US Steps Up Support to Nigeria to Fight Boko Haram

The US has stepped up its support to the government of Nigeria this week. The driving factor has been the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls by the nebulous Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram, which has been waging a brutal campaign against the central government since 2009. This week President Obama dispatched an inter-agency team to Nigeria to help in efforts to locate and rescue the abductees. The sixty individuals in the team were reportedly from the US military, agencies of the Intelligence Community, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

US and Nigerian military personnel at the Kontagora Grandstand and Impact/Maneuver Area at the Nigerian Army Training Center

US and Nigerian military personnel at the Kontagora Grandstand and Impact/Maneuver Area at the Nigerian Army Training Center

On Friday, US Army Africa (USARAF) announced that the military members of the team would be working with personnel already at the US embassy in Abuja to train a battalion of Nigerian Army Rangers. USARAF said this would be the first time it would train Nigerian troops for “decisive action” against “a real threat.” The US has a long history of working with the Nigerian military, but this has generally been related to peacekeeping operations. You can read more about this in my recent piece on the announcement on War is Boring.

The twelve Army personnel, said to be a combination of Army Special Forces and Army National Guard general purpose forces, would run a recently formed 650-man Nigerian Army Ranger Battalion through a training course modeled on the US Army Ranger Course. No details were given as to which units the trainers would come from, but 3rd and 10th Special Forces Groups have an established history of conducting security assistance and foreign internal defense efforts in Africa. The California Army National Guard is also aligned with Nigeria through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. Military personnel are apparently already in Nigeria conducting military-to-military engagements to figure out what the existing capabilities of the Nigerian troops actually are.

View of the Nigerian Army Training Center Headquarters

View of the Nigerian Army Training Center Headquarters

The actual training is scheduled to begin in two weeks at the Nigerian Army Training Center (NATRAC). The Nigerian government is reportedly footing the entire $400,000 bill for the event and that amount was decided on by them in the first place. The Nigerian Army had first requested the advanced infantry training assistance after touring the US Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia last fall. USARAF then worked with them to figure out how much training could be done for that amount. There is also no indication that any of those funds will be used to rehabilitate any part of NATRAC. USARAF released a set of undated and less than flattering pictures of NATRAC facilities to go along with their announcement, some of which are reproduced below:

Training Barracks Tents at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Training Barracks Tents at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Village Training Site at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Village Training Site at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Obstacle course at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Obstacle course at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Small Arms Range at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Small Arms Range at the Nigerian Army Training Center

This training event is also just one part of expanding US assistance to the Nigerian military to combat Boko Haram. In January, the Nigerian government established the Nigerian Army Special Operations Command with American assistance. The US is also reportedly in talks with the Nigerian government about providing intelligence aircraft support. This could potentially involve manned and unmanned aircraft.

The US government only declared Boko Haram a terrorist group last November. It also applied that designation the splinter faction Ansaru at that time. There has been some controversy recently over why it took years of escalating violence for the Department of State to make this decision. Whatever the case was, the US appears to be paying attention now.

US Secures New Lease for Non-Base in Djibouti

On Monday, the US government announced that it had reached a deal with Djibouti regarding the continued American military presence at Camp Lemonnier. The new deal will allow Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa and other US forces to remain in the country for another decade at the cost of $630 million. This is significantly more than the reported $38 million fee Washington is currently paying every year. The deal also allows the US government to get another decade at the same rate, as well as a decade after that at a renegotiated rate.

Camp Lemonnier's front gate

Camp Lemonnier’s front gate

Camp Lemonnier was first built by the French as a base for the Foreign Legion in the region. The US arrived there shortly after the attacks on 11 September 2001 and has dramatically increased the size and scope of the facility. Initially part of US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, Camp Lemonnier was passed to US Africa Command (AFRICOM) after its creation in 2008. The facility, ostensibly run by the US Navy, is also generally referred to as America’s only base on the continent, but the Pentagon does its best to steer clear of using that term to describe it. During a press conference last month, the commander of AFRICOM US Army General David Rodriguez described it as “a major forward operating site” and later corrected a reporter who attempted to use the word “base.”

Whatever one wants to call it, the facility is critical to the Pentagon’s counter-terrorism efforts in both East and Central Africa and across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen. US forces also use the facility to help patrol the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean for pirates. Furthermore, AFRICOM and the US State Department  conduct numerous security assistance efforts throughout these regions under various initiatives, including the Africa Contingency Operations Training & Assistance (ACOTA) program.  Peacekeepers have trained regularly under the ACOTA program for deployment to support the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Djibouti is an important contributor to this mission and provides a location to train other African forces.

The counter-terrorism campaign in East Africa was previously referred to under the broad umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom, or more specifically Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa, but is now generally referred to as Operation Octave Shield. The nickname Copper Dune has been used to reference operations in Yemen, but it is unclear whether this is still valid. Camp Lemonnier’s airstrip has been a major part of drone operations in the region, though recently the decision was made to shift this effort to Chabelley Airfield.

