Monthly Archives: December, 2012

The one where the SPLA accidentally downs an UNMISS helicopter…

I have developed a habit for blaming South Sudan for my inability to get anything on my “To Do” list done. That appears to be the case again today.

News broke this morning that the SPLA had allegedly shot down a UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Mi-8 helicopter that had been conducting a reconnaissance mission near Likuangole in Jonglei state. The ensuing crash killed 4 Russian crew on board.

Those who follow security issues in this part of Africa will know that Jonglei is an area of South Sudan that has been afflicted by:

  • violence between the Dinka, Lou Nuer, and Murle, most recently detailed in the June 2012 UNMISS report “Incidents of Inter-Communal Violence in Jonglei State”;
  • proliferation in small arms and light weapons (SALW) due to the porous border with Ethiopia and the inability of the security forces to protect the population from said violence; and
  • a spate of militia violence, most recently perpetrated primarily by David Yau Yau, who has been in a state of off-and-on rebellion since his unsuccessful bid for the Gumuruk-Boma seat in the Jonglei State assembly. (For additional information on Yau Yau’s rebellion, you must read Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment’s brief on him, updated earlier this week).

Initial reports on the helicopter incident were hazy, with people like myself speculating that:

  1. It would be illogical for South Sudan to deliberately target a UN helicopter, given the role the UN tries to play as a security guarantor against South Sudan’s security threats. Yes, relations between the government and the UN mission have been challenging from time to time (i.e., the government’s response to the June 2012 report on Jonglei), but I would not describe relations between them as hostile. Therefore, this must have been an accident. OR
  2. It would be more likely that non-SPLA armed groups – perhaps Yau Yau’s men or local communities resisting the SPLA’s forcible, and often uneven disarmament campaigns – were responsible for shooting down the helicopter. The UN was supporting disarmament in this region, and although they differed with South Sudan’s security forces on the means, both sought to neutralize the threats posed by militias and armed civilians.

It has since been confirmed that the SPLA was indeed responsible for the incident, believing the helicopter was of Sudanese origin and sent to resupply Yau Yau’s forces. According to SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer, the SPLA was not aware that an UNMISS aircraft would be in the area. When they requested information from the mission, the UN was allegedly not forthcoming until it was too late.

While the incident is still under investigation, I would be quite surprised if it was revealed that the SPLA intentionally downed an UNMISS helicopter. Say what you want about the Government of South Sudan’s governance and decision-making, but it’s not a rogue nation. My initial conclusion, therefore, is that this was an unfortunate accident that underscores three things about South Sudan’s security forces:

  1. The SPLA is not known for having good command-and-control – especially when forward deployed. An UNMISS inquiry of the crash may reveal that mid- or low-ranking soldiers fired without receiving an order from their commanding officer. Another possibility is that there may have been too many commanding officers there, and this may have obscured what the appropriate response to seeing the helicopter should have been. I mention the “too many commanding officers” theory because rank harmonization has been one of the challenges that has come with integrating non-statutory groups that were formerly anti-SPLA into the SPLA.
  2. On occasion, the South Sudan’s security forces do not respond to security incidents with appropriate rules of engagement. One only need look across to the police‘s (and possibly the military’s) heavy-handed response to the recent protests in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr al-Ghazal state. Thus, it is not altogether surprising that the SPLA’s response to the UNMISS helicopter was to shoot first and ascertain the threat later.
  3. In addition to flawed C2, and inappropriate ROE, lack of training may have been a factor. On one hand, you could argue that the UN has white helicopters with the letters “UN” clearly marking it, and they have been present in Sudan/South Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. On the other hand (and I don’t favor this argument, but am just throwing it out there), literacy may have been an issue. According to data compiled by Richard Rands, “up to 90 per cent of the ranks are illiterate, as are at least 70 per cent of the officers.” Again, I would presume most SPLA should be able to ID a UN helicopter, so perhaps the UNMISS investigation will conclude that the helicopter was shot down before the SPLA could properly see it to identify it as friendly and not hostile.

Anyway, that’s what I have so far, but I’m curious to see what the result of the UNMISS investigation will be, and how this incident could impact UNMISS operations in South Sudan.

Security Challenges in Libya and the Sahel (CNA Workshop Report)

Over the past two years, the world has witnessed a redrawing of the geopolitical map of the Middle East and North Africa. The responsibility for regional security and stability – which Western governments once relied on the area’s authoritarian regimes to ensure – now falls to the transitional or newly elected governments that replaced the ousted old orders. Although in some countries the new leadership has succeeded in promoting a degree of stability during this transitional period, in Libya the turbulent social and economic forces that drove out the long-lived regime of Muammar Qaddafi have yet to settle. The rise of powerful militias that have filled the security void in Libya challenge the authority of the new government. Absent Qaddafi’s political and economic influence, Libya and its neighbors are at risk of a new wave of civil conflict and economic deterioration.

On October 16, CNA’s Center for Strategic Studies hosted a workshop to explore the repercussions of the Libyan Revolution — for Libya itself and for states in the broader Sahel region, particularly Mali. The workshop brought together noted academics and experts from the United States and abroad. The report summarizing the main themes of the workshop can be found here.

In near term, containment may be the name of the game in Mali

If you’re following the news on Mali, you’ve no doubt seen the most recent developments in the political crisis in Bamako in which the military junta “encouraged” or “facilitated” the resignation of PM Cheikh Modibo Diarra on Tuesday. (For thorough roundup of analyses and reactions to this incident, I would refer you here).

Two months ago, I wrote a post called “UN inches closer to approving ECOWAS intervention in Mali” and I thought I’d add some additional insights to it in light of recent developments.

