Tag Archives: EARF

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 Senate Committee Releases Benghazi Review

Today, US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a redacted version of its review of attacks of US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya on the night of September 11th-12th, 2012.  The attacks led to the death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and other US personnel and has become a major point of domestic debate in the US.  The review takes a highly negative view of the response to the attack itself and to the aftermath by a number of federal agencies.

A low quality version of a briefing slide from November 2012 provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showing the distance of the most direct route from the temporary mission compound to the CIA annex compound in Benghazi, Libya.

A low quality reproduction of a briefing slide from November 2012 provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showing the distance of the most direct route from the temporary mission compound to the CIA annex compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The review, available in full here at Codebook: Africa, includes fourteen individual findings and subsequent recommendations that touch on issues regarding intelligence gathering, force protection, response to attacks on diplomatic facilities, interagency cooperation, and more.  The review also analyzes the unclassified talking points on the attacks provided to  House and Senate intelligence committees in the wake of the attacks.  These talking points have been a divisive issue in the domestic debate.  Additional “views” provided by the Committee’s majority, which noted that they felt the attacks were in their opinion “likely preventable” given the evidence gathered,  and specific Senators are also provided.  These include a serious criticism of General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the attack, who remains in that post.  The State Department was also soundly criticized for its actions at the time and what members of the Committee described as a lack of cooperation and accountability during the review process.

It is worth noting that even before this review, both the US Department of Defense and Department of State had already been reviewing and changing elements of their force protection policies and crisis response capabilities.  On the military side, the US Marine Corps was directed to expanded its Marine security guard elements and activated a Marine Security Augmentation Unit (MSAU) at Marine Corps Base Quantico, which could provide additional personnel to embassies in need.  The US Marine Corps also activated Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), currently station in Rota, Spain, to provide a rapid response capability for diplomatic facilities in need in the region.  The US Army also directed the activation of crisis response force elements around the world, including the East Africa Response Force (EARF) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.  Both SPMAGTF-CR and the EARF have deployed in response to the recent crisis in South Sudan, where they bolstered embassy security and helped evacuate US citizens and other foreign nationals.

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.

Push for Talks in South Sudan

The African Union today called on the parties in South Sudan to cease fighting and engage in talks to prevent an all out civil war in the country.  The United States also said a political solution may be a possibility.  South Sudan has seen an explosion of inter-communal violence since the government reportedly defeated an attempted coup at the beginning of last week.  Members of the majority Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups have since engaged in open conflict against each other and against international forces in the country.  Anti-government Nuer rebels have since claimed total control over the oil-rich Unity state and Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.  South Sudanese government troops are reportedly massing for an assault to reclaim Bor.

A map released by the European Commission of the crisis in South Sudan as of December 20th, 2013

A map released by the European Commission of the crisis in South Sudan as of December 20th, 2013

The fighting, which along with what has been happening in neighboring Central African Republic, has led to fears of a repeat of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, has exposed major issues in the world’s youngest nation.  President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group blamed Riek Machar, a one-time partner in the fight against the Sudanese government and former Vice President.  Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, denied any involvement, saying that President Kiir was seeking to inflame ethnic tension.  Machar has, however, expressed tacit support for the Nuer rebellion.  In addition to claiming control over Unity state and Bor, reported Nuer militiamen also attacked a facility operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) last week, killing UN peacekeepers and civilians fleeing the violence.  US CV-22B Osprey aircraft attempting a rescue of US nationals in Bor last week were also fired upon, leading to the operation being scrapped and four US servicemen being wounded.

MV-22B Ospreys from  Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 at Moron Air Base, Spain, after having arrived to join Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response.

MV-22B Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 at Moron Air Base, Spain, after having arrived to join Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response earlier this year.

Despite the push for talks, the continuing violence has reportedly led the commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to reposition forces within East Africa.  Most notably, this involved the movement of elements of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) from Moron, Spain to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.  The mission into Bor last week was flown from Djibouti by members of the East Africa Response Force (EARF).  Both SPMAGTF-CR and the EARF are products of a review of crisis response capabilities that came after the attack on the US consulate and associated facilities in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012.  The aircraft flown to Bor were then diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, another hub for US operations in the region, after the mission was aborted.  The wounded servicemen were then flown to Nairobi, Kenya by C-17 for medical treatment.  It was also reported today that three of the four individuals would be medically evacuated to Landstuhl Army Hospital, in Germany.  The fourth would be moved as soon as his condition stabilized.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also suggested reinforcing UNMISS, which currently has almost seven thousand personnel in South Sudan.

