Tag Archives: CJTF-HOA

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.

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Violence Continues in South Sudan and CAR

Violence has continued to escalate in South Sudan and Central Africa Republic, as crises in both countries continue despite international military interventions and other efforts.  Yesterday, in South Sudan, reports indicated that inter-communal fighting had spread into the country’s Upper Nile state, while in Central African Republic, French forces reinforced their positions in the capital Bangui with armored vehicles following heavy gunfire.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.

In South Sudan, the United Nations believes that some ninety-thousand individuals to have been displaced, including almost sixty-thousand known to be sheltering at facilities operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  Reports this week of mass killings and the discovery of a mass grave in the country indicate that the inter-communal violence between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups is rapidly escalating.  The UN and others have called for engagement and dialogue to solve the crisis, which erupted after a reported coup attempt, which the government blamed on former Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group.  The violence in Upper Nile state follows significant incidents in Unity state, another oil rich province, and Jonglei.

The UN Security Council has responded to the crisis by authorizing UNMISS to almost double its size, adding some five-thousand five-hundred peacekeepers (both military and police personnel) to the existing force of some seven thousand personnel.  UNMISS has already suffered casualties in the violence after ethnic Nuer militiamen attacked a facility in Akobo in Jonglei state.  However, the UN noted that it would take some time for the new forces to arrive.  It is possible that the US could assist in rapidly deploying peacekeepers, as it has done in the past.

spmagtf-cr-logoThe situation in South Sudan has already provided an opportunity for the US military to showcase its current crisis response capabilities.  Soon after the violence started, the US deployed elements of the East Africa Response Force, based at Camp Lemonnier Djibouti, to protect US diplomatic facilities and assist in evacuating civilians.  The US has now deployed elements of the Marine Corps’ Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response, based at Moron Air Base in Spain, to Camp Lemonnier and to Entebbe, Uganda.  In addition, last week, three Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22B Ospreys were damaged and four US servicemen injured during an attempt to rescue US and other nationals for Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.  The aircraft had been launched from Camp Lemonnier and were diverted to Entebbe after the mission was aborted.  It has since been reported that the rescue force included US Navy SEALs, suggesting that the aircraft and personnel for that mission might have come from Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s (CJTF-HOA) Special Operations Command and Control Element – Horn of Africa (SOCCE-HOA).  SOCCE-HOA is responsible for special operations in east Africa in support of CJTF-HOA’s mission, which includes regional crisis response.  SOCCE-HOA is in fact an outgrowth of a crisis response element (sometimes referred to as CRE-HOA) that was established at Camp Lemonnier in Spring 2002 as part of the initial buildup there following the events of September 11th, 2001.  SOCCE-HOA is also the primary force provider for Operation Observant Compass, the US mission to support regional forces in their fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

In neighboring CAR, violence has also continued despite an influx of African peacekeepers to the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and the French intervention, Operation Sangaris.  Violence there has become a matter of largely a matter of fighting between mainly Muslim former Seleka rebels and Christian militias referred to as anti-balaka.  Though anti-balaka groups initially welcomed international intervention, some have since become dissatisfied with their unwillingness to oust current President Michel Djotodia, the former leader of the Seleka rebel group, who deposed former President Francois Bozize in March.  Christian groups have also accused Muslim peacekeepers from Chad of siding with ex-Seleka rebels, leading to violent clashes.  Christian protesters blame Chadian forces for at least one death.  Anti-balaka militiamen reportedly killed a peacekeeper from the Republic of Congo on Tuesday, possibly in retribution.  French forces, however, are seen as having sided with the anti-balaka militias, leading to violence between them and ex-Seleka rebels.  Both ex-Seleka rebels and anti-balaka militia continue present a significant challenge to international forces and despite efforts to disarm both groups and seek a negotiated settlement.

US Sends Task Force to South Sudan as Violence Spreads

The United States has sent elements of the East Africa Response Force to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and is working to evacuate non-essential embassy personnel, US nationals, and others from the country.  Violence has spread since the government reported Monday that it had “quashed” an alleged coup attempt.  President Salva Kiir made the announcement on national television in full military dress instead of his normal civilian attire.  Martial law was subsequently declared and the UN estimates that some five hundred people have been killed since the the fighting started.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.

President Kiir said today that he is willing to hold talks with former Vice President Riek Machar, who he says is behind the coup attempt.  Riek Machar, a member of the country’s Nuer ethnic group, was also a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leadership before South Sudan became an indepedent nation in 2011 and the SPLM became the country’s dominant political party.  Machar has since become an opposition political figure, claiming to represent the Nuer in a government said to be dominated by the country’s main ethnic group, the Dinka.  President Kiir is a member of the Dinka ethnic group and there are concerns that the violence could expand into outright inter-ethnic conflict.  The UN, which maintains a peacekeeping mission in the country, the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), has called on all parties to refrain from actions that could incite ethnic tensions.

However, the violence currently appears to be spreading, with reports of clashes occurring outside the capital and its immediate surroundings.  This is what led the US Department of State to first recommend that US citizens evacuate the country as soon as possible and subsequently provide assistance for them in doing so.  Today, the Department of State reported that US Air Force C-130s and a private charter aircraft had departed the country carrying evacuees, and added that it would continue to work to help arrange transportation for those wishing to leave. Other countries are conducting similar efforts to evacuate their nationals and others wishing to leave.

US Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment, the core element of the East Africa Response Force, load gear onto a C-130 Hercules during a response force training exercise on November 8th, 2013 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

US Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment, the core element of the East Africa Response Force, load gear onto a C-130 Hercules during a response force training exercise on November 8th, 2013 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

In addition, the US deployed elements of the relatively new East Africa Response Force (EARF), a joint task force co-located with Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti, to provide additional physical security for diplomatic facilities.  Currently, the core element of the EARF is the US Army’s 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment.  The battalion is assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.  In 2012, it was announced that 2/1st Infantry would be aligned with US Africa Command (AFRICOM) as part of a new initiative to align US-based brigade combat teams on a rotating basis with geographic component commands.  2/1st Infantry was the first brigade combat team to be so aligned and 1-63d Armor was the first unit from the brigade to deploy in support of this new mission.  The EARF conducted a readiness exercise in November, simulating response to a contingency at an embassy in the region.  Response to such a scenario has become a major focus of regional planning following the events at the US consulate in Benghazi in September 2012.

Correction (12/23/13): By December 14th, 1-63d Armor had in fact conducted a relief in place transfer of authority with 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, also part of 2/1st Infantry.  It was soldiers from 1-18th Infantry that formed the core of the EARF when elements were deployed to South Sudan.