South Africa has found itself in a situation where it looks more like an Executive Outcomes B-team than a regional power seeking to contribute to peace and stability on the continent. Over the weekend, approximately 200 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops were involved in a nine-hour battle with Séléka rebels in the Central African Republic. Séléka, an alliance of anti-government armed groups, had launched a rebellion against President François Bozizé in December 2012, only halting their offensive to negotiate the terms of the Libreville agreement in January.
In early January 2013, South African President Jacob Zuma authorized the deployment of 400 SANDF to help train the Central African Republic Armed Forces (FACA), as well as assist in the planning and implementation of the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process. (Apparently, only 200 troops had been deployed thus far). Potential reasons for the SANDF deployment to the Central African Republic vary. On one hand, it may be a natural progression of South Africa’s pursuit of regional influence on the continent, and perhaps a way to counter French influence. On the other, South Africa may have commercial interests in the Central African Republic.
The deployment was in accordance with the provisions of section 201 (2) (c) of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which states that “Only the President, as head of the national executive, may authorize the employment of the defence force in fulfillment of an international obligation.” The international obligation to which the constitution referred was, in this case, a five-year military cooperation agreement initially signed between South Africa and the Central African Republic in 2007, and renewed in December 2012.
In early January, a SANDF spokesperson stated that the purpose of the SANDF deployment was not to engage rebel fighters, but to train the FACA. Accordingly, they were not combat-equipped, making them vulnerable to attack and likely to suffer heavy casualties if Séléka engaged them in battle – which they did when Séléka broke the ceasefire as a result of Bozizé’s unwillingness to implement the terms of the peace agreement. During the course of Séléka’s push towards Bangui, 13 SANDF were killed, seven were wounded, and one is missing in action. The South African National Defence Force Union (SANDU) subsequently released a statement condemning the involvement of the SANDF and asserting that the deployment should have been curtailed the moment Bozizé showed signs of not honoring the January 2013 Libreville agreements. In a press conference on Monday, Zuma stated that troop casualties were suffered whilst SANDF was defending a South African military base outside Bangui, stating “Wherever our troops are deployed they have the duty to defend themselves if their positions fall under attack.”
The events of this past weekend cast a shadow upon the previously constructive role South Africa has played with regard to conflict resolution in Africa, and taints its image as a neutral broker for future peace agreements on the continent. South Africa’s experience transitioning from apartheid to democracy provides a prime example of a peaceful transition that occurred on the heels of a deeply divisive period of history. Yet, Zuma’s decision to deploy the SANDF in support of the Bozizé regime has negated South Africa’s ability to present itself as a nonpartisan broker between Séléka and remnants of the ancien régime.
(Originally published in World Politics Review on March 26, 2013)
Over the weekend, the Séléka rebel alliance seized Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). This most recent offensive was the latest development in a rebellion that commenced in December 2012 over President François Bozizé’s failure to implement the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement and the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement. In those deals, Bozizé’s government had agreed to provide amnesty for former combatants; to pursue the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the rebel forces; to provide compensation for those demobilized and the integration of some former rebels into the official armed forces of the Central African Republic; and to share political power. But with little if any progress made since the signing of these agreements, it was only a matter of time before the conflict reignited.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 Séléka fighters swept across the country in December, coming within 40 miles of Bangui before Bozizé and Séléka agreed to peace negotiations mediated by the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC). Entering the talks in January 2013, Séléka’s demands included the release of political prisoners, the withdrawal of foreign troops sent to assist the Bozizé regime and Bozizé’s immediate resignation. A new set of agreements — a cease-fire, a declaration of principles, and a peace agreement— were hastily negotiated and signed in Libreville, Gabon, on Jan. 11, stipulating that Bozizé would remain in power until the end of his term in 2016 and putting in place a unity government for a renewable period of 12 months. This government would include members of the political and military opposition, and among its tasks would be to restore peace and security, organize new legislative elections in anticipation of the dissolution of the National Assembly and conduct DDR and security sector reform with assistance from the international community. Unsurprisingly to most observers, the Libreville agreement was never implemented.
(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website)
During General Ham’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) earlier this week, he delivered prepared testimony and responded to questions posed to him by members of the committee. (You can find the archived webcast of hearing here.) Most of the questions concerned AFRICOM’s posture for crisis response operations, which I covered in an earlier blog post, and the projected impact of sequestration on AFRICOM’s missions. Here’s a few points I found interesting:
At several points of the hearing, there were discussions centered around the need for the Department of Defense (DoD) to determine how, in an era of budget cuts, the military should be postured to respond to crises on the continent.
- When asked how AFRICOM could increase response time while maintaining a relatively small footprint, General Ham responded that we (I’m unclear if he was referring to the United States in general or AFRICOM in particular) are much better at prevention than response. He further stated that prevention is much cheaper, but necessitates a better understanding of the operating environment – hence the preoccupation with increasing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
- Earlier in the hearing, General Ham had been asked about reductions in flight hours that have already resulted from sequestration, and have impacted the Command’s ISR capabilities. In his response, he mentioned that most operations are funded by the services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Special Operations) through their components of AFRICOM. Two of these components, U.S. Air Forces, Africa (USAFAF) and U.S. Naval Forces, Africa (USNAVAF), have had to constrain their flight operations due to service component funding challenges. General Ham further explained that he’d asked the USAFAF commander to maintain the component’s transport aircraft in a heightened alert posture so that they could move crisis response forces more readily. This, however, requires that the component sustain flight crews on a heightened alert posture, which cuts into normal training and sustainment flights. As a result, the component was having trouble funding both requirements. Similarly, the Navy has had to decrease the frequency of some of its operational reconnaissance flights – again because of the inability to fund its normal flight operations.
