Monthly Archives: January 2014

African Nations Increasingly Involved in Interventions on the Continent

Already well noted elsewhere, African nations are becoming increasingly more willing and able to engage in military interventions to respond to crises on the continent.  This is especially true when talking about neighboring countries, who may fear spillover of refugees, violence, and other negative effects. In keeping this trend, the African Union announced today that Ethiopian forces will formally become a part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  The four thousand Ethiopian troops will be responsible for the regions of Gedo, Bay, and Bakool in the southwestern portion of the country and will help AMISOM reach its new mandated size of twenty-two thousand personnel.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.

Ethiopia has a long history of military confrontation with Somalia, notably the war over the status of the Ogaden region.  Fearing spillover from a rise in violence in the early 2000s, Ethiopia intervened in 2006 on behalf of the UN-backed Somali government to curb the rise of the Supreme Islamic Courts Union.  Ethiopian forces, along with warlords nominally supporting the UN-backed Somali government, dispersed the ICU.  This in turn led to the rise of the Al-Shabaab militant group, who began a concerted campaign against Ethiopian forces, eventually leading to their withdrawal and replacement with AMISOM.

However, border skirmishing continued and Ethiopia has conducted cross border operations with the tacit support of the Somali government.  Ethiopia has also reportedly provided a base for US unmanned aerial vehicle operations over Somalia.  The integration of Ethiopian forces into AMISOM in many ways represents a formalization of the existing situation and gives them a mandate for increased operations.  This, it is hoped, will allow other AMISOM peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, the opportunity to refocus their operations against Al Shabaab.  Concerns exist, however, about whether traditional enmity between Ethiopians and Somalis may lead the formal intervention to be used as a recruitment tool for anti-government militants.

Whatever the case, Ethiopia’s new large scale intervention in Somalia is just the most recent in a series of moves by African powers to intervene in regional crises in recent weeks.  Yesterday, the US military reported that it continues to assist in the deployment of Rwandan peacekeepers to support the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).  Last week, Uganda also admitted that its forces had intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government and were conducting operations against rebel forces.  Uganda has also been a key component of US operations to airlift peacekeepers into CAR and has reportedly established a rapid response center within its Army to better respond itself to regional crises.  African Nations are also picking and choosing their interventions, with Kenya, for instance, saying it would not contribute forces to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  Kenya, a major contributor to AMISOM, said it would push for a diplomatic solution in the world’s youngest country.

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France to Reorganize Forces in Africa

The Associated Press reported today that France may look to dramatically restructure its military presence in Africa to be better suited to respond to regional contingencies.  Since the beginning of 2013, France has flexed its military muscles with interventions in Mali and Central African Republic.  Last year, the chief of France’s defense staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, also suggested that French forces on the continent should be allowed to more readily pursue terrorists, especially in the Sahel region.

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in describing the plan that the number of French forces based in Africa would be unchanged, but that they would be postured differently.  France’s force in the Sahel region will number approximately three thousand personnel.  Under the new posture, Abidjan, the capital of Cote d’Ivoire, would become the primary entry point and logistics hub for French forces.  Chad’s capital N’Djamena would become a hub for French air operations, while the capital of Niger, Niamey, would be used as a primary staging point for unmanned intelligence gathering flights.

These changes seem reasonable in light of the French experience in their recent interventions.  Foreign air support and logistical assistance were critical in getting both Operation Serval and Operation Sangaris going.  The importance of air power in theater was visible in both of these operations as French forces conducted an airborne assault in Mali in January 2013 and have already deployed a significant air component to Chad in support of operations in CAR.  Unmanned surveillance in the Sahel is also critical given the absence of government control in many places, which has in the past been referred to as an “under-governed space.”  Establishing a force in Niamey makes good sense as the US also recently established an unmanned surveillance mission there.

However, if France is not intending to increase the size of its overall force on the continent, one must wonder what the end result of the restructuring will be.  Though billed as a solo-effort, France’s incursion into Mali would have been impossible without airlift capabilities supplied by the US, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, among others.  France also lacked the aerial refueling capability for sustained air operations, again relying on the US.  The US continues to provide logistical assistance to the French in both Mali and CAR.  France’s current force on the continent has clearly been strained, leading them to pull elements out of Kosovo to reinforce their operations in Africa, and the country has continually lobbied for assistance from other European powers.  The Dutch recently began deploying to Mali to ease the strain on French forces there and the EU just approved a peacekeeping mission for CAR.  Without an increased and permanent commitment or an increase in capability broadly, the revised French may not necessarily help them respond any faster or more efficiently to future contingencies.