In recent months, there have been no fewer than a gajillion (to use an analytical term) reports of ECOWAS drafting a plan for intervention and the UNSC telling them they’re on the right track, but not quite there. Amidst reports that a military intervention is inevitable, some differences have come to light vis-à-vis how the international community should approach said intervention.

  • France favors swift approval by the UNSC of ECOWAS’ most recent intervention plan – a process complicated by the fact that Captain Sanogo has consistently been opposed to foreign intervention, and has successfully removed one of the key figures calling for such an intervention – PM Diarra.
  • The United States has been more cautious in its support, favoring a dual-phase intervention that commences in the south with the training of the Mali Armed Forces (MAF) that would ideally complement (an actual, rather than cosmetic) political transition in Bamako. The second phase would then involve a mandate for military intervention to reconquer the north.

The way I see it, the United States’ reticence to throw unconditional support behind an ECOWAS-led intervention is primarily influenced by two factors.

  • The first is the legacy of the arguably haphazard intervention in Libya that did not consider the broader regional implications of military intervention. I sense little appetite on the part of the United States to be held responsible for endorsing an ECOWAS intervention if it goes north and exacerbates the situation, or fails outright.
  • To understand the second factor, you really need to take a closer look at the lessons of the African Union intervention in Somalia. In particular, the United States touts the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as a potential model for an ECOWAS-led intervention in Mali. Notably, AMISOM came into being because of a regional and international demand signal for such an intervention force in Somalia. However, it was continually plagued with trying to determine how to achieve its objectives when troop contributions and funding were either unpredictable or altogether not forthcoming. As a result, it was only four and a half years into its mandate and over $385 million USD later that it started to see success. I think that although the U.S. sees AMISOM as a model for African-led conflict resolution supported by the international community, it simply lacks the time or the money to make the same mistake – in spite of a similar demand signal for intervention in Mali. Hence the requirement for extensive planning for concept of operations, troop commitments, and a resourcing plan prior to a mandate for intervention.

I think there’s a general consensus that Mali is a festering sore in the Sahel and that someone needs to do something about it, but the means and modalities are still TBD. In the mean time, I don’t foresee U.S. boots on the ground – at least the kind of boots you or I would even be aware of (wink, wink). But I would not be surprised if the U.S. approach to northern Mali is containment. Like in Somalia and the broader Horn of Africa, I see this as an approach in which the U.S. focuses on ensuring that the activities of AQIM, Ansar Dine, and MUJAO are confined to northern Mali and do not spread to Algeria, Niger, or Mauritania. I could also see this approach utilizing kinetic means (i.e., drone strikes) to disrupt terrorist operations in northern Mali, as well as non-kinetic means (i.e., public diplomacy programs) focused on countering violent extremism in Niger and Mauritania.

Until the political situation in Bamako becomes less unstable, the U.S. and European allies can agree on an approach to intervention, and ECOWAS can get boots on the ground (perhaps not until late 2013), I think containment is going to be the name of the game in northern Mali.

The Future of Security Cooperation in the AFRICOM AoR

Dear Readers,

The past few days have been intellectually bipolar. I spent most of the weekend at the African Studies Association (ASA) Annual Meeting learning from academically-minded colleagues who also specialize in Africa. I also attended some of the panels whose impressive presenters were complemented by their empirically rich research and analysis. The whole exercise was like Africa nerd catnip, and my little gray cells danced for joy.

By Monday, however, I was fully reintegrated into my DC habitat – which I find equally engaging, but in a more policy-focused way. I attended a talk by Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) General Carter Ham on Counterterrorism in Africa. I won’t go over the nuts and bolts of his talk, since you can find coverage of it in the New York Times, Reuters, and a video of the event on CSPAN. Many of his comments also touched on an article published by AFRICOM’s J-5 in Joint Forces Quarterly in October – Going Farther by Going Together: Building Partner Capacity in Africa.

That coverage aside, here’s a few things I found interesting about the event:

  • Gen. Ham stated that two recent documents inform AFRICOM’s current engagements: the January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (also referred to as Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense) and the June 2012 U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa. He said that just because Africa is only mentioned once in the former does not imply that the U.S. military would not be relevant there. On the contrary, AFRICOM would continue to work with African militaries on the missions mentioned in the document, which include building partner capacity, countering terrorism and WMD proliferation, and conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations – among others. Therefore, Gen. Ham argues, African militaries are still key partners in tackling global challenges, although Africa is hardly mentioned in the DSG. True or not, this is a smart way of arguing AFRICOM’s continued relevance in an era of substantial defense budget cuts.
  • A possible ECOWAS intervention force in Mali was discussed, with Gen. Ham endorsing the U.S. approach to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as a model for the international community’s support for African-led solutions. (For more on the U.S. government’s apparent embrace of this model, see testimony by Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa.)
  • Finally, I noticed a strong focus on small footprint theater security cooperation (TSC), which aligns with the direction I see U.S. military TSC in Africa heading. During Q&A, I asked what mission sets the Army’s Regionally-Aligned Brigades would be focused on and what opportunities there might be to leverage interagency skills, expertise, and networks. He responded by thanking me for the set-up question and offering more details on the Chief of Staff of the Army’s concept. As  Army forces become more available due to reduced deployments to Afghanistan, Gen. Odierno wants to make forces available to the geographic combatant commanders and has chosen AFRICOM as the pilot. Starting in early in 2013 for one year, AFRICOM will have access to a brigade based in Fort Riley, Kansas for a total of 96 individual engagements in 35 countries. Their primary purpose is to support training and exercises, and if the Combatant Commander wishes to use them for particular operations, they would need permission from the Secretary of Defense. You can find video of my question and Gen. Ham’s response here by forwarding the video to the 1 hour 10 minute mark.
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