang Boys” for their connection to national hero John Garang, were released and deported to Kenya.  South Sudan, however, said it would proceed with a trial against the remaining four individuals, along with three others not currently in custody.  Notably among those individuals is former Vice President Riek Machar.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

Machar, who has become the defacto leadership figure for the rebellion that has followed the coup attempt and arrest of the Garang Boys, had said that the release of all of the detainees was required for negotiations on a peaceful resoltuion of the current crisis.  This was echoed by the delegation representing the rebels at talks held in Ethiopia, arranged by the east African economic organization, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  Some IGAD members have also called for the release of the detainees, a demand which the South Sudanese government has staunchly refused to acquiesce to.  Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who appeared with the detainees sent to his country, said he and other regional leaders would continue to press for the release of the rest of the detainees.

Peace and reconciliation may continue to elude South Sudan with these announcements, however.  While both sides continue to say they are committed to the ceasefire agreed to at the IGAD sponsored talks, Taban Deng, the head of the delegation representing the rebels who signed that agreement on their behalf is among those sought for trial.  In addition to the continued pursuit of these treason charges, Ugandan forces, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government, remain in the country.  Their presence has become a divisive issue, both among the parties to the conflict and among other east African leaders.  Uganda is a key member of IGAD.

All of this also comes as the United Nations reports almost half a million people to be displaced in the country, including almost eighty thousand sheltering in or around facilities operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  The UN says it needs over $200 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs through March, but had only received a little over $100 million as of January 13th.  The UN has described the current situation in the country as “fragile.”

UN Authorizes Expansion to Peacekeeping Mission in CAR

The United Nations Security Council today unanimously adopted a new resolution regarding the crisis in Central African Republic.  Among the provisions was to provide a UN mandate to the European Union’s planned addition to international peacekeeping efforts in the country.  The new mandate will allow the EU to send five hundred personnel to help provide stability as the country attempts to move past its current crisis, which has killed an untold number and resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

However, there are concerns that the EU’s new contingent will still not be enough to stabilize the situation.  France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said that the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) is now considered too small to deal with a situation he called “very, very dire”.  The African Union recently approved expanding the size of MISCA to some six thousand personnel.  France currently has some sixteen hundred personnel in CAR.  So far, it has been reported that Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Poland have stepped forward to contribute to the UN mission.  All three countries are also NATO members and all have contributed to other international military missions, notably NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Military intervention is also only one component of the strategy.  The UNSC’s new resolution also extended the mandate of the UN’s peacebuilding office in CAR, as well as authorizing the use of travel bans and assets freezes as targeted measures.  No specific entities were named in the resolution, but the United States had previously made a similarly broad threat to target any individuals or groups standing in the way of peace and reconciliation in the country.

Peace and reconciliation are of paramount concern.  The country’s new Interim President, , has called for communities to band together to end the violence.  However, on the day of her inauguration, nominally Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, attacked and looted members of the Muslim population in the capital Bangui, seen as support former members of the Seleka rebel movement.  The rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March, which eventually led to the current crisis.  As peacekeepers attempted to evacuate former Seleka rebels in a bid to restore order in the capital, Muslims also fled, fearing more reprisals.

Also worrisome is that some of the former rebels who agreed to be evacuated have since disappeared, possibly to regroup and launch a new insurgency.  The lack of any clearly defined hierarchy and command structure among former rebels has meant that securing ceasefires and other agreements has been difficult.  It is likely that former rebels will take a number of different paths toward any new relationship with the current transitional government.

Boko Haram Attacks Village in Nigeria

Yesterday, militants believed to belong to the Boko Haram extremist group attacked Kawuri village in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.  Fifty-two people were killed.  In addition, three hundred buildings were destroyed, constituting the bulk of the village’s dwellings.  Militants also placed improvised explosive devices that were triggered today as security forces began to try and account for the dead.  Another attack, in Waga Chakawa village in Adamawa state, was also reported today.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012.

