Tag Archives: Djibouti

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.

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 Forces Train for Search and Rescue in East Africa

On January 12th, elements of the US Army’s East Africa Response Force (EARF) and US Air Force expeditionary rescue squadrons conducted a joint training exercise at the Grand Bara Range in Djibouti.  The soldiers for 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, the current force provider for the EARF teamed up aircrews and pararescuemen from the 81st and 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons (ERQS) respectively.  All of these units are based at Camp Lemonnier, also in Djibouti.

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.

The exercise was designed to help Air Force personnel “maintain proficiency in advanced parachuting, rapid vehicle movement, infiltration and exfiltration” and give Army forces a chance to “[enhance] their skills in aircraft security measures.”  During the exercise, HC-130 aircraft from the 81st ERQS landed in the Grand Bara Range and deployed pararescuemen and EARF soldiers, the latter of which secured the landing zone.  Such a method could potentially be employed to rescue personnel should a US aircraft go down somewhere in the region.

A pararescuman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune's Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy's Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

A pararescueman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune’s Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

This search and rescue focused joint exercise follows another one held in Djibouti this past December.  During that exercise, called Neptune’s Falcon, personnel from the Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One – Forward teamed up with pararescuemen from the 82d ERQS and HH-60G helicopters from the 303d ERQS to train off the coast of Djibouti.  The 303d ERQS is also stationed at Camp Lemonnier, and together with the 81st and 82d ERQS make up the 449th Air Expeditionary Group.

These missions are more than just common scenarios as well.  In an attempt to rescue US and other foreign nationals from the South Sudanese town of Bor last year, CV-22s from the Air Force Special Operations Command took damage and were forced to abort the mission.  While the three aircraft made it safely to Entebbe in Uganda, there was of course the possibility the aircraft might not have made it and been forced down in a hostile area. Another example is that of the crash near Camp Lemonnier of an Air Force Special Operations Command U-28A in February 2012.  The aircraft had been returning from an intelligence gathering mission.

Nor are US operations limited to Camp Lemonnier or Entebbe.  US forces routinely operate from various locations in east Africa to conduct counterterrrorism operations and intelligence overflights, as well as training exercises.  On January 23rd, the Defense Logistics Agency announced a solicitation for a contract to provide “Petroleum Fuel Support For Various DoD Activities In Africa.”  This three year contract includes requirements to supply jet fuel to Camp Lemonnier and Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti, Arba Minch Airport in Ethiopia, and Manda Bay in Kenya.  DoD has requirements for the supply of other fuel types like regular gasoline and diesel fuels to other locations in Central African Republic, Niger, South Sudan, and the Island of Sao Tome (where the requirement is said to be in support of the operation a Voice of American radio relay station).

With this increased US engagement in Africa comes increased potential for both hostile activity and accidents, which would in turn require search and rescue operations.  It is likely that these sort of exercises will continue, especially in the near future with the current emphasis on rapidly deploying elements to and around the continent by air.

US Servicemen Wounded and Aircraft Damaged in Operations in South Sudan

United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has updated a press release with additional information about an attempt to rescue US citizens from the South Sudanese town of Bor today:

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The capital, Juba, as well as the cities of Akobo and Bor have been highlighted.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The capital, Juba, as well as Akobo and Bor in Jonglei state have been highlighted.

“At the request of the Department of State, the United States Africa Command, utilizing forces from Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), attempted to evacuate U.S. citizens from the town of Bor, South Sudan, today.  As the aircraft, three CV-22 Ospreys, were approaching the town they were fired on by small arms fire by unknown forces.  All three aircraft sustained damage during the engagement.  Four service members onboard the aircraft were wounded during the engagement.

The damaged aircraft diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the wounded were transferred onboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 and flown to Nairobi, Kenya for medical treatment.

All four service members were treated and are in stable condition.”

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.

This new release provides important detail and context for the operation, which was subsequently aborted after the aircraft began taking damage and injuries were sustained.  Most notably, the aircraft in question were “CV-22 Ospreys,” an important distinction that identifies these aircraft as CV-22B Osprey’s that are operated only by US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).  CV-22Bs joined the 7th Special Operations Squadron in June, which is part of the 352nd Special Operations Group, headquartered in England, the AFSOC component of Special Operations Command, Europe.  The aircraft were deployed to fill a gap left by the retirement of the MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopter from AFSOC in 2008.  The CV-22B has a certain history with operations in Africa, with its first operational deployment in 2008 being in support of the annual Flintlock special operations exercise in Mali.  There had also reportedly been a request for the deployment of the aircraft to East Africa to support efforts to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), codenamed Operation Observant Compass.  The release serves as a confirmation that the aircraft had been deployed to the region, though possibly only on a contingency basis in response to recent events.

Also of note is that the aircraft diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, a major hub for US operations in East Africa.  Entebbe has served as a launching site for intelligence aircraft, such as those flown as part of Operation Tusker Sand, as well as other air support for Operation Observant Compass.  As part of the efforts to help rapidly deploy peacekeepers in support of the African-led  International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) in CAR, the US also reportedly established a command and control team there.

Violence continues in South Sudan, where a coup attempt reported on Monday has resulted in an explosion of inter-communal violence between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.  President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, had blamed Riek Machar, a former Vice President and member of the Nuer ethnic group, of being behind the coup.  Machar denied being responsible, but has effectively gone into open rebellion against the government, which he says the Dinka have dominated.  Machar announced today that anti-government rebels were in control of oil-rich Unity state.  Yesterday, a UN facility in Akobo being operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) was attacked by local Nuer militia, resulting in the deaths of twenty civilians and two Indian peacekeepers.  The US and other countries have been working to evacuate their nationals and others and the UN has been looking to safeguard tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the violence.  The US has also deployed troops from the East Africa Task Force in Djibouti indefinitely to protect diplomatic facilities.