Quick Correction Regarding the East Africa Response Force

There had been a mistake regarding the makeup of the East African Response Force (EARF) when this had been discussed here on the 18th.  While news outlets had mentioned that 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division had deployed earlier in the year, it was in fact 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment that formed the core of the EARF when elements deployed to South Sudan.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Magee and U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Reiss uncase the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division battalion colors during a transfer of authority ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 14, 2013.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Magee and U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Reiss uncase the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division battalion colors during a transfer of authority ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 14, 2013.

In the spring, 1-63d Armor had deployed to Djibouti as part of the formation of the rotational EARF as the first battalion to deploy in support of the new mission.  2/1st Infantry is aligned with US Africa Command (AFRICOM) currently.  On December 14th, a ceremony was held to mark the relief in place transfer of authority between 1-63d Armor and 1-18th Infantry, which is also part of 2/1st Infantry.

A correction has also been appended to the original story here on Codebook: Africa.

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.

Violence Continues in CAR and South Sudan

Yesterday, the United Nations reported that a facility in Akobo, South Sudan operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) was attacked by unknown assailants.  Today, the UN confirmed that an estimated two thousand individuals, believed to be from the Lour Nuer ethnic group, attacked the facility where civilians from the Dinka ethnic group had been sheltering.  Some thirty-four thousand civilians are believed to be seeking shelter from the violence at UNMISS facilities in the country.  Twenty civilians and two Indian peacekeepers were killed in the attack.  The UN condemned the attack.  United States President Obama also described the situation in the country yesterday by saying that “South Sudan stands at the precipice.”  The US has deployed troops from the East Africa Task Force to bolster security at diplomatic facilities in the country and has already been working to evacuate foreign nationals, as have other nations.

Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint task force, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan on December 18th, 2013.

Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint task force, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan on December 18th, 2013.

The attack is among the more serious incidents following a surge of inter-communal violence that followed the announcement on December 16th that the government had defeated a coup.  President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, subsequently blamed former Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, as being behind the coup.  On again-off again partners in the rebel campaign against the Sudanese government, Kiir and Machar subsequently had a falling out over allegations of Dinka domination of the now independent country’s political and other institutions.  Machar has continued to deny involvement in any coup attempt and suggested that Kiir is attempting to turn him into a scapegoat to distract from various issues the country is experiencing.  Today, Machar suggested, however, that rebellion was afoot and that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the national army of the country, had become “fed up” with President Kiir.

The UN also warned today the continued violence in Central African Republic threatens to create a humanitarian crisis in the country.  Thousands have been reported killed and an estimated seven hundred and fifty thousand people are believed to have been displaced in inter-communal fighting between nominally Muslim and Christian militias.

Burundi soldiers gather their gear at the Bangui Airport, Central Africa Republic on December 13th, 2013, after having arrived in a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport.

Burundi soldiers gather their gear at the Bangui Airport, Central Africa Republic on December 13th, 2013, after having arrived in a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport.

The violence spiked at the beginning of the month after attacks in the capital Bangui by forces reportedly loyal to former President Francois Bozize.  Bozize was ousted by current President Michel Djotodia in March after Djotodia’s Seleka rebel movement marched on the capital.  Djotodia subsequently ordered the Seleka movement disbanded, but former rebels continued to operate in various areas, including much of the capital’s suburbs and the security situation rapidly deteriorated.  So called anti-balaka militias were formed in various communities to defend against the activities of the ex-Seleka rebels and violence steadily increased, leading to a French intervention, Operation Sangaris, and the expansion of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) in the country.

The African Union’s MISCA peacekeeping operation formally took over from the previous AU mission, Peace and Consolidation Mission in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX), today.  MISCA and the French operation are currently operating with a UN mandate.   The US had been working to support MISCA by helping to rapidly deploy African peacekeepers from Burundi.  Today, the US completed this operation, which involved the deployment of a full Burundian light infantry battalion and associated equipment to CAR.  French President Francois Hollande has also said that the European Union is considering launching a peacekeeping effort in the country next month.