The attacks comes as Nigeria continues to step up its campaign against Boko Haram and other Islamist militant groups, which may have become regional franchises of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization.  Nigeria established what it called the Joint Task Force in 2011 in response to increasing violence from the Boko Haram group.  The fight against the group and other Islamists has since expanded into a larger campaign involving things like air strikes.  However, the Joint Task Force has been accused of human rights violations during these operations and the government may not be entirely pleased itself with the results of the campaign.  Two weeks ago, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan reshuffled the leadership of the country’s defense forces, appointing a new Chief of the Defense Staff, as well as new chief of staffs for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  Operations against Boko Haram have been characterized largely by escalating violence, and little else, as the group expands its attacks outside of the country, including into neighboring Cameroon.

This was followed by reports last week that the country had established the Nigerian Army Special Operations Command (NASOC), with US assistance, indicating that the military may be increasingly looking to take over internal counter-terrorism efforts.  It is likely that NASOC would not only be concerned with Boko Haram and its splinter factions in the country’s restive north, but also the festering insurgency being conducted by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).  MEND just today claimed responsibility for an attack on a patrol boat on a waterway in Bayelsa state.  However, the finer points of any new strategy to be conducted by NASOC, or other elements of Nigeria’s security forces, remain vague.  NASOC’s will also require the creation of new units to carry out its mission, further delaying the implementation, at least on their part, of a new effort.  It may be some time in the end before there is any hint of a change in Nigeria’s internal security campaign.

UN Says Central African Republic at “Critical Juncture”

Calling today for continued internal commitment to assist Central African Republic, the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “We simply cannot let the social fabric of this country be torn apart.”  Ms. Pillay’s appeal comes after CAR swore in a new interim president last week.  Catherine Samba-Panza, a private industry figure who was appointed mayor of Bangui last year, has now become the second interim president since nominally Muslim rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize last March.  The leader of the Seleka rebel movement, Michel Djotodia, was subsequently elected interim president by the country’s Transitional National Council (TNC), because resigning from the post and going into exile earlier this month.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

Interim President Samba-Panza now has the difficult job of trying to end the crisis that has killed an untold number, displaced almost a million, and could lead to a potential food security crisis according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.  Some food aid has begun being delivered in the capital, but the UN’s World Food Program says it is only a fraction of what is needed.

Interim President Samba-Panza has called on Christian and Muslim communities to work together for peace and end the inter-communal violence in the country.  Though there has been some good news on this front, looting and violence by nominally Christian militias, referred to as anti-balaka, occurred on the very day she was sworn in.  This also highlighted the continuing insecurity in the country as looters were driven off by Rwandan peacekeepers, but returned after those peacekeepers were compelled to depart to guard the swearing in ceremony.

International peacekeepers have succeeded in at least moving ex-Seleka rebels out of the capital, Bangui.  It was reported that the former rebels left Camp de Roux, which had functioned as the country’s main military base in the capital prior to the ouster of President Bozize, after peacekeepers escorted some of their leadership out of the city.  However, this was then reportedly followed by other Muslims fleeing as well, fearing retributions.

It also remains unclear what this might mean for other groups of former Seleka fighters.  The rebel movement was, like many in the region, loosely organized with little in the way of a formal hierarchy and chain of command.  This became particularly evident when Michel Djotodia effectively failed in his attempt to disband the group after being elected interim president.  The United States has said it may place sanctions on anyone or any group found to be standing in the way of peace and reconciliation.  Only time will tell whether the new administration in CAR can move the country forward, with or without international help.

US Forces Train for Search and Rescue in East Africa

On January 12th, elements of the US Army’s East Africa Response Force (EARF) and US Air Force expeditionary rescue squadrons conducted a joint training exercise at the Grand Bara Range in Djibouti.  The soldiers for 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, the current force provider for the EARF teamed up aircrews and pararescuemen from the 81st and 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons (ERQS) respectively.  All of these units are based at Camp Lemonnier, also in Djibouti.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

The exercise was designed to help Air Force personnel “maintain proficiency in advanced parachuting, rapid vehicle movement, infiltration and exfiltration” and give Army forces a chance to “[enhance] their skills in aircraft security measures.”  During the exercise, HC-130 aircraft from the 81st ERQS landed in the Grand Bara Range and deployed pararescuemen and EARF soldiers, the latter of which secured the landing zone.  Such a method could potentially be employed to rescue personnel should a US aircraft go down somewhere in the region.

