Tag Archives: Mali

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.

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Security Assistance News from the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea, and North Africa

Providing assistance to national security forces has long been one of the key elements of international assistance to developing nations broadly.  The basic concept is that professional militaries and police forces can help instill a sense of confidence in governments, making them more stable as a result.  The stability in turn promotes development in other areas.  Essentially, more security equals more stability, when in turn equals more development.

Libya

This is definitely the goal behind the announcement last year to work on the development of a so-called “General Purpose Force” in Libya, where the central government has been largely ineffectual following the ouster and killing of the country’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.  The various militias in the country that helped overthrow the previous regime continue to hold significant power, especially at the local level, and act with relatively impunity.  In addition, the lack of a functional national security apparatus has meant that much of the country has slipped into what might be described as an under-governed state.  Concerns about terrorists using these regions to establish bases of operation have been voiced by Libya’s neighbors, as well as partners farther afield.

Last week, Libya’s interm Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that almost eight hundred personnel had either been sent to Europe recently or were on their way as part of the new General Purpose Force effort.  Four hundred had already deployed to Turkey, and another four hundred were to go soon to Italy.  Another four hundred are scheduled to eventually travel to Britain.  In total, some eight thousand Libyan personnel are expected to go through twenty-four week training programs in Europe, with additional support provided by the United States.  Zidan also said that there are currently some five thousand Libyan personnel around the world receiving training.  Countries providing training for Libyan forces were said to include Algeria, Britain, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States.

Gulf of Guinea

Also last week, Maritime professionals from West Africa, Europe, South America, and the United States met in Lagos, Nigeria to finalize the exercise plan for this year’s iteration of Obangame Express, a US maritime cooperation exercise held in the Gulf of Guinea.  Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey, and the United States will participate in Obangame Express 14, which is the fourth iteration of this exercise.

The exercise is designed to help improve regional capabilities to deter piracy and drug smuggling, as well as other maritime contingencies.  As the threat of piracy has reduced in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, attention to the problem has turned to the Gulf of Guinea, where it remains a serious issue.  Last November, the were reports of a proposal to base US Marines afloat to help address the problem.

Somalia

Today, the German government announced its intention to contribute troops to the European Union training mission in Somalia.  Germany had previously been involved in the training of Somali security forces when the EU mission was located in Uganda.  When the EU moved the operation to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu last May, the Germans dropped out of the program, citing the increased risk of operating there.  The EU had relocated the program as a gesture meant to affirm its support for the central government in Somalia.

Germany, which has some five thousand personnel taking part in nine international missions, has been urged recently by other European powers, notably France, to become more involved in such efforts.  The bulk of Germany’s international commitment is its three thousand personnel in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.  Last week, Germany also announced it would be increasing the size of its contribution to international peacekeeping efforts in Mali.

These announcements potentially signal a change in German foreign policy, which has since the end of the Second World War traditionally been inclined to avoid international commitments where there is a significant potential for violence and casualties.  This month, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said earlier this month that “Germany, with all its diplomatic, military and aid capacity cannot stand by when its help is needed”.  Steinmeier is a member of the country’s Social Democrat party, which entered into coalition with the conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.  It has been suggested that this new coalition has been instrumental in these changes in German foreign policy.

Nigerien Minister Suggests France, US Should Intervene Again in Libya

In an interview with Radio France Internationale broadcast today, Nigerien Interior Minister suggested that France and the US should consider an intervention into Libya to address terrorism in that country’s southern region.  Massoudou Hassoumi said southern Libya had become “an incubator for terrorist groups” and that the countries who supported the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi should “provide an after-sales service.”

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Since the ouster and execution of Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has suffered from chronic instability as various militias continue to operate with impunity.  The US, France, and other countries provided materiel support to various armed opposition factions, along with a sustained air campaign that allowed them to take control of the country.  The new central government has largely failed in its attempts to get these factions under control.  For instance, four Egyptian diplomats were abducted last week in what was said to be a reprisal for government action against a prominent militia leader.

Terrorism is indeed a growing threat in Libya.  The US Department of State designated two groups in Libya as both Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) last month.  Militant groups have also looted Libya for weapons, with man-portable surface-to-air missiles being among the weapons thought to have been taken. Efforts to train Libya’s national security forces to respond to these threats are scheduled to begin this year.

The potential threats posed by absence of government control in Libya is well known.  Tuareg insurgents in Mali were originally located in Libya and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have also used Libyan territory as a staging ground for attacks in neighboring countries. Niger has already been involved in increasing international precense to counter such activities in the region.  Both the US and France conduct drone reconnaissance operations from the country.

However, the US so far has declined to deploy significant numbers of troops to the region, preferring to support other countries and otherwise rely on unmanned aerial vehicles and special operations forces to conduct raids on isolated targets.  France is also finding its military strained by interventions in Africa, despite having a clear interest in expanding its ability to respond to threats on the continent.  Its primary focus has shifted to Central African Republic, with the hope that other European nations will be able to assist in countries like Mali.  The Netherlands recently began deploying peacekeepers to that country, and Germany announced today that it would look to increase its training mission there.

