Tag Archives: security force assistance

US Steps Up Support to Nigeria to Fight Boko Haram

The US has stepped up its support to the government of Nigeria this week. The driving factor has been the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls by the nebulous Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram, which has been waging a brutal campaign against the central government since 2009. This week President Obama dispatched an inter-agency team to Nigeria to help in efforts to locate and rescue the abductees. The sixty individuals in the team were reportedly from the US military, agencies of the Intelligence Community, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

US and Nigerian military personnel at the Kontagora Grandstand and Impact/Maneuver Area at the Nigerian Army Training Center

US and Nigerian military personnel at the Kontagora Grandstand and Impact/Maneuver Area at the Nigerian Army Training Center

On Friday, US Army Africa (USARAF) announced that the military members of the team would be working with personnel already at the US embassy in Abuja to train a battalion of Nigerian Army Rangers. USARAF said this would be the first time it would train Nigerian troops for “decisive action” against “a real threat.” The US has a long history of working with the Nigerian military, but this has generally been related to peacekeeping operations. You can read more about this in my recent piece on the announcement on War is Boring.

The twelve Army personnel, said to be a combination of Army Special Forces and Army National Guard general purpose forces, would run a recently formed 650-man Nigerian Army Ranger Battalion through a training course modeled on the US Army Ranger Course. No details were given as to which units the trainers would come from, but 3rd and 10th Special Forces Groups have an established history of conducting security assistance and foreign internal defense efforts in Africa. The California Army National Guard is also aligned with Nigeria through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. Military personnel are apparently already in Nigeria conducting military-to-military engagements to figure out what the existing capabilities of the Nigerian troops actually are.

View of the Nigerian Army Training Center Headquarters

View of the Nigerian Army Training Center Headquarters

The actual training is scheduled to begin in two weeks at the Nigerian Army Training Center (NATRAC). The Nigerian government is reportedly footing the entire $400,000 bill for the event and that amount was decided on by them in the first place. The Nigerian Army had first requested the advanced infantry training assistance after touring the US Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia last fall. USARAF then worked with them to figure out how much training could be done for that amount. There is also no indication that any of those funds will be used to rehabilitate any part of NATRAC. USARAF released a set of undated and less than flattering pictures of NATRAC facilities to go along with their announcement, some of which are reproduced below:

Training Barracks Tents at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Training Barracks Tents at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Village Training Site at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Village Training Site at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Obstacle course at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Obstacle course at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Small Arms Range at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Small Arms Range at the Nigerian Army Training Center

This training event is also just one part of expanding US assistance to the Nigerian military to combat Boko Haram. In January, the Nigerian government established the Nigerian Army Special Operations Command with American assistance. The US is also reportedly in talks with the Nigerian government about providing intelligence aircraft support. This could potentially involve manned and unmanned aircraft.

The US government only declared Boko Haram a terrorist group last November. It also applied that designation the splinter faction Ansaru at that time. There has been some controversy recently over why it took years of escalating violence for the Department of State to make this decision. Whatever the case was, the US appears to be paying attention now.

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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.

UN Concerns About Somalia Weapons Purchases as Bomb Explodes in Capital

Yesterday, six people were killed in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu after a car bomb exploded.  Three Somali soldiers were killed in the attack.  The attack, near the city’s airport, appeared to target a United Nations convoy. The militant group Al Shabaab, linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

The bomb came as Reuters reported that it had obtained a confidential UN report regarding diversion of arms from official purchases by Somalia’s central government.  The report comes after the decision was made to ease the arms embargo against the country last March, in an attempt to improve its ability to fight Al Shabaab.

However, the report suggests that some of the arms shipments were diverted to various militias, including those aligned with Al Shabaab.  This serves to reinforce existing concerns about the strength of the central government in Somalia’s complex, clan-based social structure.

