US Military Continues to Support Peacekeepers in CAR

The US is continuing efforts to support for French forces and the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) in Central Africa Republic.  Today, US Army Africa (USARAF) announced that it had just completed the deployment of a contingent of French forces in support of that country’s intervention in CAR, codenamed Operation Sangaris.  Yesterday, it was also announced that over the next twenty days, a battalion of peacekeepers from the Rwandan Defense Forces would be airlifted into CAR’s capital, Bangui.  Peacekeeping forces have been struggling to maintain order in Bangui and elsewhere as the country’s violent crisis continues.  The recent resignation of the country’s interim president and the appointment of a new one has had certain positive effects, but the UN describes the security situation in the country, where almost a million remain displaced, as “calm but unpredictable.”  The UN also reported yesterday that only six percent of its appeal for almost two hundred and fifty million US dollars in humanitarian aid had been funded.  The UN says it needs that funding to prevent a ease what it describes as “mega-tragedy” in CAR.

USAF personnel unload equipment belonging to SETAF's Headquarters Support Company from a C-130 aircraft in Central African Republic's capital Bangui on December 20th, 2013.

USAF personnel unload equipment belonging to SETAF’s Headquarters Support Company from a C-130 aircraft in Central African Republic’s capital Bangui on December 20th, 2013.

The involvement of USARAF began with little fanfare in mid-December 2013.  Since December, USARAF has taken on the role of coordinating the efforts between the US military services (including Special Operations Command Africa), the French, and African nations contributing to MISCA.  This included participation in the airlift of Burundian peacekeepers last year, codenamed Operation Echo Casemate, which the US Department of Defense announced had been concluded on December 30th.  It is unclear whether these continuing operations are part of Operation Echo Casemate or a new named operation.

The US Army Africa Forward Command Element, seen here being demonstrated in 2012, is a self-contained, mobile command post capable of worldwide communications and can deploy within 72 hours.

The US Army Africa Forward Command Element, a portion of which is seen here being demonstrated in 2012, is a self-contained, mobile command post capable of worldwide communications and can deploy within 72 hours.

Also, as part of the initial effort in December, C-130s of the US Air Force’s 37th Airlift Squadron deployed Army elements, including personnel and equipment from the Southern European Task Force’s (SETAF) Headquarters Support Company.  When US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created, SETAF was designated as the US Army component for the new command, with the SETAF commander also being designated as the USARAF commander.  Though unconfirmed, it is likely that the US Army elements in Bangui have made use at least in part of USARAF’s rapidly deployable command post capabilities.  In 2011, USARAF gained an Early Entry Command Post (EECP) capability, and in 2012 gained a rapidly deployable Forward Command Post (FCP) capability, specifically intended for rapid deployment via C-130 in response to crises in its area of responsibility.  USARAF is currently conducting its efforts from a Current Operations Information Center (COIC), but the location of this is unclear.  It is very possible that this operations center is at the Command’s headquarters in Vicenza, Italy, while forward command elements are deployed to Bangui and possibly elsewhere.

Since the beginning of 2013, the US has found itself well equipped and positioned to assist in the rapid deployment of French and African peacekeepers into first Mali, and now into CAR.  The US has focused on providing this sort of logistics assistance rather than on providing forces to contribute directly to the mission on the ground in these countries.  Even with regards to the crisis in South Sudan, deployed US forces have focused mostly on evacuating US and other foreign nationals and protecting diplomatic facilities.

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