France to Reorganize Forces in Africa

The Associated Press reported today that France may look to dramatically restructure its military presence in Africa to be better suited to respond to regional contingencies.  Since the beginning of 2013, France has flexed its military muscles with interventions in Mali and Central African Republic.  Last year, the chief of France’s defense staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, also suggested that French forces on the continent should be allowed to more readily pursue terrorists, especially in the Sahel region.

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in describing the plan that the number of French forces based in Africa would be unchanged, but that they would be postured differently.  France’s force in the Sahel region will number approximately three thousand personnel.  Under the new posture, Abidjan, the capital of Cote d’Ivoire, would become the primary entry point and logistics hub for French forces.  Chad’s capital N’Djamena would become a hub for French air operations, while the capital of Niger, Niamey, would be used as a primary staging point for unmanned intelligence gathering flights.

These changes seem reasonable in light of the French experience in their recent interventions.  Foreign air support and logistical assistance were critical in getting both Operation Serval and Operation Sangaris going.  The importance of air power in theater was visible in both of these operations as French forces conducted an airborne assault in Mali in January 2013 and have already deployed a significant air component to Chad in support of operations in CAR.  Unmanned surveillance in the Sahel is also critical given the absence of government control in many places, which has in the past been referred to as an “under-governed space.”  Establishing a force in Niamey makes good sense as the US also recently established an unmanned surveillance mission there.

However, if France is not intending to increase the size of its overall force on the continent, one must wonder what the end result of the restructuring will be.  Though billed as a solo-effort, France’s incursion into Mali would have been impossible without airlift capabilities supplied by the US, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, among others.  France also lacked the aerial refueling capability for sustained air operations, again relying on the US.  The US continues to provide logistical assistance to the French in both Mali and CAR.  France’s current force on the continent has clearly been strained, leading them to pull elements out of Kosovo to reinforce their operations in Africa, and the country has continually lobbied for assistance from other European powers.  The Dutch recently began deploying to Mali to ease the strain on French forces there and the EU just approved a peacekeeping mission for CAR.  Without an increased and permanent commitment or an increase in capability broadly, the revised French may not necessarily help them respond any faster or more efficiently to future contingencies.

Dutch Deploy to Mali as French Plan to Withdraw

President Francois Hollande announced on Wednesday that France would be reducing its force in Mali, which currently stands at approximately twenty-five hundred personnel.  France had deployed thousands of troops at the peak of its intervention, Operation Serval, which began in January 2013.  France is now looking to reduce its contribution in the country down to some sixteen hundred individuals by the middle of next month.

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013.

The French are hoping to shift some of the burden onto other nations contributing forces to the UN mission in the country, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  Among these contributors are the Dutch, who announced in November that they were planning on sending a contingent to the country.  In December, the Dutch parliament approved the deployment of a force of almost four hundred individuals and associated equipment in support of the MINUSMA mission.  The Dutch had previously assisted in the rapid deployment of French forces in the open phases of Operation Serval, along with other nations like the United States.  The US effort, codenamed Operation Juniper Micron, lasted well into last fall.

What is interesting about the Dutch deployment, which is scheduled to be completed by April, is its focus on improving intelligence capabilities.  MINUSMA has itself established an All Sources Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU) in the capital Bamako, to manage the flow of intelligence information to and from peacekeepers.  A need for greater intelligence has been a continuing issue for peacekeepers in Mali.  While international forces provide security in most large population centers and patrol Mali’s limited highway network, militants have continue to operate with a certain impunity outside of those areas, notably in the country’s sprawling and sparsely populated northern regions.  The lack of government presence in these areas has led them to have been referred to as ungoverned or under-governed spaces by the US in the past.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013.  This shows that at the time the area of operations for peacekeepers was limited almost entirely to Mali’s sparse road network.

To combat this, the French have recently begun deploying MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles to neighboring Niger, where the US also has a drone operation.  The French deployment is specifically focused on operations in Mali, while it is likely the US operation involved overflights there as well.  The US has been conducting intelligence overflights in the region for some time as part of operations like Creek Wind and Creek Sand.

A Fennek reconnaissance vehicle of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan

A Fennek reconnaissance vehicle of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

In this same vein, the Dutch contribution is centered around contingents from the Korps Commandotroepen (Commando Corps) and the Korps Mariniers (Marine Corps), with the primary mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance type missions.  These special operations forces type units will also look to seize and destroy arms caches and apprehend militants hiding in remote areas.  These units will be equipped with numerous light vehicles to support their mission, including the Fennek reconnaissance vehicle.  Also, the force will include four AH-64D Apache helicopters, again primarily to support reconnaissance efforts, but also capable of conducting show of force and fire support missions.  To help coordinate these efforts with the rest of MINUSMA, the Dutch will provide personnel to the ASIFU in Bamako.  A small contingent of military police to train Malian police and promote rule of law in the country round out the contingent.