General Ham was asked if he was seeing the financial impact of budget cuts on AFRICOM’s U.S. government partners, given that some of AFRICOM’s roles are shared by the State Department, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc. He replied that he has seen an impact on the non-Department of Defense (DoD) assets upon which they depend, and implied that if sequestration continued for the balance of the year, that there would be very real consequences on what the State Department would be able to deliver.
When asked about the impact of sequestration on AFRICOM’s ability to train African militaries, General Ham replied that budget cuts may cause some exercises and training to fall by the wayside. A potential upside, however, was that this may lead AFRICOM to seek out opportunities for multinational building partner capacity engagements, since most training has been bilateral. (Here, I’m assuming he was talking about greater collaboration with European allies in Africa.) He also said that with sequestration, DoD may need to revisit last January’s Defense Strategic Guidance.
Finally, a member of the SASC asked if sequestration would precipitate a shift in AFRICOM’s strategy, General Ham replied that he didn’t believe such a shift would give primacy to the use of U.S. forces in military interventions. He explained that although it may be faster to use U.S. military forces, the use of such forces would be counterintuitive because it would ultimately increase the long-term the demands on the U.S. military. The current building partner capacity approach, on the other hand, allows the United States to rely on other nations, thus reducing the demand for U.S. forces.
There were some other interesting parts of the hearing that did not directly relate to crisis response operations or sequestration, but I’ll sum those up in another post later this week.
Yesterday, General Carter Ham, outgoing Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) regarding the programs and budget needed to meet current and future requirements within the AFRICOM area of responsibility (AoR). This was General Ham’s last testimony to the SASC in this position, as General David Rodriguez has been confirmed as General Ham’s replacement. (You can find General Rodriguez’s responses to advance policy questions from his confirmation hearing last month here.)
Since AFRICOM’s last posture statement in early March 2012, much has transpired in the AoR – from the coup in Mali and the subsequent de facto partition of the country to the defection of M23 from the FARDC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi to the relative improvement in the security situation in Somalia. In light of these developments, I’d been looking forward to reading General Ham’s prepared testimony – yet what I found even more interesting were the questions that various Senators on the SASC asked during Q & A. (See archived webcast of hearing here.)
The majority of the questions were centered on the themes of AFRICOM’s posture for crisis response operations and the impact of sequestration on AFRICOM’s missions. Here’s a few points I found interesting:
On Crisis Response operations:
At times, the testimony was another round of inquiry about what happened in Benghazi, what AFRICOM’s responsibility actually was within the chain of command to prevent and respond to threats against American interests in Libya, what the Commander’s reaction was as the attack unfolded, and what assets were, or could have been, nearby to help save the lives of the four Americans that were killed. But I think the takeaway – not just from this hearing, but from the political fallout from the Benghazi attack – is that there is a clear demand signal for AFRICOM to have a more robust crisis response posture so that it is better able to protect U.S. citizens and U.S. interests on the continent. Accordingly, General Ham spoke of AFRICOM’s efforts to build a theater response capability that would improve the Command’s ability to respond to crises in North, East, and West Africa.
- He spoke of the Commander’s in-extremis force (CIF), which AFRICOM received in October 2012, although it had been in the planning pipeline prior to the attack in Benghazi. This is a rapid reaction force based in Fort Carson, CO that has a rotational element that is forward deployed in Europe. Although General Ham said that having a designated CIF was a significant improvement over sharing one with EUCOM, it still does not have all of its crisis response enablers, such as intelligence and aviation support.
- He spoke of a new Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) that has not been formally approved, but would be specifically tailored for crisis response operations. This was a bit confusing to me because there’s been a SPMAGTF designated for Africa working out of Sigonella, Italy. My understanding is that among its tasks were to conduct theater security cooperation activities and maintain readiness for crisis response operations. But if there is indeed a new SPMAGTF, I wonder it it is replacing the existing MAGTF or if it is an additional MAGTF whose sole duty is to be ready to respond to crises on the continent. Additional details from AFRICOM, MARFORAF (Marine Corps component of AFRICOM), or Marine Corps HQ could help clarify this issue.
- Finally, he spoke of the Army’s Regionally-Aligned Brigade that is supposed to carry out security cooperation activities across the continent on a rotational basis from Fort Riley, KS, but can be operationalized for crisis response if the Commander receives approval from the Secretary of Defense.
In terms of posture for crisis response operations, General Ham spoke of having a response capability with elements based in Djibouti (presumably at Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa) that could respond to crises in East Africa, one in southern Europe that could respond to crises in across northern Africa, and another in a site to be determined that would be principally focused on crisis response in West Africa. (Note: I would flag the precise wording in the webcast on this point. While the wording is vague about the location of the West Africa response element, it does not explicitly say it would be based in West Africa. If it were up to me, I’d have them establish a rotational presence out of Naval Station Rota in Spain. And if they did need to be on the continent, I’d have them rotate in and out of Burkina Faso, Ghana, or Senegal.)
The discussion of a more robust posture for crisis response operations in the AFRICOM AoR begged the question of how the U.S. military will be able to resource these requirements, which leads me to the next theme – sequestration’s projected impact on AFRICOM missions.
(TO BE CONTINUED)