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After Niger, The Army Is Doubling Down On Its Counterterrorism Mission In Africa
The Army is “boosting” security, intelligence, and training operations in the Lake Chad Basin region, the branch announced on Oct. 26, with 80% of upcoming security cooperation activities involving security forces from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, where four soldiers deployed with the 3rd Special Forces Group were killed in an Oct. 4 ambush.
While the Army plans on increasing the number of activities with host countries focused on providing “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support as well as logistics and counter-improvised explosive device training,” a U.S. Army Africa spokesman told Task & Purpose that the uptick in partner operations will not involve an increase in the 6,000 U.S. military personnel currently deployed in 53 countries across the continent.
“The security cooperation events that U.S. Army Africa conducts across the continent and the Lake Chad Basin area are short in duration,” U.S. Army Africa spokesman Capt. Jason Welch told Task & Purpose in an email. “They typically last weeks or less, and consist of small teams that provide logistics, CIED, medical, intelligence, or command and control expertise.”
U.S. Army Africa expects to conduct around 271 security cooperation exercises with Lake Chad Basin partner militaries in 2018 alone, a 20% increase from 2017. Without an influx of additional troops, Welch said, U.S. Army Africa is “reprioritizing efforts across the continent” to accommodate an increased focus on the region, mainly to provide logistical and security support for AFRICOM and Cameroon’s joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts.
Nigerien service members in a multinational military exercise in Diffa, Niger, March 3, 2017.Photo via DoD
The “reconnaissance” element may make some observers nervous, though Welch insisted that U.S. troops “do not go on patrol” with partner forces or do so from “cover and concealment” as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford stated on Oct. 23. But that fateful Oct. 4 joint U.S.-Nigerien excursion was initiated as a “reconnaissance patrol” before Special Forces personnel reportedly expanded beyond their initial operational guidelines in pursuit of a high-value ISIS recruiter, as anonymous U.S. officials suggested to NBC News on Oct. 24. And while Dunford told reporters later that day that AFRICOM was currently investigating whether the detachment deviated from its initial mission, it’s worth remembering that AFRICOM chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser conceded in a 2017 posture statement that only “20-30%” of its ISR requirements have currently been met.
The U.S. military has been operating in the Lake Chad Basin for years as part of the Pentagon’s ever-expanding post-9/11 counterterrorism missions abroad. As of 2013, when President Barack Obama informed Congress of the deployment of 40 troops to Niger to set up a drone base and assist French forces in gathering intel on Al Qaeda-affiliated militants in neighboring, U.S. Army Africa was already conducting seven separate training missions in West and Central Africa in support of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali forces organized in response to rising militant activity in the region. As the Army refocuses on “advise and assist” missions around the globe as part of its modernization effort, those bastions of U.S. military power in Africa will likely remain.
But according to the Army, the changing posture in the Lake Chad Basin region doesn’t necessarily reflect a buildup of combat troops ready for a round of revanchist ass-kicking, or even a reshuffling of resources to accommodate the gap left by Chadian military assets, which recently withdrew from eastern Niger — a move that some media outlets prematurely identified as a major factor in the deadly Oct. 4 ambush. According to the Army, it’s the fact that Lake Chad itself “has drastically shrunk due to inefficient damming and irrigation methods” in recent years, which the command claims is the root cause of the food insecurity and and economic instability that has fueled the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram in the region.
“That's putting a lot of stress on the livelihood of the 40 million people that live in that area," said Army Brig. Gen. Eugene J. LeBoeuf said in a statement. “That's where our focus lies primarily in building that capacity for our host nations to be able to do those operations themselves.”
Nigerien soldiers receive a counter IED class as part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, Feb. 28, 2017.Photo via DoD
To a certain point, this fits in line with the Pentagon’s current approach to resource scarcity, climate-related or otherwise: Environmental factors like drought “aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions,” according to the DoD’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. “Anything that weakens the region is against U.S. interests; anything that weakens its Western allies likewise is against its interests,” as RAND’s Michael Shurkin put it on Oct. 25. “And speaking of allies, France currently is at war in Niger and in several of its neighbor nations. The French effort helps but is insufficient. They could use help themselves.”
In reality, the retasking is simply the latest effort by U.S. Army Africa to reshuffle its chess pieces in a region beset by transnational jihadist groups. As national security reporter Nick Turse at The Intercept points out, the DoD has had a shifting mosaic of nations under the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which funneled hundreds of millions to nations like Niger and Mali for years before the Obama drone base letter ($288 million from 2009 to 2013 alone, per Truse) for “train and equip” security force assistance missions focused on everything from weapons training and civil-military institution building to “increas[ing] local anti-terrorism capabilities and encourag[ing] local populations to cooperate with military forces.”
And according to Turse, those efforts have largely cause more harm than good. “The role of a U.S.-trained officer in overthrowing the government of Mali is yet another case of arms and training programs backfiring and creating a more chaotic environment in which terrorist organizations can grow,” William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, told The Intercept. “While the roots of terrorism are complex, it is fair to say that the larger U.S. military presence has, at a minimum, served as a recruiting tool for the growing number of terrorist groups operating in West Africa.”
Despite this, U.S. Army Africa is pressing ahead with counterterrorism operations in the Lake Chad Basin region. According to Welch, USARAF “[does] not anticipate changes to the operational tempo” by “maximizing Army resources that include Army Reserve, National Guard, and Army civilians.” And when Dunford spoke to reporters on Oct. 22, he stated that U.S. troops in Niger had already resumed training and advisory operations in the region despite the never-ending political maelstrom back home.
"This area is inherently dangerous," Dunford told reporters. "We're there because ISIS and Al Qaeda are operating in that area."
Senior defense officials offered a wide range of excuses to reporters on Wednesday about why they may not comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for documents related to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
On Oct. 7, lawmakers subpoenaed information about military aid to Ukraine. Eight days later, a Pentagon official told them to pound sand in part because many of the documents requested are communications with the White House that are protected by executive privilege.
Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce legislation Wednesday aiming to "fix" a new Trump administration citizenship policy that affects some children of U.S. service members stationed abroad.
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.