A Marine critical skills operator instructs Senegalese and Malian counterterrorism team members on movement tactics prior to a training operation in Theis, Senegal. The 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion is planning a pre-deployment training exercise in February that will allow operators to build skills critical to a partnered training mission. (Master Sgt Jeremiah Erickson/Air Force)
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Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command is looking for extremely skilled, native North African role players to help train its operators ahead of a deployment to the region, a move in keeping with the new regional focus for its three battalions.
Though MARSOC officials haven’t discussed the deployment publicly, planning documents indicate one of its tenant units is readying for a mission geared toward training partner African military forces. According to contract solicitations posted in late November and December, MARSOC’s 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion is planning a pre-deployment training exercise in February that will allow Marines in the unit to build skills critical to a partnered training mission — one that involves skilled role players with regional experience.
The training calls for eight role players, including four trained in advanced special operations techniques and two each in human intelligence and signals intelligence. All will have special operations experience and service in North or Northwest Africa, and two must have at least 15 years of indigenous military experience in North Africa and be able to speak Arabic fluently, according to the documents.
Most North African countries list Arabic as an official national language, although Senegal does not.
Several role-player positions require a secret or top-secret clearance.
“The exercise should allow for the (Marine special operations company) to assess and train an indigenous partnered force in the intelligence collection and targeting through HUMINT and SIGINT means,” one of the soliciation documents says. “In order to create the most realistic environment, role-players may be utilized for discrete exercise storylines in order to place the MSOC in an uncertain environment focusing on the (Marine special operations forces) mindset while applying the SOF imperatives.”
The exercises will be completed at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., and in South Carolina at Fort Jackson and in Charleston, according to the solicitations. MARSOC officials did not immediately respond to further questions about the training and the future deployment.
In addition to the news of an upcoming deployment, this development is significant because it may mark a turning point in training as MARSOC’s three MSOBs move to align with regional combatant commands. Marine Corps Times reported this year that the Corps’ elite special operations unit was moving to embrace a new regional mission as the war in Afghanistan winds to a close.
According to MARSOC announcements, 1st MSOB, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., will align with Special Operations Command Pacific, while 2nd MSOB and 3rd MSOB, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., will partner, respectively, with Special Operations Command Central and Special Operations Command Africa.
The initiative, MARSOC spokesman Capt. Adrian Ambe said in September, is designed to create “regionally attuned, linguistically capable and culturally knowledgeable” special operations forces, and would be completed once the Afghanistan mission ends.
Ambe said at the time that region-specific training may be a part of the realignment effort, once commands ascertain which skills their operators require.
“Once identified,” he said, “each MSOB will dedicate time within [its] predeployment training to address regional intricacies.”
The “training the trainers” mission in North Africa is one that has fallen to the U.S. special operations community for years, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Washington, D.C.-based Atlantic Council.
In 2011, the Marines deployed Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa, headquartered at Naval Station Sigonella, Italy, which incorporated Marine reserve components and took on some of these partnership training missions, a development that Pham said helped U.S. forces build more continuity into their presence in northern Africa and elsewhere on the continent and further their investment with indigenous forces.
“What this means over time is, in coming years, you begin to build institutional memory and relationships,” he said. “I’m seeing this as a positive development ... a broader regional strategy and more consistent follow-up.”
For MARSOC, such missions also allow operators to reach, through their military partners, countries and regions where the U.S. formally does not have troops on the ground, such as Mali, where al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations have caused unrest and violence. Pham pointed to the success of the annual exercise African Lion in training Moroccan troops as a “case study” for other regions.
“You have this specific knowledge, cultural context. Relationships are critical,” Pham said. “The human and social terrain is critical to special operations in this area.”
Pham said he had one caution regarding the use of role players in training: not to oversimplify a cultural landscape that, with tribal alliances and social strata, can be deeply complex.
“A little information is a very dangerous thing,” he said.