The major operation in Central Africa is Operation Observant Compass. This is the nickname for the effort assisting the African Union’s Regional Task Force stamp out the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army. In March, CV-22B Osprey and MC-130P Hercules deployed from Djibouti to Uganda to support this operation. The Osprey aircraft were actually tasked to support CENTCOM operations from Camp Lemonnier. The Pentagon has said CENTCOM may loan the aircraft to AFRICOM again in the future if needed.

Camp Lemonnier has also been an important staging ground for crisis response efforts recently. Last December, two CV-22B Ospreys and US Navy SEALs launched from the facility in an attempt to rescue American citizens caught up in the crisis in South Sudan. Later that month, AFRICOM moved the Marine Corps’ Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response to Djibouti from its base in Spain in response to events in South Sudan. SPMAGTF-CR then moved elements forward to Entebbe, Uganda to support evacuation efforts.

In all, Camp Lemonnier has cemented itself as an important piece of the US military puzzle in both Africa and the Middle East. The US military will remain there for at least another decade, but its quite likely the additional options to stay for twenty years after that will be exercised.

AFRICOM’s Obangame Express Exercise Starts Up in the Gulf of Guinea

This year’s Obangame Express maritime exercise, led by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF), began on April 16th in the Gulf of Guniea. This year’s exercise is taking place off the coasts of Cameroon and Nigeria. As with the other Express series exercises, Obangame Express will consist of an in-port preparatory phase, followed by an at-sea exercise to test the participants maritime security skills. This year, 31 ships from Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States will participate in the exercise. The majority of these ships will operate from the Port of Lagos. This includes the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1), which is the first of its class and on its maiden voyage.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead was in Nigeria for Obangame Express 2014.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead arrived in Nigeria to participate in Obangame Express 2014. The ship was on its maiden voyage in the region as part of the Africa Partnership Station mission.

Obangame Express 2014 will test maritime security skills such as: VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure), medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). According to the US Navy, Participants will execute tactics and techniques within scenarios that mirror real world counter-piracy and counter-illicit trafficking operations.

Obangame Express, which began in 2011, is currently one of four so-called “Express series” exercise in Africa run annually by NAVFORAF.  “Obangame” means “togetherness” in a local Cameroonian language. 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. Obangame Express is also especially concerned with the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. With the decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, more attention has been focused on the matter of piracy in West Africa.

The plans for this year’s exercise were finalized back in February. The US Navy said the objective was to mirror the positive results of the 2013 exercise, tailoring scenarios closely to real-world maritime security challenges. This year’s exercise involves almost three times as many ships from more than twice as many countries when compared to Obangame Express 2013.

Profiles of Operations Sandy Beach and Sandy Beach II Now Available

For those of you who might have missed my recent piece on War is Boring regarding US Air Force missions to Mali in the early 1960s, I now have profiles of these operations available here. Operation Sandy Beach in 1961 was probably the first organized US military operation in Mali, which had only become independent in September 1960. It was also the first overseas operation for 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron, the progenitor of Air Force special operations elements. Operation Sandy Beach II was a follow-on effort that also included Army Special Forces personnel in early 1963.

These operations are an important part of American special operations history, as well as the history of US operations in Africa. They are important examples of how invested the US military has been in operations in Africa historically. They also represent early special operations missions, most of which were quickly overshadowed by operations in Southeast Asia. Operation Sandy Beach, in fact, was a dry run for 4400th CCTS, which deployed later in the year to South Vietnam for Operation Farm Gate.

These new profiles are in the same vein of a post I made last November on American special operations efforts in Libya in the early 1950s. I find these historical pieces often provide important context for current US military operations in Africa and I hope to be able to continue to add them to Codebook: Africa’s records.

UN Security Council Approves Peacekeeping Force for CAR

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2149, which approves the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force in Central African Republic. The resolution provides for a force of approximately twelve thousand personnel under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, including some ten thousand troops and almost two thousand police. The crisis in CAR has left thousands dead, displaced almost seven hundred thousand people internally, and forced almost three hundred thousand to flee the country. The UN estimates that over two million people, approximately half of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

The decision comes as the African Union’s African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA), support by French forces, continues to struggle with violence in the country. MISCA, which is already operating with a UN mandate, had some six-thousand personnel at the beginning of last week. Last Friday, Chadian forces pulled out of the country following clashes in the capital Bangui in which ten people were killed. Chadian troops claimed they were acting in self defense, but other reports suggested they had fired indiscriminately into a crowd. This is not the first time Chadian peacekeepers have been involved in questionable incidents or had been accused of complicity with ex-Seleka rebels. The loss of the eight-hundred and fifty-man contingent was a significant blow to MISCA.