Crises Continue in CAR, South Sudan

Central African Republic’s Transitional National Council (TNC), in a very public election attended by foreign observers and members of the media, picked the woman currently serving as the mayor of the country’s capital as the next interim President.  Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza now becomes the country’s first female president and its latest hope for helping to end the crisis in the country since the violent overthrow of President Francois Bozize by rebels last March.  Samba-Panza received seventy-five votes from the TNC, significantly more than her nearest rival, Desire Kolingba, the son of former president Andre Kolingba, who received fifty-three votes.  There is a hope that Samba-Panza, who had a successful private sector career before being appointed Mayor of Bangui last year, would provide a break from the country’s previous political establishment.

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

Whoever secured the TNC’s backing had their work cut out for them, with the last interim President and former rebel leader, Michel Djotodia having gone into exile and leaving the country in the midst of violence and uncertainty.  French and African Union forces continue to try and help maintain law and order, and the US and others continue to help rush peacekeepers into the country to support the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).  The European Union has also announced that after significant lobbying by France it will be contributing its own peacekeeping force to the country, along with increased humanitarian aid.  This will be the EU’s first land operation since 2008 when it deployed a force to the Chad-CAR border.  In addition to fighting inside CAR, the upheaval has threatened neighboring countries, most notably Cameroon, where there were reports today of violence along the border.  Codebook: Africa has previously pointed out the threat of spillover from CAR to Cameroon.

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

Cameroon has also been threatened by violence in neighboring South Sudan, where a crisis also continues.  Fighting in the town of Malakal in Upper Nile state resulted in thirty-four people sheltering inside a facility operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) being wounded by stray bullets.  UNMISS says that it is sheltering over twenty-thousand individuals in Malakal and more than seventy-thousand in total at facilities across the country.  The UN Security Council has approved the expansion of the UNMISS mission to help protect civilians from the violence.  Fighting continues between the government and rebels, in spite of peace talks.  Rebels were previously calling just for the release of those accused by the government of attempting a coup in December before starting negotiations, but are now also calling for Ugandan forces to leave the country.

Last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni admitted that forces from the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) were fighting alongside South Sudanese government forces against rebels and that some UPDF troops had died in operations there.  Previously, President Museveni’s administration had said that UPDF troops were working to help evacuate civilians.

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.

US Senate Committee Releases Benghazi Review

Today, US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a redacted version of its review of attacks of US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya on the night of September 11th-12th, 2012.  The attacks led to the death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and other US personnel and has become a major point of domestic debate in the US.  The review takes a highly negative view of the response to the attack itself and to the aftermath by a number of federal agencies.

A low quality version of a briefing slide from November 2012 provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showing the distance of the most direct route from the temporary mission compound to the CIA annex compound in Benghazi, Libya.

A low quality reproduction of a briefing slide from November 2012 provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showing the distance of the most direct route from the temporary mission compound to the CIA annex compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The review, available in full here at Codebook: Africa, includes fourteen individual findings and subsequent recommendations that touch on issues regarding intelligence gathering, force protection, response to attacks on diplomatic facilities, interagency cooperation, and more.  The review also analyzes the unclassified talking points on the attacks provided to  House and Senate intelligence committees in the wake of the attacks.  These talking points have been a divisive issue in the domestic debate.  Additional “views” provided by the Committee’s majority, which noted that they felt the attacks were in their opinion “likely preventable” given the evidence gathered,  and specific Senators are also provided.  These include a serious criticism of General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the attack, who remains in that post.  The State Department was also soundly criticized for its actions at the time and what members of the Committee described as a lack of cooperation and accountability during the review process.

It is worth noting that even before this review, both the US Department of Defense and Department of State had already been reviewing and changing elements of their force protection policies and crisis response capabilities.  On the military side, the US Marine Corps was directed to expanded its Marine security guard elements and activated a Marine Security Augmentation Unit (MSAU) at Marine Corps Base Quantico, which could provide additional personnel to embassies in need.  The US Marine Corps also activated Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), currently station in Rota, Spain, to provide a rapid response capability for diplomatic facilities in need in the region.  The US Army also directed the activation of crisis response force elements around the world, including the East Africa Response Force (EARF) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.  Both SPMAGTF-CR and the EARF have deployed in response to the recent crisis in South Sudan, where they bolstered embassy security and helped evacuate US citizens and other foreign nationals.

