Tag Archives: special operations

New Reports Suggest U.S. Had Military Precense in Somalia Since 2007

Last week, Reuters reported that rotations of military advisors have been deploying to Somalia since at least 2007. The news agency quoted anonymous US government officials. These revelations come after the Pentagon admitted to a formal advisory mission at the beginning of the year. The official statement was that only three military personnel were in Moghadishu and had been there since October 2013, when they had established a Military Coordination Cell to liaise with Somali authorities and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March 2014, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

These newly uncovered deployments consisted of up to one hundred and twenty special operations forces at a time and were timed to provide a persistent presence, according to Reuters. If these details are correct, these special operators might have participated in the targeting process for a string of air strikes and drone attacks, as well as various commando raids since 2007. US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which is currently responsible for operations in Somalia, disputed this, saying that the deployments were smaller and apparently only for specific missions.

The Central Intelligence Agency was largely believed to be in charge of US supported paramilitary activity inside of Somalia until recently. It appears that the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and specifically the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), may have also been directly involved in this covert effort. The Pentagon and AFRICOM have also clearly stepped up their overt activities in the restive east African nation since the beginning of 2013. AFRICOM has declined requests to elaborate on these missions beyond saying they are working closely with the Somali government and other African partners to combat the militant group Al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab came into existence in 2007 after Ethiopian troops and Somali militia routed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a fundamentalist Islamist organization that had taken control of significant portions of the country. Al Shabaab, formed from the remnants of the ICU’s military wing, has continued to fight pro-government forces and international peacekeepers, now operating under the AMISOM title. Al Shabaab assassinated Somali parliamentarian Ahmed Mohamud ‘Hayd’ just last week and killed four people with a car bomb outside the parliament building in Mogadishu yesterday. These attacks are simply the latest in a string of increasingly aggressive responses to AMISOM’s latest offensive. The situation in the country remains complex and fluid.

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US Forces Capture Individual Linked to Benghazi Attack

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that US military and law enforcement personnel cooperated to capture Ahmed Abu Khatallah in Libya. Khatallah is said to be a key figure in the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Few details have been offered in regards to the operation. Reports have suggested that 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, better known as Delta Force, and members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team performed the raid. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said that no casualties of any kind were sustained on either side or among innocent bystanders and categorized the mission as a “success.” Rear Admiral Kirby declined to go into any further details on the capture itself.

US Special Forces "interdict a target vehicle" during training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2012.

US Special Forces “interdict a target vehicle” during training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2012.

Khatallah was then reportedly whisked out of Benghazi, Libya where he was captured and placed in Department of Justice custody. The Pentagon declined to say where Khatallah was being held, but said he would be tried in a US court over the 2012 attack. Khatallah is described as being central to the attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi on 11-12 September 2012. During the attack, US Ambassador to Libya J. Christoper Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The circumstances of the incident and the US military’s response, codenamed Operation Jukebox Lotus, continue to be controversial among certain domestic political factions.

This is at least the second raid in Libya in the last 12 months to capture a figured accused of terrorism by the US government. American commandos launched another raid last October to capture Abu Anas al Libi. Libi was wanted in connection with the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 bombing and other crimes. The Obama administration has been criticized in recent years for its reliance on targeted strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles rather than attempting to capture terror suspects. The raid last October and this operation yesterday have been cited as examples of a possible shift in policy. American drone strikes continue in other parts of the world, however, suggesting that this might not necessarily be the case.

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.

US Air Force Special Operations Forces Deploy to Libya…in 1951

One thing that strikes me about a lot of reporting about US military involvement in Africa is this great sense of “newness” that seems to be generally applied to it.  The stories talk as if the US military, no longer saddled by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, has “rediscovered” the continent.  With today’s news seeming to more of an unfortunate continuation of the daily grind I’ve been reporting here in recent weeks, I thought it might be worth taking some time in a different direction.

The title of this post might initially seem like something you would expect to be a current event before you see the date.  As focus on US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan gives way to a broader focus, its important to be aware that the US military has historical ties to Africa that continued through the Cold War and were well in place before the events of September 11th, 2001.  Though it is correct to say that Africa was likely lowest on the list of priorities before then, it does not mean it was entirely forgotten either.

For instance, the US Air Force had established a presence in the 1950s in Libya.  Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli subsequently became a major Strategic Air Command base, primarily intended for bomber recovery.  The Libyan desert also provided ample space to establish a bombing range and US Air Forces in Europe operated a water survival school there as well.  This all continued until 1970, when Moammar Gadhafi refused to extend the lease of the facility to the US.  The Libyan government subsequently took over the facility, and it was among the targets bombed in 1986 during Operation El Dorado Canyon.

Map showing the locations of Air Resupply and Communications Service elements from 1951-1954, including Wheelus AB, Libya (from the official USAF history Apollo's Warriors: United States Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War)

Map showing the locations of Air Resupply and Communications Service elements from 1951-1954, including Wheelus AB, Libya (from the official USAF history Apollo’s Warriors: United States Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War)

Perhaps more interestingly, between 1952 and 1953, Wheelus was home to the 580th Air Resupply and Communication Wing (later the 580th Air Resupply Group, which remained at Wheelus until 1956).  The Wing had received notice of the impending deployment in November 1951.  The Air Resupply and Communications Service was the innocuous sounding name given to Air Force units in the 1950s tasked with supporting unconventional warfare missions.  Such units are among those considered to be predecessors to the current Air Force Special Operations Command.  In the 1950s, as the US formalized its concepts of unconventional warfare, the US Army, US Air Force, and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had an intimate and yet often fractious relationship as each entity looked to achieve primacy in the effort.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of specially modified B-29s to conduct parachute training.  These aircraft were converted from bombers like the one shown here.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of specially modified B-29s to conduct parachute training. These aircraft were converted from bombers like the one shown here.

With its mix of specially modified B-29s Superfortresses and SA-16 Albatrosses, the Wing provided desert environment and parachute training to US Army Special Forces units (notably the 10th Special Forces Group in Germany) and CIA personnel.  In addition, the Wing performed a number of actual operations inserting and extracting agents behind the Iron Curtain, primarily in areas of Soviet influence in southern Europe.  On at least one instance, SA-16s from the Wing were called upon to rescue the pilot of a U-2 spy plane that had been forced to ditch in the Adriatic Sea after an engine flame out.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of SA-16As, similar to the one seen here, to insert and extract personnel from behind the Iron Curtain.

The 580th AIr Resupply and Communication Wing made use of SA-16As, similar to the one seen here, to insert and extract personnel from behind the Iron Curtain.

This quick look at Wheelus Air Base and the 580th Air Resupply and Communications Wing is just one example of many of US military involvement and interaction in Africa.  I’ll look to feature more historical examples in the future.