MISCA is scheduled to turn over responsibility for peacekeeping to the new UN force, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), by 15 September 2014. There is no word yet what countries might step forward to provide MINUSCA with the additional forces it requires. Many African nations are already participating in the effort, as well as efforts elsewhere. France, who has been a major contributor to peacekeeping efforts on the continent and who has been in CAR since the beginning of the year as part of their Operation Sangaris, has had only limited success in rallying the rest of the European Union to contribute forces. In January, the EU approved the deployment of a small five-hundred strong force to the country. The force, dubbed EUFOR RCA (EU Force République Centrafricaine) was eventually expanded to one thousand personnel, but was delayed and only arrived in the country last week.

The United States has also supported the efforts in CAR, as part of Operation Echo Casemate. However, so far this support has been limited to logistical support and the airlifting of additional African peacekeeping forces. The US will likely continue to provide this support to the expanded UN mission, but there is no indication that any American troops will deploy to the country to take a more active part in the peacekeeping mission.

Crisis Response Marines Train in Conjunction With African Lion 14

Last week, Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) conducted a training exercise in Morocco, in conjunction with the annual African Lion bilateral training exercise. On 3 April 2014, Marines from SPMAGTF-CR flew in two MV-22B Osprey aircraft from Moron Air Base in Spain to Tifnit, Morocco. On arrival, the Marines set up security for a hypothetical United States government compound to protect US citizens and property within.

Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response board an MV-22B Osprey for a training exercise in Tifnit, Morocco on 3 April 2014

Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response board an MV-22B Osprey for a training exercise in Tifnit, Morocco on 3 April 2014.

The training event is yet another instance where the capabilities of SPMAGTF-CR have been highlighted as of late. The unit was created last spring in the wake of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012. Since then, the Marines have forward deployed to Djibouti and Uganda to be able to respond to the crisis in South Sudan. More recently, Marines from SPMAGTF-CR have deployed to Romania to reinforce US units in that region. Officially that deployment has nothing to do with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

African Lion, which ended last Saturday, is also an important annual bilateral training exercise with Morocco, which has a long history of cooperation with the US, dating back to the American Revolution. African Lion dates back at least to the 1990s, at which time it was a biennial exercise sponsored by US European Command (EUCOM) and conducted by the Southern European Task Force (SETAF). US Marine Corps Forces, Europe (MARFOREUR) subsequently took over the exercise in the 2000s.

With the creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, EUCOM relinquished responsibility for the exercise. Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MARFORAF) also took over the actual conduct of the event. The annual exercise also involves members from other US military services, such as the Army and the Air Force, and is observed by numerous foreign partners.

This year, approximately 150 soldiers of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces, 350 U.S. servicemembers participated in the African Lion exercise.  The focus of African Lion 14 was on interoperability with military-to-military engagements in stability operations, rapid response to contingencies, a multinational observer program with 13 different countries, non-lethal weapons and peace enforcement, live-fire and weapons familiarization training, humanitarian and disaster-relief response. Other nations observing the exercise included: Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Tunisia, Turkey, Spain, Senegal, and the United Kingdom.

US Africa Command Sends Marines to Romania

Last week, the US Department of Defense announced that it would be sending an additional one hundred and seventy-five Marines to Romania. The US Marine Corps already maintains a rotational task force with some three hundred personnel in that country at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, as part of existing regional security cooperation efforts.

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.

What is particularly interesting about this deployment is that the Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina will be assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) rather than Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Black Sea Rotational Force (SPMAGTF-BSRF). This is likely because the decision had recently been made to increase the overall size of SPMAGTF-CR, headquartered at Moron Air Base in Spain, and the only approval required was to forward deploy the personnel to Romania. The personnel will be collocated with SPMAGTF-BSRF, but will remain under the control of SPMAGTF-CR, which is assigned to US Africa Command (AFRICOM).

SPMAGTF-CR is part of a DoD-wide response to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. DoD established a number of crisis response task forces around the world as a result. The Marines in Spain are assigned to AFRICOM, but according to DoD they can be tasked to respond to any crisis. The deployment of the Marines to Romania shows off their capabilities and officials say that it is specifically to allow the task force “greater flexibility.”

Officially, the deployment is not related to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, where a popular protest movement ousted the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year. Russia responded to this change by supporting a secessionist referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region and subsequently voting to annex the province. Crimea had been made part of the Ukrainian Soviet Social Republic in 1954, at which time the country was a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The province has a sizeable ethnic Russian population, in addition to ethnic Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and others. Ukraine and Russia have now traded veiled threats and the US and other NATO members have reinforced allies on Ukraine’s borders to ease fears of further Russian interventions. The US has also recognized the new interim Ukrainian government and said that the Crimea referendum and annexation are illegal.