Monthly Archives: March 2014

The US is Giving a Boost to Forces Looking for the LRA

Four CV-22B Ospreys, two MC-130P Hecrules, and a single KC-135R Stratotanker will arrive at Entebbe airport in Uganda by the end of the week. The entire task force has approximately one hundred and fifty personnel supporting it. This is the latest deployment in support of Operation Observant Compass, the US operation to support efforts to hunt down the elusive Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony. The LRA has terrorized central Africa for decades, looting and raping, as well as most notably kidnapping thousands of children over the years to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.

Two CV-22B Ospreys taxi to their new home on June 24, 2013, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The Ospreys, assigned to the 7th Special Operations Squadron, were the first of 10 slated to arrive as part of the expansion of the 352nd Special Operations Group.

Two CV-22B Ospreys taxi to their new home on June 24, 2013, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The Ospreys, assigned to the 7th Special Operations Squadron, were the first of 10 slated to arrive as part of the expansion of the 352nd Special Operations Group.

The US has support efforts to end the LRA’s campaign of violence over the years, but until recently this was limited mostly to intelligence gathering, military aid, and training events. In October 2011, a small number of special operations forces deployed to Uganda to better coordinate efforts in that country, as well as in Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan. The African Union’s Regional Task Force (AU-RTF) still leads the fight against the LRA, with the US firmly in a supporting role.

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.

That support is significant, however. Spy planes flown by US forces and private contractors have searched for Kony and his men as part of Operation Tusker Sand and other efforts. They have also shuttled AU troops between a number of small airstrips in the region and airlifted them into battle. When the LRA moved its main base of operations into CAR, the US helped establish an intelligence fusion center there.

Instability in the region has caused the anti-LRA to wax and wane to some degree. The US military put the operation on hold for a period last year. Crises in CAR and South Sudan have also threaten to derail the campaign. The US military, however, says the latest deployment is not in any way related to those regional crises.

According to the Pentagon, the more significant problem has been that the aircraft available are limited in their capabilities and availability to take full advantage of the intelligence gathered. AU troops often arrive to reported LRA base camps after the rebels have already left. The CV-22Bs are faster than the existing aircraft and their deployment is designed to help the AU-RTF pounce on LRA fighters once they’ve been located before they can flee into the jungle. The MC-130Ps will be able to refuel the Ospreys to help extend their range and on-station time. The KC-135R will be able to refuel the MC-130Ps, again increasing their range and on-station time.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) had sought the Ospreys months ago, but it appears the aircraft are few and far between. The Air Force did not request any more in its latest budget either. US Central Command (CENTCOM) is providing the aircraft for the latest deployment, in an arrangement that gives hints at a larger picture of US operations in the region. While the CV-22Bs are based in Djibouti in the AFRICOM area of responsibility, they are tasked to support CENTCOM, and it remains unclear what unit they report to. The focus of their operations is likely in Yemen on the other side of the Gulf of Aden. There is no information as to what their usual missions might entail.

This also means that the deployment will definitely be temporary. Yesterday, the Pentagon’s Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, confirmed this by saying that he did not expect the new elements to remain in Uganda for long. However, there is the possibility that rotations from Djibouti to Uganda could become a more regular occurrence.

AFRICOM has had some experience with this recently. It is likely that the CV-22Bs involved in the aborted rescue attempt in South Sudan last December came from the same contingent in Djibouti as the aircraft going to Uganda now. Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response also forward deployed to Djibouti and then sent elements further on to Uganda at the beginning of this year, also in response to the crisis in South Sudan. Whatever happens, the Ospreys appear to be proving their worth and we are likely to see them used more and more in the near future, both in the Middle East and Africa.

You can also read about this in a piece I wrote for War is Boring.

US Navy SEALs Take Control of Oil Tanker in the Mediterranean Sea

Last night, US Navy SEALs boarded an oil tanker in international waters southeast of Cyprus. The ship, the Morning Glory, which is flying under the North Korean flag, took on oil at the port of As-Sidra in Libya on March 8th. The oil was loaded onto the ship by a militia seeking greater autonomy for the country’s eastern portion, Cyrenaica. The oil was proprety of the Libyan government’s The North Koreans have denied any connection to the vessel and have since canceled its registration with their country.

A map showing the regional divisions of Libya, with Tripolitania in the northwest, Fezzan in the southwest,  Cirenaica (Cyrenaica) in the east. As-Sidra, which is close to the boundary between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica is highlighted.

A map showing the regional divisions of Libya, with Tripolitania in the northwest, Fezzan in the southwest, Cirenaica (Cyrenaica) in the east. The port city of As Sidrah (As-Sidra), which is close to the boundary between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, is highlighted.

The incident is the latest in a series of serious confrontations between Libya’s fragile government and militias who continue to operate with virtual autonomy in various areas of the country. Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had said the country’s navy had prevented the tanker from leaving the area last Monday. The tanker actually evaded capture and moved further into the Mediterranean Sea. Libya’s parliament responded by ousting Zeidan in a vote of no confidence. Separatist militiamen have been in control of As-Sidra’s oil terminal since last July. The hope is that the US raid will act as a deterrent to future attempts to export the oil independently.