A pararescuman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune's Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy's Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

A pararescueman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune’s Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

This search and rescue focused joint exercise follows another one held in Djibouti this past December.  During that exercise, called Neptune’s Falcon, personnel from the Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One – Forward teamed up with pararescuemen from the 82d ERQS and HH-60G helicopters from the 303d ERQS to train off the coast of Djibouti.  The 303d ERQS is also stationed at Camp Lemonnier, and together with the 81st and 82d ERQS make up the 449th Air Expeditionary Group.

These missions are more than just common scenarios as well.  In an attempt to rescue US and other foreign nationals from the South Sudanese town of Bor last year, CV-22s from the Air Force Special Operations Command took damage and were forced to abort the mission.  While the three aircraft made it safely to Entebbe in Uganda, there was of course the possibility the aircraft might not have made it and been forced down in a hostile area. Another example is that of the crash near Camp Lemonnier of an Air Force Special Operations Command U-28A in February 2012.  The aircraft had been returning from an intelligence gathering mission.

Nor are US operations limited to Camp Lemonnier or Entebbe.  US forces routinely operate from various locations in east Africa to conduct counterterrrorism operations and intelligence overflights, as well as training exercises.  On January 23rd, the Defense Logistics Agency announced a solicitation for a contract to provide “Petroleum Fuel Support For Various DoD Activities In Africa.”  This three year contract includes requirements to supply jet fuel to Camp Lemonnier and Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti, Arba Minch Airport in Ethiopia, and Manda Bay in Kenya.  DoD has requirements for the supply of other fuel types like regular gasoline and diesel fuels to other locations in Central African Republic, Niger, South Sudan, and the Island of Sao Tome (where the requirement is said to be in support of the operation a Voice of American radio relay station).

With this increased US engagement in Africa comes increased potential for both hostile activity and accidents, which would in turn require search and rescue operations.  It is likely that these sort of exercises will continue, especially in the near future with the current emphasis on rapidly deploying elements to and around the continent by air.

South Sudanese Parties Sign Deal, Details Unclear

South Sudanese delegations meeting in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa have signed an agreement reportedly dealing with a ceasefire and the matter of the detention of individual said to have been behind an attempted coup in December.  Details, however, are scarce.  South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said only that “This agreement contains something of the issue of the detainees.”

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

The matter of eleven individuals detained in the aftermath of the reported coup in December had caused talks between the two delegations to drag on for weeks.  Riek Machar, fomer vice president and the nominal leader of the anti-government movement, had called for the release of the “Garang Boys,” so call because of their affiliation to national hero John Garang, as a precondition to any discussion of a ceasefire.  President Salva Kiir and the South Sudanese government had insisted that a formal investigation be handled to determine whether the men were indeed implicated in a coup and that their final status was a matter for the courts to decide.  Salva Kiir has also offered an amnesty for Machar, currently in hiding, should he renounce violence as a means of achieving his goals.

Significant concern remains as to whether anti-government representatives can effectively curtail the current violence, agreement or not.  The forces fighting the government in South Sudan are loosely aligned and hyper-localized, with little in the way of a formal chain of command.  There has been little let up in the fighting since the talks arranged by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) economic bloc began in Ethiopia. Uganda has also joined in the fighting on the side of the government, adding another factor to any current or future agreements, with some in the anti-government camp calling for their departure before talks can proceed.  However, their presence may have in fact been what stabilized the situation on the ground in South Sudan enough to compel rebel negotiators to change their tactics in Addis Ababa.  Prior to the Ugandan intervention, it looked like there was the realistic chance of rebel militias simply overrunning government forces in many areas.

In the meantime, fighting continues, where the United Nations says over a half a million people have fled their homes, including around seventy thousand sheltering in and around facilities operation by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  A general lack of security has limited the ability of the UN and others to monitor the conflict, meaning it has been difficult to estimate a death toll.  The UN has said it has reason to believe that atrocities have been committed on both sides.  UNMISS has generally struggled to help protect civilians from the violence, having been attacked by rebels and more recently resisted attempts by South Sudanese government forces to enter their compounds.  South Sudanese authorities accuse the UN of knowingly or unknowingly sheltering rebels and their weapons, something the UN denies.  Today, the UN said it had conducted searches of those sheltering in UNMISS facilities and turned up no weapons in doing so.