Pentagon's Last Frontier: Battle-Hardened Troops Headed To Africa
After the U.S. begins to wind down more than ten consecutive years of combat, mainly counterinsurgency, operations in what has variously been labeled the Broader, Greater and New Middle East, war-tested troops are being prepared for redeployment to Africa and Latin (largely South) America.*
Last September President Barack Obama hailed the five million U.S. soldiers that have served in the so-called global war on terror, what he called the 9/11 generation, in the preceding decade.
American commanders issue regular statements that war-time experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has trained the armed forces for new operations in other parts of the world: Africa, Latin America, those parts of the Middle East so far not undermined and attacked, the Balkans-Black Sea-Caucasus arc and the Asia-Pacific region.
On June 8 the Gannett newspaper chain's Army Times cited the commander of U.S. Army Africa, Major General David Hogg, disclosing that a brigade-size force of U.S. troops - 3,000 "and likely more" - will begin regular deployments to the African continent beginning next year.
As a component of U.S. Army Africa's "regionally aligned force concept," the American military personnel will concentrate on training the armed forces of U.S. Africa Command's new military allies - which have grown to include all 54 African nations except for Eritrea, Sudan and Zimbabwe after the overthrow of the governments of Ivory Coast and Libya last year - and, in Pentagonese, to advise, assist, partner, enable and mentor in counterinsurgency campaigns like those currently underway in Mali, Somalia and Central Africa.
As Africa is (along with South America) alone in not yet being the site of extensive and sustained U.S. military deployments, according to Hogg "As far as our mission goes, it's uncharted territory"; in the words of Army Times, Africa is "the Army's last frontier."
The latter source stated the initial 3,000-troop-plus initiative is "a pilot program that assigns brigades on a rotational basis to regions around the globe."
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is a unified combatant command whose respective components are U.S. Army Africa (based in Vicenza, Italy), U.S. Naval Forces Africa (Naples, Italy), U.S. Air Forces Africa (Ramstein Air Base, Germany), U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa and U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (the last two at the Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany where AFRICOM headquarters is located).
It has taken over regular U.S. military training and other exercises in Africa like Operation Flintlock, Africa Endeavor, Natural Fire and African Lion. This year's Flintlock, one of fourteen major AFRICOM exercises scheduled for 2012, was canceled because of the coup in Mali.
In addition, over the past decade the Pentagon has maintained a multi-service (Army, Marine, Air Force and Navy) detachment of as many 3,000 service members, along with armored vehicles, aircraft and drones, at Camp Lemonnier in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti where AFRICOM's Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa is based.
The U.S. military also has training centers and forward, logistics, drone and other bases and camps in Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and elsewhere.
Five years ago U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa launched the Africa Partnership Station program which in the interim has brought U.S. warships to every African coastal country except for those in North Africa (the province of the Naples, Italy-based U.S. Sixth Fleet), Ivory Coast (which since the "regime change" of last year is now a candidate for inclusion), Somalia (because of the ongoing armed conflict there), Eritrea (considered to be governed by a "rogue regime") and Madagascar (due to the last three years' political instability). Naval forces from Washington's North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies are integrated into the initiative.
This March the U.S. Air Forces Africa's complementary African Partnership Flight was inaugurated during an exercise in Ghana.
Last year the Obama administration announced an initial deployment of 100 special forces troops to Uganda, Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan for counterinsurgency operations against the Lord's Resistance Army. The number of troops and the range and nature of missions will undoubtedly widen in the future.
As the Pentagon's main expeditionary branch, the U.S. Marine Corps has been especially active in Africa in recent months.