UN Drone Crashes in DRC

A Selex EX Falco unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) crashed today.  The aircraft crashed at the airport in Goma in Eastern DRC, where the aircraft are based.  There does not appear to be any reporting yet on what might have caused the crash.  Initial reporting by the wire services, variously citing DRC or UN officials, seems suggest there is some uncertainty about whether the aircraft was leaving for or returning from a mission.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict with the M23 rebel group.  The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention in the region and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda, both accused of providing support to M23.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The city of Goma in the highlighted zone has historically been a major point of contention in the region.

MONUSCO only received the drones at the end of 2013 and they were expected to help monitor the activities of the numerous armed groups active in DRC.  If there have been no additions to the proposed force, then this reduced the MONUSCO fleet to four unmanned aircraft.  Later reports indicated that the drone’s surveillance equipment was undamaged and repairs would allow the aircraft to return to operations.

Concerns about the basic safety of drones have been a matter for debate domestically in both the US and Europe, and were also said to have been the primary motivator for moving US drone operations in Djibouti from Camp Lemonnier to a remote desert airstrip, Chabelley Airfield, last September.  The issue of basic safety in these operations will no doubt become a matter of debate in this instance as well.

A team of technicians prepare a Falco unmanned aerial vehicle for the inaugural flight in Goma, North Kivu province, during an official ceremony organized in the presence of Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, on 3 December 2013.

A team of technicians prepare a Falco unmanned aerial vehicle for the inaugural flight in Goma, North Kivu province, during an official ceremony organized in the presence of Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, on 3 December 2013.

The crash also comes as the UN reports that elements of M23 may be active again and possibly recruiting new fighters.  Representatives for M23 have denied this, but that very fact highlights what has been said here and by other observers about the ongoing uncertain.  M23’s final status remains up for debate, and accusations about support from Rwanda and Uganda remain unresolved.  This potential connection should not be dismissed out of hand, especially in light of accusations that Rwandan authorities orchestrated the murder of a Rwandan dissident in South Africa earlier this month.  Even if M23 is gone for good, there remains a significant number of rebel groups that threaten security in eastern DRC, such as the FDLR, which MONUSCO said it would focus on following the military defeat of M23 last year.

Armed Groups Declare Truce in CAR

Yesterday, nominally Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and nominally Christian members of so-called anti-balaka groups in the Bimbo area of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic declared a truce.  The announcement came in a public ceremony that saw members of the two factions put down their weapons, embrace each other, and ask for forgiveness and reconciliation.  The agreement reportedly came after mediation between the two sides by French forces.  It is clearly events like this that led CAR’s new interim leader, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, to declare today that the country’s recent crisis is now over.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

There is no guarantee, however, that this will be the case.  The country’s Transitional National Council has been given two weeks to decide on a new interim president, who will lead the country until elections can be held.  Nguendet is the speaker of this assembly, which is also the assembly that voted on Michel Djotodia as interim president last April.  Djotodia was the leader of the Seleka rebel group who violently ousted President Francois Bozize in March 2013.  His inability to control former militants was likely the most significant reason for the most recent explosion of violence.  Djotodia resigned the presidency last week following a recent meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) regional bloc.  Reports followed that Djotodia then left for exile in Benin.  Bozize has also since gone into self-imposed exile.  The TNC says it will be looking for a unifying figure.

It remains to be seen if one can be found.  In addition, the current constitution bars the person selected from standing in future presidential elections, which CAR is currently planning for early 2015, despite calls from the French and others to hold them before the end of this year.  The United Nations, which has given a formal mandate to French forces and the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), has also warned about the long term threat of inter-communal violence in the country.  Inter-communal tensions were one of the root causes of the overthrow of Bozize, who had made a deal with the Seleka rebel movement, which the rebels subsequently said was not honored.  Peacekeepers, who  have already had a checkered record in this crisis, are likely to remain in the country for the foreseeable future.  The UN estimates over two million people are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the crisis and almost one million of them have been driven from their homes.