Monthly Archives: July 2014

Pentagon Helps Out As Americans Evacuate Libya

Over the weekend, the United States decided to close out their embassy in Tripoli, Libya. The remaining personnel were then taken by truck convoy overland to Tunisia. The Pentagon helped escort the vehicles on their five hour journey. I wrote a short piece on the operation for War is Boring as details were still unfolding, but most of the informed speculation turned out to be correct.

MV-22B Ospreys from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response sit on the ramp at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy as Task Force Tripoli prepares to depart for a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation in the early hours of 26 July 2014.

MV-22B Ospreys from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response sit on the ramp at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy as Task Force Tripoli prepares to depart for a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation in the early hours of 26 July 2014.

The force for this Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) consisted of an airborne quick reaction force provided by Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), three F-16 fighters, and an unspecified number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets.

The SPMAGTF-CR contingent, reportedly called Task Force Tripoli, consisted of twenty-four troops in two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotors, supported by KC-130J Hercules tankers. This task force should not be confused with the Marine task force that took part in the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Back in May, the Marines had been forward deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy for just this sort of contingency. SPMAGTF-CR was created in the aftermath of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 for exactly these sort of operations. The Marines shadowed the convoy in order to respond to any attacks. Some eighty additional armed Marines were in the vehicles as part of the embassy contingent, which totaled over one hundred and fifty people. The Marines were likely Embassy Security Guards and members of Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams (FAST).

Less information is available on the F-16s and ISR assets. The F-16s reportedly flew from Aviano Air Base in Italy. The aircraft were likely from one of the squadrons of the 31st Fighter Wing based there. The jets also received support from KC-135R tankers, no doubt also operating from USAF bases in Europe. An unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles – which could include the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, or RQ-4 Global Hawk – also kept an eye over the entire operation. The USAF has unmanned ISR platforms based in Europe and in neighboring Niger. There has also been an eyewitness image of a Navy EP-3E spy plane, likely from US Sixth Fleet, flying over Tripoli during the operation.

The Department of State has described the evacuation as a “temporary staff relocation” and said repeatedly that it hopes to return to Libya at the earliest possible convenience. However, the embassy in Tripoli had already been working with a reduced staff after the 2012 Benghazi incident. Libya has been wracked by violence since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with the central government exercising little, if any control over a plethora of militias. Islamist terrorist groups have also taken advantage of the instability in the country.

Recently, militia infighting forced the closure of Tripoli’s airport and destroyed almost a dozen planes on the tarmac. This skirmish no doubt influenced the decision to close the diplomatic mission. Separately, militias allied with General Khalifa Hifter have essentially laid siege to Benghazi in hopes of routing Ansar al-Sharia, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  There is no clear end to the violence in sight.

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Some tidbits about US Airlift in Africa

Last week, a CASA 212 light transport reportedly full of United States special operations forces was forced to land on a strip of road in Uganda, less than 100 miles from the capital Kampala. The plane had reportedly developed a undefined technical fault on its way to Juba, South Sudan and had to turn back. Unfortunately, the crew had to set the aircraft down outside of Kiwawu after running out of fuel. Thankfully, no one was hurt, though a local NTV Uganda television spot showed how the Americans held up traffic until their transport could be moved.

Soldiers from the East Africa Response Force load on a C-130H from the 52nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti en route to Juba, South Sudan in December 2013.

Soldiers from the East Africa Response Force load on a C-130H from the 52nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti en route to Juba, South Sudan in December 2013.

The incident offered an opportunity to highlight the role of private contractors providing airlift services in Africa to the US military. The CASA 212 in question was identified by its civilian registration code N604AR. The owner is EP Aviation, LLC, which acts as a subsidiary for the AAR Airlift Corporation. EP Aviation is fulfilling a contract to fly members of Special Operations Command, Africa (SOCAFRICA) around central Africa, generally defined by the US military to include Uganda, as well as Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan.

After doing a little digging, I found that there was a dispute between AAR and Evergreen Helicopters, which had previously held this contract. Evergreen has since started doing business with the US government as Erickson Transport, Inc, after having been bought by Erickson Aviation. Erickson’s website shows portions of the fleet of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters still bearing Evergreen’s logos. Erickson has now also disputed the award of a contract to provide rotary wing support to SOCAFRICA to AAR. You can find more of the details on in my recent piece on War is Boring.