The operation, reportedly conducted at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, is part of a noticeable uptick in special operations forces raids on the continent. Last October, a raid was launched into Libya that resulted in the capture of Abu Anas al Libi, wanted in connection with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, as well as other terrorist attacks.

Navy SEALs attached to Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) reportedly conducted the raid, which was launched from the USS Roosevelt, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The SEALs took control of the ship from Libyan rebels, but a team of sailors from the USS Stout, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, will supervise the transit of the tanker back to Libya. There was no official information on what SEAL team was involved in this operation, but the use of the word “attached” suggests that they may have come from outside of Europe and then been placed under the operation control of SOCEUR’s Naval Special Warfare Unit Two (NSWU-2) for the actual mission. It is also worth noting that the decision was made to place the SEALs under the control of SOCEUR rather than Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) and its assigned Naval Special Warfare Unit Ten. SOCEUR and SOCAFRICA are both located in Germany.

Annual Aerial Delivery Exercise Begins in Cameroon

Last week, Exercise Central Accord 2014, US Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) annual aerial delivery exercise, led by US Army Africa (USARAF), began recently in Cameroon. According to AFRICOM, the exercise brings together US Army personnel with African militaries to help them improve their air drop capabilities to deliver both military materials and humanitarian aid. Training on aeromedical evacuation is also part of this year’s exercise.

Representatives from the militaries of Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, Nigeria, Chad and the United States participate in the opening ceremony for Central Accord 2014 in Cameroon on 11 March 2014.

Representatives from the militaries of Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, Nigeria, Chad and the United States participate in the opening ceremony for Central Accord 2014 in Cameroon on 11 March 2014.

More than 1,000 military and civilian personnel will participate in this year’s Central Accord exercise. Participants in the exercise come from Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Netherlands, Nigeria,  and the US. The exercise will involve four days of academic training, a combined jump, and five days of situational training.  The last phase will be conducted in Koutaba, Cameroon. The country’s 102 Air Force Base the capital in Douala will also be used. The exercise will end on March 21st.

Cameroon is a good choice for this year’s exercise, given its proximity to a number of regional crises. Cameroon had served as a staging point for France’s intervention into Central African Republic, Operation Sangaris, which began last year. France, however, says it will focus on Cote d’Ivoire as its primary entry point and logistics hub in the region for future operations.

This exercise was started by US European Command (EUCOM) in 1996, at which time it was called Atlas Drop. AFRICOM took over the exercise in 2008, and renamed it Atlas Accord in 2012. This put it in line with AFRICOM’s other “Accord series” exercises, which focus on training African ground forces. This year, the exercise was renamed again to Central Accord, further streamlining its name with the Accord series. Other annual exercises in the series include Eastern Accord, Northern Accord, Southern Accord, and Western Accord.

In other exercise related news, this year’s Saharan Express maritime exercise came to a close on Friday. Saharan Express 2014 was marked by a gradual transfer of responsibilities for planning, conducting the exercise, and providing logistical support from the US Navy to the navies and coast guards of the West Africa participants.

International Force Will Deploy to South Sudan

Yesterday, East African heads of state announced their decision to deploy an international force to South Sudan starting April in an attempt to stem the conflict there. Troops will reportedly come from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda, all of whom are frequent particpiants in other African peacekeeping operations. Djibouti, which also participates in peacekeeping operations on the continent, may also contribute forces to this new mission. Ugandan troops, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government in January, have said they will withdraw after the new force is deployed.

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

The force will operate under a mandate from the the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African economic bloc, which has been mediating talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to try and bring an end to South Sudan’s crisis. The crisis erupted last December following a reported coup attempt. The government subsequently implicated a number of opposition political figures, most notably Riek Machar, as having been behind the attempted overthrow. Riek Machar announced a formal “resistance movement” in February and the country is effectively in a state of civil war.

The IGAD-sponsored talks did produce a ceasefire agreement in January, but this has been repeatedly violated. A second phase of talks to find a lasting political solution to the crisis has stalled. One of the main rebel demands is the release of individuals detained in connection with the coup. South Sudan is proceeding with their treason charges against eleven individuals, and a court has demanded that four individuals previously released and deported to Kenya return to face the indictments.

South Sudan has also accused the UN mission in the country, UNMISS, of collaborating with rebel forces. Last week, South Sudanese forces seized weapons and ammunition from a UN convoy, which UNMISS said had mistakenly been loaded in with humanitarian supplies. UNMISS also denied that landmines were among the munitions and has called on the South Sudanese government to respect their personnel and existing agreements. UNMISS is providing humanitarian assistance and shelter to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. The UN also estimates that millions in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Marine Task Force in Spain to Expand

On Monday, the U.S. military announced that it was going to send three hundred and fifty more Marines to Spain to join those already with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response at Moron Air Base. The Spanish government agreed to the increase, as well as allowing the Marines to remain at Moron for another year. Additional aircraft will be sent as well, though there is no word yet on what types will be deployed. SPMAGTF-CR currently has six MV-22B Ospreys and two KC-130J Hercules.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014.

