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3-star AFRICOM commander details future missions on the continent

Feb. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Soldiers with the Armed Forces for the Defense of Mozambique learn how to field strip a Meal, Ready to Eat.
Soldiers with the Armed Forces for the Defense of Mozambique learn how to field strip a Meal, Ready to Eat. (Cpl. Scott Schmidt)
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Reconnaissance Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa train Senegalese marine commandos in boat commands and tactics in August. (Cpl. Ryan Joyner/Marine Corps)
Hummer (Cpl. Ryan Joyner/Marine Corps)
Hummer (Cpl. Ryan Joyner/Marine Corps)

The Marine Corps’ partnership with African military forces is likely to expand as those nations look to the U.S. for the training and expertise they need to combat violent extremist organizations, insurgencies, piracy or threatening neighbors, according to a top officer at U.S. Africa Command.

Fifteen of the 20 most fragile nations in the world — those on the brink of collapse — are in Africa, as are more than half the U.S. embassies that the State Department calls “high risk” and in need of additional Marine security guards.

Newly independent South Sudan faces violent instability after a failed coup attempt; Marines helped evacuate diplomatic personnel from the U.S. Embassy there in January. Other countries, such as the Central African Republic, struggle with the humanitarian emergencies, the result of political coups decades after achieving independence. More than 5 million people have died in Congo since war broke out nearly 20 years ago.

Despite the violence and instability that captures headlines, the long-held perception that Africa is a “hopeless continent” is rapidly changing, said Marine Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, deputy to the commander for military operations at AFRICOM. Steady economic growth has sparked strong interest among industry and business leaders around the world, Hummer said, with some experts likening it to the boom of Asian markets in recent decades.

Still, he said, the command is keeping a careful eye on instability across the expansive continent, which from north to south matches the distance between Washington, D.C., and Honolulu.

Military Times spoke with Hummer by phone Jan. 31 to discuss what troops might expect in Africa during the next few years. Excerpts of that interview, edited for space and clarity:

Q. What are the command’s top priorities?

A. We work with our interagency and international partners to strengthen the defense and security capabilities of the countries in Africa.

We have to respond to crises like we did in South Sudan, like we’re doing in CAR, like we’ve done in Mali, in Libya during Odyssey Dawn and in Benghazi. We keep an eye on transnational threats — we’re certainly focused on the violent extremist organizations on the continent. We look for instability or indications of instability and try to shore them up. That’s what we’re looking to do in all of our efforts, because issues like violent extremist organizations and piracy or the insecurity of certain maritime areas all influence and degrade security.

We do a lot of peacekeeping support training. If there’s a humanitarian response required, we’re certainly capable of supporting that. And we’re focused on the countertrafficking piece, whether it’s drugs, weapons, money or people. That’s an example of a big interagency effort — we work with the Justice Department, FBI, Coast Guard support and countertrafficking finance folks.

Q. What are the strengths of working with other U.S. agencies in Africa?

A. Based on areas of expertise, we meld and synchronize for the best overall [effects]. We have a lot of folks here with State Department experience who really know the continent. They understand the people, personalities, cultures and challenges between tribes. I know us military folks have gotten a lot smarter over the past 10 or 12 years, but we may not be thinking about everything we need to as we problem solve and frame issues on the continent. Then the folks from the Justice, Treasury and Homeland Defense departments bring their skills and experience, too. So when we do frame a problem, we try to have many different folks around the table.

Q. We’ve seen reports discussing competition between the Marine Corps and the Army for missions in the Pacific. Some general officers have stepped forward to say there’s room for everyone there — do you see Africa the same way?

A. It’s a huge continent, and I see that there’s more than enough space, there’s more than enough security forces and military forces and more than enough different aspects to focus on. So let’s say you’ve got the Army, Marine Corps and special operators doing the theater security cooperation, with the whole menu of different skills they’re able to share. I see the Navy operating along the coasts with their maritime countertrafficking-type skills. And the Air Force with their tactical, operational and strategic lift. There’s more than enough opportunities to be able to support the growth of the security sectors in the various countries.

And it’s not just our forces. You’ve got the same with the partner nations: the British, Spanish, Germans and Irish are on the continent with air, land and naval forces. So the challenge is to partner as best we can to reduce redundancy.

Q. How do you divvy up missions between special operations forces and ground troops from the Army and Marine Corps?

A. More than 99.9 percent of what we do is by, with and through African countries, so it’s about developing security and defense institutions with the partnering countries. We’ll find out what they need and what they want, and we’ll look at how willing and capable they are and then determine what we can do to help shore up their security.

If you’re looking for more fundamental purpose force training, then we would assign and task the appropriate service, with the appropriate military skills, and develop a curriculum for that particular country. But as those skills get more advanced or into the special operations realm, that would determine whether it’s going to be general purpose force soldiers, Marines with their amphibious skills, or special operators with their distant reconnaissance, raid-type skills and counterterrorist type skills.

