AFRICOM Testimony to SASC: Part I (Posture for Crisis Response Ops)

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.


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