There could be a desire for additional firepower, perhaps in the form of AH-1Z attack helicopters or AV-8B harriers, to escort the Ospreys on missions. The Air Force had three CV-22Bs damaged during a rescue attempt in South Sudan last December. Four Navy SEALs were also wounded and the aircraft were forced to abort their mission and divert to Entebbe, Uganda.

SPMAGTF-CR was created after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. The Pentagon was widely criticized for not having available crisis response units and has since stood up or otherwise designated units around the world to perform the mission. These forces are generally rotational in nature, as part of a larger trend in the US military broad.

You can read more about this in a piece I wrote recently at War is Boring.

Somali, AU Troops Take Towns from Al Shabaab in Renewed Offensive

Somali government troops and peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have reportedly taken control of a number of towns from the militant group Al Shabaab. This includes the town of Burdhubo in the southern part of the country, which is described a a major stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked group. These advances are part of a renewed AMISOM offensive against Al Shabaab, the planning for which had been alluded to last December.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

A number of changes have been made to AMISOM this year already to help in the fight against Al Shabaab. Most notable was the decision to formally integrate Ethiopian forces into AMISOM. Ethiopian forces had already been engaged in operations along the border with Somalia, which sometimes resulted in them crossing over. Now, over four thousand Ethiopian troops are operating with AMISOM in the country. When the decision was announced in January, AMISOM said that they hoped the influx of Ethiopian troops would free up other peacekeepers to fight militants in the country’s south.

In February, Kenya also announced that it was planning on reducing its presence in the southern port town of Kismayo. The move had been made after the Somali authorities complained Kenyan forces were an impediment to exercise central government control in the region. Kenya has supported nominally pro-government warlords in southern Somalia for some time. In 2011, some of these groups declared a semi-autonomous region, called Jubaland. Somalia’s many semi-autonomous actors are a major roadblock to establishing a functional state.

International partners are also looking to step up their involvement in the country. In January, it was reported that the US military would be sending military personnel to the country, the first official military presence there in decades. In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Army General David M. Rodriguez said the military coordination cell in the capital Moghadishu numbered three people, who were working to “coordinate with UN and other partnered forces to disrupt and contain al-Shabaab forces and expand areas under the control of the nominal government.” General Rodriguez also acknowledged that “Precise partnered and unilateral operations [conducted by special operations forces] continue to play limited but important roles in weakening al-Shabaab.” European nations, such as Germany, are also sending additional military personnel to help train and advise Somali government forces.

Al Shabaab remains a significant threat however. The group carried out a bombing in Moghadishu at the end of February that killed twelve people and wounded numerous others near the headquarters of the country’s intelligence service. The fluidity of Somalia’s clan-based political scene is also a significant issue. The UN recently decided to maintain a partial arms embargo against the country after reports that arms shipments were being diverted to Al Shabaab linked groups. It was not clear, however, whether or not the government was simply trying to sway local warlords to their side.

A recent work published by Special Operations Command’s Joint Special Operations University on Somalia and the Al Shabaab insurgency noted that “Somalis are highly pragmatic people, prepared to switch allegiances if it gains them an advantage.” The authors suggest that “Trying to play politics within this unbelievably complex world..will only lead to outsiders being badly manipulated and inadvertently making enemies.”

AFRICOM’s Annual Exercise Schedule Continues with Saharan Express

The annual Saharan Express maritime exercise, led by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF), began on March 6th with an opening ceremony in Dakar, Senegal. This year’s exercise will take place in two areas near the coasts of Cabo Verde and Senegal. There exercise will consist of a port preparatory phase and then ships will go to sea to test various maritime security skills. This year, 11 ships from Cape Verde, France, Liberia, Morocco, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The majority of these ships will operate from the Port of Dakar for the exercise.

Participants of Exercise Saharan Express 2014 gather during a pre-sail conference in Dakar, Senegal, at the commencement of the exercise on 6 March 2014.

Participants of Exercise Saharan Express 2014 gather during a pre-sail conference in Dakar, Senegal, at the commencement of the exercise on 6 March 2014.

Saharan Express 2014 will test maritime security skills such as: VBSS (visist, board, search and seizure), medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). The exercise is designed to help regional navies deal with real world security concerns like piracy, illicit trafficking operations, and illegal fishing.

Saharan Express, which began in 2011, is currently one of four so-called “Express series” exercise in Africa run annually by NAVFORAF.  These exercise focus on maritime security issues around the continent and look to build on other bilateral security cooperation events between the US and African nations. Most notably, the Express series exercises are intended to support existing US Navy security cooperation efforts as part of the Africa Partnership Station program.

The US also continually assists with training personnel for the operation of regional MOCs, and otherwise improving their capabilities.  For instance, NAVFORAF hosted a workshop on the operation of regional MOCs in Cameroon for members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) last year. In 2013, the US also supplied Tanzania with a new VHF communication system, specifically for the country’s People’s Defense Force Naval Command and Maritime Police Force.