In addition, I recently contacted Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa over the recent announcement that the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron had been activated at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti back in May. The 75th EAS joins the 81st and 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons assigned to the 449th Air Expeditionary Group at America’s east African hub. The 449th AEG is one of three AEGs assigned to US Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA).

C-130 airlifters and crews will rotate through deployments to the 75th EAS. The planes are responsible for a variety of logistics missions in east and central Africa. The 75th EAS also completely replaced the previous 52nd EAS, which had been activated in October 2013. The 52nd EAS was the first ever expeditionary airlift squadron to be assigned directly to AFAFRICA. This creation of a formal military airlift presence on the continent is significant in the context of the reliance on contractor-flown airlift already mentioned here. I provided some additional details on the 75th EAS and its mission in another piece on War is Boring today.

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.

Its also worth noting that the US Marine Corps has identified similar airlift requirements for its missions on the continent. This aircraft needs are clearly part of the reason why both the security assistance-focused Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Africa (SPMAGTF-Africa) and the contingency Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) both have organic KC-130 aircraft. There was also a report earlier in the year that Marine Transport Squadron One (VMR-1) was supporting the movement of SPMAGTF-CR elements with their C-9B Skytrain and UC-35D Citation aircraft. It was unclear, however, whether this involved movement to and from countries in Africa. SPMAGTF-CR, while Africa focused, is based in Europe and has forward deployed contingents to countries like Italy and Romania this year.

US Army Led Annual Western Accord Exercise Last Month

Last month, US Army Africa (USARAF) led the annual Western Accord Exercise in Dakar, Senegal. Marines from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment also joined Army soldiers for the event. Western Accord 14 centered around developing partner abilities to plan, deploy, employ, sustain, and redeploy a rapid deployment force in response to a regional crisis.

Senegalese troops train with US forces during Western Accord 14 in June 2014.

Senegalese troops train with US forces during Western Accord 14 in June 2014.

Western Accord is designed to enhance American military partnerships with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). There are currently fifteen ECOWAS members:  Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Gambia and Guinea Bissau did not participate in Western Accord 14. Forces from France and the Netherlands.

Representatives of the United Nations were also present at the exercise. Western Accord 14 was the first iteration of the exercise to incorporate UN personnel and non-governmental organizations to better simulate complex peacekeeping operations in the region. ECOWAS members such as Nigeria are regular contributors to UN and African Union peacekeeping efforts across the continent and around the world.

In addition, this particular training event is part of a series of exercises run every year by USARAF. The other exercises in the series include Northern Accord, Southern Accord, and Eastern Accord. Also, a regular exercise in central Africa, focusing on airdrop capabilities, was renamed Central Accord this year, bringing it in line with the rest of the Accord Series exercises.

New Reports Suggest U.S. Had Military Precense in Somalia Since 2007

Last week, Reuters reported that rotations of military advisors have been deploying to Somalia since at least 2007. The news agency quoted anonymous US government officials. These revelations come after the Pentagon admitted to a formal advisory mission at the beginning of the year. The official statement was that only three military personnel were in Moghadishu and had been there since October 2013, when they had established a Military Coordination Cell to liaise with Somali authorities and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March 2014, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

These newly uncovered deployments consisted of up to one hundred and twenty special operations forces at a time and were timed to provide a persistent presence, according to Reuters. If these details are correct, these special operators might have participated in the targeting process for a string of air strikes and drone attacks, as well as various commando raids since 2007. US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which is currently responsible for operations in Somalia, disputed this, saying that the deployments were smaller and apparently only for specific missions.

The Central Intelligence Agency was largely believed to be in charge of US supported paramilitary activity inside of Somalia until recently. It appears that the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and specifically the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), may have also been directly involved in this covert effort. The Pentagon and AFRICOM have also clearly stepped up their overt activities in the restive east African nation since the beginning of 2013. AFRICOM has declined requests to elaborate on these missions beyond saying they are working closely with the Somali government and other African partners to combat the militant group Al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab came into existence in 2007 after Ethiopian troops and Somali militia routed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a fundamentalist Islamist organization that had taken control of significant portions of the country. Al Shabaab, formed from the remnants of the ICU’s military wing, has continued to fight pro-government forces and international peacekeepers, now operating under the AMISOM title. Al Shabaab assassinated Somali parliamentarian Ahmed Mohamud ‘Hayd’ just last week and killed four people with a car bomb outside the parliament building in Mogadishu yesterday. These attacks are simply the latest in a string of increasingly aggressive responses to AMISOM’s latest offensive. The situation in the country remains complex and fluid.