Q.
How might we see the use of air power evolving within AFRICOM? Do you think countries will look to the U.S. Air Force as they expand their own air power?

A. Yes, depending on the capabilities of the countries, the willingness and their economic situation. But I think many of them are interested in tactical lift or operational lift, which would be your KC-130 fixed wings or your smaller twin-engine aircraft as well as rotary support. I don’t see a lot of African countries being interested in buying the latest block of F-16s. Many participate in peacekeeping operations, so those are the types of aircraft that they’d be looking for.

Gen. Frank Gorenc of Air Force Africa has hosted a chiefs conference on the continent where they’ll get together in a certain host country to talk to those high-level common areas of interest having to do with their air forces and air support.

Q. What about the role of U.S. sea power in the region? How will the Navy help countries there to continue developing their maritime skills?

A. That’s very, very robust. Adm. Bruce Clingan and his folks with Naval Forces Africa Command have been really engaged with the people on the continent. The Navy is working around the continent with counterpiracy and maritime security skills. And there has been a maritime code of conduct signed by many of the countries, which kind of lays out the agreements and understandings in counterpiracy and anti-illicit trafficking efforts.

We’ve worked with many of the countries in the Gulf of Guinea regarding a maritime intelligence and operations center. We talk to each other because of pirates moving through the various coastal waters and out in international waters. The countries there are so close together that their waters are relatively short for some type of high-speed vessel to get through, so it makes sense to have a plan to go out and stop those vessels, depending on what they’re doing or what type of trafficking they’re involved in.

Q. As the U.S. military gets more involved in Africa, what’s the likelihood that it could set up new posts there similar to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti?

A. Djibouti is a strategic location. It kind of crosses combatant commands, so CENTCOM is supported by Djibouti as are U.S. Europe, Africa, Southern and Transportation commands.

We are not interested in doing mini-Djiboutis around the continent. When AFRICOM first rolled out, there was a concern about the militarization of the continent. That is not the intent. Five years later, these countries see a command interested in working with them, training with them, engaging with them, supporting them in their future development to achieve their aims.

Q. Embassy security has been a big concern after the attack in Benghazi. How is AFRICOM dealing with that?

A. Embassy security is a top priority around the world. It just so happens that 15 out of the 28 embassies that have been deemed high risk are on the African continent. We’ve gone from one detachment commander and five MSGs up to one and seven, and then one and 12 for those high-risk embassies.

We’re looking for insecurities, indications and warnings all around the continent. We’re plugged in very tightly with the defense attachés, chiefs of mission, deputy chiefs of mission, and chiefs of station and with all the embassies. We’re on their Rolodex and they’re on ours. We’re tied into the intelligence community, too, so information is constantly flowing. If there is any kind of indication or warning that we hear, then depending on the buildup of that information and whatever the ambassador decides, we can determine what capabilities are required.

Q. What can troops expect if they deploy to Africa?

A. Africa is multicultural and truly international. It spans five-star hotels and Dreamliners to pretty rudimentary and primitive living. From my experience, Marines won’t be staying in five-star hotels, but they easily could.

I give an awful lot of credit to the young men and women in uniform who come here. They’re in the various locations, and some are more austere than others, yet the vigor and energy with which they engage their counterparts is just a thrill to experience. And any time they communicate with other forces, our values and ethics rub off.

But whether Marines, soldiers, sailors or airmen, they’ll find that when they work with the militaries here, they will have eager trainees. They’ll see everything from working in the deserts to the jungles. Some countries will have very good military equipment and good transportation and others might just have very rudimentary skills, one canteen, an AK-47 and not a lot of rounds. No matter what, they’re still eager to train and work with Americans.

Q. What types of new technology are you bringing to the missions there?

A. You’ll see the latest medical techniques and equipment as we work to do medical and dental civic action programs. You’ll see naval and aviation technology and techniques. You’ll see chemical and biological type stuff — as countries prepare for situations like pandemics that could cross countries and cause mass casualties — infrastructure, communications, information technology and environmental power like solar and wind technology.

We’ll see an increase in unmanned aerial vehicles to fill whatever need is required there.

I equate the violent extremist organizations to the crocodiles closest to the boat. You have to shoot them when they come up to the boat, so when the violent extremists impact or threaten U.S. interests, that’s what has to occur. But the bigger picture and strategic effort really needs to be draining the swamp.

We work with the defense institutions; it’s teaching them to fish instead of giving them a fish, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Again, it’s 99.9 percent by, with and through African countries, and as we see the increase in their economies, they’ll be able to buy some of these assets themselves and they’ll be able to support what they’re trying to do across these vast distances.

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