For instance, while some diversions could be traced to Al Shabaab-linked militias, the reason behind the diversions seemed to be more linked to clan loyalties.  The report mentioned the planning of arms deliveries to “Al Shabaab leader Sheikh Yusuf Isse,” who is a member of the Abgaal clan.  Somalia’s current president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is also a member of the Abgaal clan, as are many of his advisors.

President Mohamud had called on the UN to extend the easing of restrictions just last month.  According to Reuters, the new UN report recommends either restoring the full embargo or otherwise improving mechanisms to track arms shipments.

It is quite possible that President Mohamud could have been attempting to sway Sheikh Isse to switch sides with the deliveries.  Somalia’s central government relies heavily on warlords only nominally under its control to provide security in much of the country.  Other countries, like Kenya and the United States, have also been reportedly supporting such groups in an attempt to prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold there.

These parallel forces remain a significant impediment to the credibility of the central government, but are also critical in many ways to the providing of basic security in many places.  UN operations in the country in the 1990s were plagued by the same problems, as the UN struggled to find ways to disarm and demobilize militias, while at the same time finding it necessary to work with them to protect the distribution of vital humanitarian aid.  Finding a lasting solution to this ongoing problem will likely be critical to the establishment of a functional Somali state.

Liberia Appoints First Chief of Staff Since Army Disbanded in 2003

Yesterday, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf confirmed Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Dee Ziankan as the new chief of staff of the country’s armed forces.  Colonel Ziankan becomes the first head of the nation’s military since it was disbanded in 2003 as part of a peace agreement that ended the most recent of Liberia’s civil wars.  Since then, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been responsible for the country’s internal security.

A Liberian rifle range line coach instructs a soldier from the Armed Forces of Liberia in order for him to complete his annual rifle qualifications on the range at at Edward Beyan Kesselly Barracks in the country's capital Monrovia, 1 April 2011.

A Liberian rifle range line coach instructs a soldier from the Armed Forces of Liberia in order for him to complete his annual rifle qualifications on the range at at Edward Beyan Kesselly Barracks in the country’s capital Monrovia, 1 April 2011.

Liberia has had a tumultuous history since it was established in the early nineteenth century as a homeland for freed slaves from the United States.  From 1989 until 2003 the country experienced two brutal civil wars, in which the national military was a significant actor.  As part of the agreement signed in 2003 in Ghana’s capital Accra, the military was disbanded and UNMIL took over responsibility for providing security.

The 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement also called for the development and formation of a new, professional national military.  The initial Liberian Security Sector Reform (LSSR) program, led by the United States through the Department of State, focused first on the demobilization of the existing Ministry of Defense personnel.  This took substantial time, only being completed in 2006.  Subsequently a plan was drafted to develop a new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).  A human rights vetting process for new recruits was a key component of the transformation plan.

With the formal activation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, the US military became actively involved in the LSSR program.  Soldiers from US Army Africa (USARAF) and Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) were called upon to support the effort.

In 2010, AFRICOM initiated a new effort, called the Liberian Defense Sector Reform (LDSR) program, as a separate component of the larger State Department LSSR effort.  The change also indicated that what had already been established of the new AFL had reached significant milestones.  Under the original LSSR efforts, US forces were directly responsible for training AFL personnel at all levels.  Under the LDSR effort, nicknamed Operation Onward Liberty, the AFL would be responsible for training its own forces on company-level basic infantry tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as providing logistics training to its soldiers.  The US would continue to provide advisory and mentoring support for the AFL as it continued its development.  AFRICOM also designated US Marine Forces, Africa (MARFORAF) as the lead entity in charge of Operation Onward Liberty.

This most recent milestone is indicative of how far the AFL has come since 2003.  Reports suggest that unlike the pre-2003 force, Liberians view the current AFL positively and as a professional force.  Last year, AFL personnel joined other African peacekeepers as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  This constituted the first deployment of Liberian military personnel outside of the country since the end of the civil war.  The continued progress by the country’s military is indicative of how far Liberia has come since then more broadly.