This Is One Of The Biggest Reasons Why The Deadly Ambush In Niger Won’t Be The Last

Analysis

The four Army Special Forces personnel killed by ISIS militants in Niger last year as part of the Department of Defense’s deepening counterterrorism fight across Africa are unlikely to be the last U.S. service members to die in combat there. That is, unless the Pentagon invests heavily in its rapid-response medical and casualty evacuation efforts across the continent — a prospect that seems deeply unlikely.


Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6, Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command, emphasized that AFRICOM requires a significant boost to both its quick-response (QRF) and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) forces. Waldhauser emphasized the decade-old commands ISR deficits in the past — a major sticking point in the aftermath of the ambush that left four 3rd Special Forces group personnel dead — and asked for additional resources, he noted in the AFRICOM’s 2018 posture statement that the command’s current casevac and medevac capabilities are, well, fucking trash.

“We [must be able] to accommodate a faster response time with regards to the operation that took place in Niger,” Waldhauser said. “When it comes to issues like QRF and medevac, this size is huge for us. [It’s] three and a half times the United States inside the African continent, and then you have small pockets of people distributed in many different places. Our challenge, QRF and medevac-wise, is significant.”

Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wrigh, Sgt. La David T. Johnson. The four U.S. Army Special Forces personnel were killed during an ambush in Niger on October 4, 2018DoD photos

The is a significant problem. Robust ISR and rapid-response capabilities aren’t just essential for avoiding an ambush in the first place (and provide additional air support if needed), but getting wounded service members off the battlefield during the “golden hour,” the critical window for medical treatment to prevent permanent damage following a major injury. Indeed, French aircraft and sole AFRICOM casevac contractor Berry Aviation only appeared to evacuate U.S. military personnel during the Oct. 4 Niger ambush two hours after the attack commenced — far too late to have provided meaningful treatment. And the absence of an effective medevac/casevac infrastructure means that the U.S. service members who go out on a reported average of 10 missions a day throughout continent can’t rely on a rescue should shit go south.

“With personnel recovery and casualty evacuation, contracted search and rescue assets are an expensive but necessary substitute to our limited capacity,” Waldhauser told lawmakers. “Moreover, most African partners neither have the organic assets nor the funding to assist with personnel recovery or casualty evacuation mission.” (When asked for specifics regarding the closest available QRF team at the time of the Niger ambush, Waldhauser dodged and cited the Somali coast.)

Deploying medevac/casevac within that golden hour is a new, old problem for the Pentagon. The U.S. has enjoyed unprecedented air superiority during its campaigns against terror networks in Iraq and Afghanistan, making questions of medevac and casevac somewhat moot despite the threat of an odd RPG clipping a Black Hawk during a dust-off. But military planners are already considering new obstacles as they shift their focus to theaters like North Korea, where Pyongyang's relatively robust air defenses could effectively deny such efforts, or in eastern Europe, where the prospect of dogfighting sophisticated aircraft has driven a DoD reevaluation of short-range air defense systems for the first time since the Cold War.

Related: Military Planners Fear Medevac Denial Could Send Casualties Soaring During North Korea Invasion »

But for service members operating in AFRICOM’s area of responsibility, the challenge isn’t enemy fire but resource scarcity over the continent’s sprawling political (and physical!) geography. Waldhauser gave the example of the Somali seaboard, a 1,100-mile stretch of land that’s been increasingly subject to aggressive air strikes and renewed troop deployments in the last year.

“We have to move damage control surgery units to where the operations are,” Waldhauser told lawmakers. “We have to move aircraft around [to] where they can support ongoing operations."

To be fair, the Army is working overtime to extend that golden hour with theaters like Eastern Africa explicitly in minds. But until the DoD can address the treatment side of casualties, the logistical element may remain the most critical to ensuring lower body counts. Just consider that Berry Aviation, that AFRICOM casevac contractor, only had “one fixed wing aircraft and one helicopter situated in Niamey ready to go within three hours for operations throughout North and West Africa” at the time of the deadly ambush, according to reporting from The War Zone — two hours beyond that essential ‘golden hour.’

While the DoD is in the process of expanding its fleet of HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk helicopters to bolster its capabilities, troops downrange can't wait for the gears of the Pentagon's bureaucracy to start turning. But when questioned about AFRICOM's readiness issues on March 6, Waldhauser didn't seem too inclined to push hard to address the current state of affairs even with the raging shitstorm dropped on his lap in the aftermath of the ambush.

Related: Dunford Paints A Dire Picture Of The Fight To Come In Niger And Beyond »

"The resources that we have are adequate for what we do,” Waldhauser said, referring to AFRICOM as ‘an economy of force organization’ that’s well-suited to do more with less. “Personnel evacuation and medevac and then ISR support …  those are things that we would like to have more of and I don't think there's any COCOM who has said before ... that he has adequate ISR. But the bottom line is we know we have adequate resources to do what we're supposed to do ... we have to be creative we've got to coordinate, but I think the overall budget certainly gives us what we need.”

The U.S currently has 6,500 service members deployed in countries across Africa, service members who conduct an average of 10 missions a day throughout a continent that will likely become the next big front in the Global War on Terror. An absence of a robust, effective medevac/casevac infrastructure means that those service members can’t rely on rescue if they’re in trouble. And while military planners may consider the resources on hand “adequate” for their purposes, the family members of service members left wounded and dying downrange due to lack of government funding will certainly not see it that way.

WATCH NEXT:

Want to read more from Task & Purpose? Sign up for our daily newsletter »

U.S Army/Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

Read More Show Less