An AH-64D Apache helicopter of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

An AH-64D Apache helicopter of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

Since the French intervention and subsequent establishment of MINUSMA last year, a certain calm has returned to Mali.  However, it remains to be seen whether the government and Tuareg rebels can reach an agreement on how to end their dispute.  The Tuareg insurgency is a significant part of the current crisis.  The other significant factor is Islamist militants, said to be linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  The leader of one of these groups, Mokhtar Belmokthar, who’s al-Mulathamun Battalion was recently declared a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US, released a new threat yesterday against the French in North Africa specifically over operations in Mali.  The Tuaregs and the Islamists have their own on-again off-again relationship, further complicating matters.  International forces have primarily focused on controlling Islamist groups rather than the Tuaregs.

France Looks to Cut Forces in Mali as Focus Shifts to C. Africa

France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made a visit yesterday to Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic.  France has approximately sixteen hundred personnel currently in CAR as part of Operation Sangaris and Le Drian praised their efforts.  He also reiterated that French forces were there to assist the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and would not take on any expanded role in the country.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

The visit to CAR follows a visit to Mali, where Le Drian announced that French forces there would be reduced to approximately one thousand personnel by March of this year. French forces are currently operating their as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  This past December, France also announced its intention to deploy MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles to Niger to assist operation Mali.  The first of these was reportedly deployed yesterday.  The US also has a unmanned aerial vehicle operation based in Niger.  Unlike American MQ-9s, French Reapers will not be armed.

An American MQ-9 Reaper returns to base after a mission in Afghanistan.  French Reapers will not be armed like this one.

An American MQ-9 Reaper returns to base after a mission in Afghanistan. French Reapers will not be armed like this one.

However, if the experience in Mali and the continuing violence in CAR are any indications, France may have a hard time keeping to Le Drian’s promises.  Though a certain status quo has been restored in Mali, significant points of contention remain between the country’s government, Tuareg nomads, and Islamists, some of whom are believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.  France had initially hoped to have departed from Mali in part or in total by as early as April 2013, and has since continually pushed back any significant reductions in the force there.  French forces have also been accused by both the Malian government and the Tuaregs of bias in the conflict.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

In CAR, African peacekeepers have similarly been accused of choosing sides and there is some dissatisfaction from nominally Christian anti-balaka militia with the failure of the French intervention to outright oust current President Michel Djotodia.  Two French soldiers were killed by anti-balaka militiamen in CAR last month.  While it remains to be seen whether French forces in CAR will be reinforced in the end, unlike with the intervention in Mali, no indication of a planned withdrawal timetable has yet been given.

France Weathers Criticism as it Looks to Disengage in Mali

France has been working steadily to establish and keep to a timetable for withdrawing the bulk of its forces from Mali and turn over responsibility to an African-led, UN-mandated peacekeeping force.  Currently, the French plan is reduce the size of their contingent in Mali to around one thousand personnel by spring of next year.  French forces are currently strained by a number of commitments, with forces being withdrawn from Kosovo as the country seeks to bolster its contingent in Central African Republic, where violence and lawlessness appear to be spiraling out of control.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

However, as France attempts this disengagement it finds itself fielding criticism from the Mali government and others, as well as having to face the realities of a security situation that has no entirely stabilized.  The situation in Mali has more accurately regressed in the second half of this year.  The ethnic Tuareg rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said at the end of November that it was ending its ceasefire with the government.  At the beginning of that month it had also been named among the groups working to form a new rebel coalition.  The MNLA had previously been in coalition with Arab Islamist groups, but had effectively ended this partnership following the signature of an interim peace agreement with the Malian government in June.

The peace negotiations between the Tuaregs and the Malian government are at the core of the criticism of French policy in the country, with both sides accusing the French of being ineffectual in their efforts to help the two sides come to an agreement. French policy has indeed appeared to be at best complex.  For instance, while French and Malian forces together wrested control of Kidal from rebels earlier in the year, the French also reportedly engaged with Tuaregs and the MNLA in operations against Islamist rebel groups.  According to Malian authorities, the French also sought to create a buffer between the Malian government and the MNLA by looking to keep Malian security forces out of Kidal.  Not only did this anger the Malian government, but also provided mixed signals to the MNLA, as France’s official policy was that the Tuaregs should drop their demands for autonomy and enter into negotiations with the central government.

Tensions between all three parties in Kidal, as well as elsewhere in the north, have been high.  Two French journalists were kidnapped and killed last month and the Malian government’s response to recent Tuareg protests being at the core of their decision to end their ceasefire.  In addition, the tensions come as Mali’s new government seeks to put the leader of the country’s 2012 coup and some of his associates on trial for various crimes including murder and kidnapping.  Reports today say that investigators in the case against General Amadou Sanogo found a mass grave with twenty-one bodies in it near the southern garrison town of Kati.  The bodies are believed to be those of so-called “red beret” soldiers, loyal to ousted President, who were then accused by then Captain Sanogo of plotting a counter-coup.

With all of this, as we now move into December it remains to be seen whether the French will have to extend their timetable for drawing down and ultimately withdrawing yet again.