Tag Archives: Operation Echo Casemate

UN Security Council Approves Peacekeeping Force for CAR

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2149, which approves the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force in Central African Republic. The resolution provides for a force of approximately twelve thousand personnel under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, including some ten thousand troops and almost two thousand police. The crisis in CAR has left thousands dead, displaced almost seven hundred thousand people internally, and forced almost three hundred thousand to flee the country. The UN estimates that over two million people, approximately half of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

The decision comes as the African Union’s African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA), support by French forces, continues to struggle with violence in the country. MISCA, which is already operating with a UN mandate, had some six-thousand personnel at the beginning of last week. Last Friday, Chadian forces pulled out of the country following clashes in the capital Bangui in which ten people were killed. Chadian troops claimed they were acting in self defense, but other reports suggested they had fired indiscriminately into a crowd. This is not the first time Chadian peacekeepers have been involved in questionable incidents or had been accused of complicity with ex-Seleka rebels. The loss of the eight-hundred and fifty-man contingent was a significant blow to MISCA.

MISCA is scheduled to turn over responsibility for peacekeeping to the new UN force, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), by 15 September 2014. There is no word yet what countries might step forward to provide MINUSCA with the additional forces it requires. Many African nations are already participating in the effort, as well as efforts elsewhere. France, who has been a major contributor to peacekeeping efforts on the continent and who has been in CAR since the beginning of the year as part of their Operation Sangaris, has had only limited success in rallying the rest of the European Union to contribute forces. In January, the EU approved the deployment of a small five-hundred strong force to the country. The force, dubbed EUFOR RCA (EU Force République Centrafricaine) was eventually expanded to one thousand personnel, but was delayed and only arrived in the country last week.

The United States has also supported the efforts in CAR, as part of Operation Echo Casemate. However, so far this support has been limited to logistical support and the airlifting of additional African peacekeeping forces. The US will likely continue to provide this support to the expanded UN mission, but there is no indication that any American troops will deploy to the country to take a more active part in the peacekeeping mission.

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Marines Start New Rotation of SPMAGTF-Africa

On January 8th, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment arrived in Italy to assume their role as the latest rotation of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Africa (SPMAGTF-Africa).  SPMAGTF-Africa is a security cooperation element assigned to US Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MARFORAF).  It works with US partners in Africa and regional organizations to help develop security force capabilities and otherwise help those entities counter various threats on the continent.  Developing professional security forces is also seen by the US military as a means to promoting good governance and national development.

A KC-130T Hercules carrying Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 takes off from NAS Sigonella on route to a security cooperation engagement in Burundi on February 16, 2013.

A KC-130T Hercules carrying Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 takes off from NAS Sigonella on route to a security cooperation engagement in Burundi on February 16, 2013.

SPMAGTF-Africa was originally established in the summer of 2011 from numerous Marine Corps Forces Reserve units, and eventually came to consist of almost two hundred personnel.  Forward deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy, where the unit remains stationed today, the task force had the ability to self-deploy with two assigned KC-130T aircraft.  These aircraft also gave the task force a limited crisis response capability.

Initially known as SPMAGTF-12, because the planned first deployment would come in 2012, the unit subsequently deployed Theater Security Cooperation Teams to numerous Africa nations that year to help assist in the development of those countries’ security forces.  In total, two groups of reserve Marines rotated through the unit in 2012.  This was followed by two more in 2013.  In 2013, members of SPMAGTF-Africa were called upon to support the airlift of Burundian Army personnel to Central African Republic in support of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) there.  The Marines were already in Burundi helping to train military logistics elements in that country before being called upon to help with Operation Echo Casemate.

This new SPMAGTF-Africa rotation for the task force is notable in that it is the first to involve active component Marines.  All previous rotations had been made up of reserve component Marines.  As the US draws down in Afghanistan, Marine Corps units are more free for assignment to rotational task forces like SPMAGTF-Africa, SPMAGTF-Crisis Response, and the rotational element now deployed to Australia.  SPMAGTF-Africa provided the model for these new task forces and will continue to play an important part in ongoing US military engagement with partners in Africa.

US Military Continues to Support Peacekeepers in CAR

The US is continuing efforts to support for French forces and the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) in Central Africa Republic.  Today, US Army Africa (USARAF) announced that it had just completed the deployment of a contingent of French forces in support of that country’s intervention in CAR, codenamed Operation Sangaris.  Yesterday, it was also announced that over the next twenty days, a battalion of peacekeepers from the Rwandan Defense Forces would be airlifted into CAR’s capital, Bangui.  Peacekeeping forces have been struggling to maintain order in Bangui and elsewhere as the country’s violent crisis continues.  The recent resignation of the country’s interim president and the appointment of a new one has had certain positive effects, but the UN describes the security situation in the country, where almost a million remain displaced, as “calm but unpredictable.”  The UN also reported yesterday that only six percent of its appeal for almost two hundred and fifty million US dollars in humanitarian aid had been funded.  The UN says it needs that funding to prevent a ease what it describes as “mega-tragedy” in CAR.

