Tag Archives: Niger

African Security Cooperation Updates

It has already been noted here that this year’s iteration of the annual Flintlock exercise is underway in Niger. The exercise began this year on February 19th, and is scheduled to end this Sunday, March 9th. The significance of Niger as this year’s host has already been mentioned.

A member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment instructs members of Niger's 22nd Battalion during Exercise Flintlock 2014.

A member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment instructs members of Niger’s 22nd Battalion during Exercise Flintlock 2014.

An official US Africa Command (AFRICOM) piece on the exercise that appeared on their website yesterday has some additional items worth noting. The first is highlighting the aerial resupply portion of the training. AFRICOM, and US European Command (EUCOM) before them, have both spent considerable effort in developing this capability for African forces. AFRICOM run an annual exercise, Atlas Accord, specifically focused on this capability. Atlas Accord replaced a previous annual exercise, Atlas Drop, in 2012. EUCOM had started Atlas Drop in 1996.

The belief is that aerial resupply may be the answer to the problem of conducting sustained operations for many African nations. Most African militaries lack a robust logistics arrangement, meaning that their forces are limited in how far away from their base they can operate and for how long. This is especially true of many militaries in Africa’s Sahel region, which has historically been referred to by the US government as an “ungoverned space.” Aerial resupply can also help in the rapid distribution of humanitarian assistance following natural disasters or in other times of need, such as during droughts.

By integrating this component into Flintlock, it frees up resources to host Atlas Accord elsewhere on the continent. In 2012, Atlas Accord was held in Mali, where the annual Flintlock exercise was to be held, but was canceled. Last year’s Atlas Accord exercise was held in Nigeria.

Its also worth noting the international participants in this year’s Flintlock exercise. While the African nations participating in the exercise change relatively little from year to year, the US has been inviting more nations from outside Africa to participate in recent years. From the AFRICOM news piece, we can see that Spanish and Canadian special operations forces are participating this year. Both of these nations also participated in the 2011 Flintlock exercise.

In other news, the North Dakota National Guard announced that it was expanding in its participation in the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP). Since 1993, State National Guards in the United States have formed bilateral relationships with foreign militaries as part of the SPP. Training exchanges are intended to benefit both sides and provide a continuity of relationship that might not necessarily be found in other arrangements. North Dakota’s National Guard has an existing history with Africa, beginning its first SPP partnership in 2004 with Ghana. The North Dakota Guard will not also be a partner with the armed forces of Togo and Benin. State Guards now partner with ten countries in the AFRICOM area of responsibility.

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Flintlock 2014 Begins in Niger

This year’s iteration of the annual Flintlock special operations exercise began yesterday in Niger.  The annual exercise, directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sponsored by US Africa Command, and run by Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara, is an important component of US counter-terrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region.  This region stretches the length of the continent, dividing North Africa from sub-Saharan Africa.

Malian soldiers conduct fast rope operations out of a MH-47 Chinook helicopter from the US Army's 160th  Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne) in Bamako, Mali on 18 May 2010 as part of Flintlock 2010.

Malian soldiers conduct fast rope operations out of a MH-47 Chinook helicopter from the US Army’s 160th Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne) in Bamako, Mali on 18 May 2010 as part of Flintlock 2010.

Though the participants have not yet been named, reports indicate that one thousand personnel from eighteen countries will take part.  This is four more than took part in last year’s exercise, hosted by Mauritania.

That the exercise this year is being held in Niger is unsurprising.  The country borders Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Nigeria, all of which are currently battling major terrorist groups. As a result Niger has recently become a major partner with the US and French militaries, both of whom are conducting drone operations from a base adjacent to the airport in the capital Niamey.  This year’s Flintlock is another indicator of increasing concerns about terrorist groups in the region.

You can read more about this in an article I wrote today for War is Boring.

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.

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.

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.

Question Remain about French Hostage Release

Yesterday, the French announced that Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand, and Marc Feret, employees of the French nuclear company Areva who had been taken by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on 16 September 2010 at a uranium mine near Arlit in Niger, had been released.  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius flew back to Paris from Niamey with the hostages today, where they were greeted by French President Francois Hollande, who then made some remarks.  President Hollande did mention that France is still working on the release of at least seven other hostages, including three in North Africa.

When it was announced on Tuesday, France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the release had been secured without the use of military force and without the payment of a ransom.  However, AFP subsequently reported that a ransom of 20 million euros, drawn from a secret intelligence service fund, may have been paid.  French authorities deny this, but no significant details about the negotiations have been provided.  The original AFP wire note on this appears to be available only in French, but does not name the source of the information.

This release of French hostages comes well after the French made an abortive attempt to free DGSE agent Denis Allex in January.  The rescue operation, conducted with US support, failed to free Allex, who was either killed during the operation or by his captors afterwards.  A major embarrassment for the French government, the experience in January may have played a role in the handling of this situation.