Tag Archives: NEO

Pentagon Helps Out As Americans Evacuate Libya

Over the weekend, the United States decided to close out their embassy in Tripoli, Libya. The remaining personnel were then taken by truck convoy overland to Tunisia. The Pentagon helped escort the vehicles on their five hour journey. I wrote a short piece on the operation for War is Boring as details were still unfolding, but most of the informed speculation turned out to be correct.

MV-22B Ospreys from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response sit on the ramp at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy as Task Force Tripoli prepares to depart for a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation in the early hours of 26 July 2014.

MV-22B Ospreys from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response sit on the ramp at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy as Task Force Tripoli prepares to depart for a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation in the early hours of 26 July 2014.

The force for this Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) consisted of an airborne quick reaction force provided by Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), three F-16 fighters, and an unspecified number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets.

The SPMAGTF-CR contingent, reportedly called Task Force Tripoli, consisted of twenty-four troops in two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotors, supported by KC-130J Hercules tankers. This task force should not be confused with the Marine task force that took part in the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Back in May, the Marines had been forward deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy for just this sort of contingency. SPMAGTF-CR was created in the aftermath of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 for exactly these sort of operations. The Marines shadowed the convoy in order to respond to any attacks. Some eighty additional armed Marines were in the vehicles as part of the embassy contingent, which totaled over one hundred and fifty people. The Marines were likely Embassy Security Guards and members of Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams (FAST).

Less information is available on the F-16s and ISR assets. The F-16s reportedly flew from Aviano Air Base in Italy. The aircraft were likely from one of the squadrons of the 31st Fighter Wing based there. The jets also received support from KC-135R tankers, no doubt also operating from USAF bases in Europe. An unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles – which could include the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, or RQ-4 Global Hawk – also kept an eye over the entire operation. The USAF has unmanned ISR platforms based in Europe and in neighboring Niger. There has also been an eyewitness image of a Navy EP-3E spy plane, likely from US Sixth Fleet, flying over Tripoli during the operation.

The Department of State has described the evacuation as a “temporary staff relocation” and said repeatedly that it hopes to return to Libya at the earliest possible convenience. However, the embassy in Tripoli had already been working with a reduced staff after the 2012 Benghazi incident. Libya has been wracked by violence since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with the central government exercising little, if any control over a plethora of militias. Islamist terrorist groups have also taken advantage of the instability in the country.

Recently, militia infighting forced the closure of Tripoli’s airport and destroyed almost a dozen planes on the tarmac. This skirmish no doubt influenced the decision to close the diplomatic mission. Separately, militias allied with General Khalifa Hifter have essentially laid siege to Benghazi in hopes of routing Ansar al-Sharia, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  There is no clear end to the violence in sight.

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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.

Is the US Planning an Intervention into CAR?

UPDATE: Major Robert Firman, USAF, a public affairs spokesman at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, told Stars and Stripes on December 11th that “The U.S. military already has security and logistics personnel in Bangui to help unload the C-17s when they arrive,” but that the “current U.S. military footprint in the CAR is ‘very, very small.”  It is not clear whether these announcements, which required respondents to present proposals by no later than December 13th, this Friday, are potentially to support the activities of this limited element already in CAR.  No further details were provided about the size or structure of this element either.

Today [December 10th], the Regional Contracting Office Africa, part of the 414th Contracting Support Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, issued one Requests for Information (RFI) and two Sources Sought Synopses (SSS) specifically relating to Central African Republic.  It is immediately important to acknowledge, as noted in the announcements, that RFI and SSS are not solicitations.  Whatever planning process led to these announcements may never get any further than this.

Map of Central Africa Republic

Map of Central African Republic

Still, the RFI remains particularly interesting in that it alludes specifically to the potential for US military personnel to be conducting operations in and around CAR’s capital, Bangui in the near future.  Currently, the US has only acknowledged planned airlift support for the deployment of African peacekeepers and monetary support for the peacekeeping mission. RFI W56PFY-14-G-9999, titled “Potable Bottled Water in Central Africa Republic, Africa” has four detailed requirements.  Number one is:

1. Provide potable bottle water delivery to U.S. Military personnel in Central Africa Republic.

Both this RFI and the one for SSS, W56PFY-14-Q-9999, which is for “French and Sangho Language Interpreters,” name the place of performance for such proposed work as being in and around Bangui.  The last SSS, W56PFY-14-Q-9998, for “Rental Vehicles for Central African Republic, Africa,” does not specifically note a place of performance in CAR.  It does however list the vehicles that would be sought should a formal solicitation be issued:

“[including but] not limited to; 5 and 7 passenger SUV’s, 4 passenger Pick-up Truck, 10 passenger Van, 4 door Sedan and Busses [sic].”

The requirements only for bottled water and no other similar supplies and for vehicles including passenger vans and buses suggest that this might be part of planning for a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO).  Another possibility might be a proposed, and very limited humanitarian aid operation.  As CAR continues to experience greater instability and violence either one of these scenarios seem broadly reasonable.

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.

In addition, depending on how many individuals would have to be evacuated, an NEO in CAR could also be a good opportunity to test the capabilities of US Africa Command’s new Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), which was created in response to the events in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012.  Currently based in Spain, SPMAGTF-CR has both KC-130J Hercules and MV-22B Osprey aircraft.  The unit participated in two training events in November. The first involved a long range flight from Spain to Senegal, during which SPMATF-CR’s Osprey’s helped deploy Marines assigned to AFRICOM’s other SPMAGTF, SPMAGTF – Africa, for a training engagement there.  The second was conducted in Spain with other Marine units and involved “practicing…procedures to evacuate personnel from a notional embassy.”