USAF personnel unload equipment belonging to SETAF's Headquarters Support Company from a C-130 aircraft in Central African Republic's capital Bangui on December 20th, 2013.

USAF personnel unload equipment belonging to SETAF’s Headquarters Support Company from a C-130 aircraft in Central African Republic’s capital Bangui on December 20th, 2013.

The involvement of USARAF began with little fanfare in mid-December 2013.  Since December, USARAF has taken on the role of coordinating the efforts between the US military services (including Special Operations Command Africa), the French, and African nations contributing to MISCA.  This included participation in the airlift of Burundian peacekeepers last year, codenamed Operation Echo Casemate, which the US Department of Defense announced had been concluded on December 30th.  It is unclear whether these continuing operations are part of Operation Echo Casemate or a new named operation.

The US Army Africa Forward Command Element, seen here being demonstrated in 2012, is a self-contained, mobile command post capable of worldwide communications and can deploy within 72 hours.

The US Army Africa Forward Command Element, a portion of which is seen here being demonstrated in 2012, is a self-contained, mobile command post capable of worldwide communications and can deploy within 72 hours.

Also, as part of the initial effort in December, C-130s of the US Air Force’s 37th Airlift Squadron deployed Army elements, including personnel and equipment from the Southern European Task Force’s (SETAF) Headquarters Support Company.  When US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created, SETAF was designated as the US Army component for the new command, with the SETAF commander also being designated as the USARAF commander.  Though unconfirmed, it is likely that the US Army elements in Bangui have made use at least in part of USARAF’s rapidly deployable command post capabilities.  In 2011, USARAF gained an Early Entry Command Post (EECP) capability, and in 2012 gained a rapidly deployable Forward Command Post (FCP) capability, specifically intended for rapid deployment via C-130 in response to crises in its area of responsibility.  USARAF is currently conducting its efforts from a Current Operations Information Center (COIC), but the location of this is unclear.  It is very possible that this operations center is at the Command’s headquarters in Vicenza, Italy, while forward command elements are deployed to Bangui and possibly elsewhere.

Since the beginning of 2013, the US has found itself well equipped and positioned to assist in the rapid deployment of French and African peacekeepers into first Mali, and now into CAR.  The US has focused on providing this sort of logistics assistance rather than on providing forces to contribute directly to the mission on the ground in these countries.  Even with regards to the crisis in South Sudan, deployed US forces have focused mostly on evacuating US and other foreign nationals and protecting diplomatic facilities.

CAR’s Djotodia Steps Down

Update (1/10/14): ECCAS has formally announced the resignation of President Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengaye.  CAR’s National Transitional Council (CNT), which has been flown in its entirety to Chad, will now be required to decide on a new leader ahead of elections planned for later this year.  The CNT had elected Djotodia last April, following the ouster of President Bozize.

Sources have reported that there is a possibility that Central African Republic’s President Michel Djotodia may agree to step down as part of efforts to end the current crisis in that country.  This comes as central African leaders belonging to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) bloc meet in the capital of Chad, Ndjamena, to discuss the crisis.  CAR presidential spokesman Guy-Simplice Kodegue has denied that the summit has anything to do with a possible leadership change.  Djotodia has promised to hold elections in the future and to not stand in said elections, but it is unclear who would likely stand in such elections.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

Djotodia assumed the presidency in March of last year after his Seleka rebel group ousted former President Francois Bozize.  Djotodia subsequently declared the group disbanded, but former Seleka rebels continued to commit acts of violence and criminality across the country, including in the suburbs of the capital Bangui.  Tensions between the nominally Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and nominally Christian village militias, broadly referred to as anti-balaka, reached a crisis point this past December.  Djotodia has continually blamed inter-communal violence on elements loyal to Bozize and said that any violence committed by elements loyal to him is a natural response to the injustices of the previous administration.

However, the resulting fighting prompted a French intervention, Operation Sangaris, to support African Union peacekeepers.  The US also provided support to rapidly reinforce the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), codenamed Operation Echo Casemate.  This operation primarily involved the airlift of a Burundian Army light infantry battalion and its associated equipment to CAR.

Observers warn that forcing Djotodia to give up the presidency would not necessarily fix the problems in the country and the United Nations warned today that inter-communal violence is a “long-term danger.”   The UN estimates that thousands have died in the fighting, that almost a million have been driven from their homes, and that over two million are in need of humanitarian assistance.