New Pentagon effort will send Army teams to Africa as terror threat grows

Fox News

WASHINGTON –  A U.S. Army brigade will  begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year,  part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists  and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises  requiring the U.S. military emerge.

The teams will be limited to training and equipping efforts, and will not be  permitted to conduct military operations without specific, additional approvals  from the secretary of defense.

The sharper focus on Africa by the U.S. comes against a backdrop of  widespread insurgent violence across North Africa, and as the African Union and  other nations discuss military intervention in northern Mali.

The terror threat from al-Qaida linked groups in Africa has been growing  steadily, particularly with the rise of the extremist Islamist sect Boko Haram  in Nigeria. Officials also believe that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S.  consulate in Benghazi, which killed the ambassador and three other Americans,  may have been carried out by those who had ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb.

This first-of-its-kind brigade assignment — involving teams from the 2nd  Brigade, 1st Infantry Division — will target countries such as Libya, Sudan,  Algeria and Niger, where Al Qaeda-linked groups have been active. It also will  assist nations like Kenya and Uganda that have been battling al-Shabab militants  on the front lines in Somalia.

Gen. Carter Ham, the top U.S. commander in Africa, noted that the brigade has  a small drone capability that could be useful in Africa. But he also  acknowledged that he would need special permission to tap it for that kind of  mission.

“If they want them for (military) operations, the brigade is our first  sourcing solution because they’re prepared,” said Gen. David Rodriguez, the head  of U.S. Army Forces Command. “But that has to go back to the secretary of  defense to get an execute order.”

Already the U.S. military has plans for nearly 100 different exercises,  training programs and other activities across the widely diverse continent. But  the new program faces significant cultural and language challenges, as well as  nagging questions about how many of the lower-level enlisted members of the  brigade, based in Fort Riley, Kan., will participate, since the teams would  largely be made up of more senior enlisted troops and officers. A full brigade  numbers about 3,500, but the teams could range from just a few people to a  company of about 200. In rare cases for certain exercises, it could be a  battalion, which would number about 800.

To bridge the cultural gaps with the African militaries, the Army is reaching  out across the services, the embassies and a network of professional  organizations to find troops and experts that are from some of the African  countries. The experts can be used during training, and the troops can both  advise or travel with the teams as they begin the program.

“In a very short time frame we can only teach basic phrases,” said Col.  Matthew McKenna, commander of the 162nd Infantry Brigade that will begin  training the Fort Riley soldiers in March for their African deployment. “We  focus on culture and the cultural impact — how it impacts the African  countries’ military and their operations.”

Thomas Dempsey, a professor with the Africa Center for Strategic Studies,  said the biggest challenge will be the level of cultural, language and  historical diversity across the far-flung continent.

“How do you train for that in a way that would be applicable wherever they  go?” said Dempsey, a retired Army colonel. He said he’s not sure using a combat  brigade is the right answer, but added, “I’m not sure what the answer is. The  security challenges differ so dramatically that, to be honest, I really don’t  think it’s feasible to have a continental training package.”

The Pentagon’s effort in Africa, including the creation of U.S. Africa  Command in 2007, has been carefully calibrated, largely due to broad misgivings  across the continent that it could spawn American bases or create the perception  of an undue U.S. military influence there. As a result, the command has been  based in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than on the African continent.

At the same time, many African nations are eager for U.S. training or  support, as they work to build their militaries, battle pirates along the coast  and shut down drug trafficking, kidnapping and other insurgent activities.

McKenna acknowledged the challenge, but said the military has to tap its  conventional fighting forces for this task because there aren’t enough special  operations forces to meet the global training needs. He said there will be as  many as a dozen different training segments between February and September, each  designed to provide tailored instruction for the particular teams.

The mission for the 2nd Brigade — known as the “Dagger Brigade” — will  begin in the spring and will pave the way for Army brigades to be assigned next  to U.S. Pacific Command and then to U.S. European Command over the next year.  The brigade is receiving its regular combat training first, and then will move  on to the more specific instruction needed for the deployments, such as language  skills, cultural information and other data about the African nations.

Dagger Brigade commander Col. Jeff Broadwater said the language and culture  training will be different than what most soldiers have had in recent years,  since they have focused on Pashtun and Farsi, languages used mostly in  Afghanistan and Iran. He said he expects the soldiers to learn French, Swahili,  Arabic or other languages, as well as the local cultures.

“What’s really exciting is we get to focus on a different part of the world  and maintain our core combat skills,” Broadwater said, adding that the soldiers  know what to expect. “You see those threats (in Africa) in the news all the  time.”

The brigade will be carved up into different teams designed to meet the  specific needs of each African nation. As the year goes on, the teams will  travel from Fort Riley to those nations — all while trying to avoid any  appearance of a large U.S. military footprint.

“The challenge we have is to always understand the system in their country,”  said Rodriguez, who has been nominated to be the next head of Africa Command.  “We’re not there to show them our system, we’re there to make their system work.  Here is what their army looks like, and here is what we need to prepare them to  do.”

Rodriguez said the nearly 100 assignments so far requested by Ham will be  carried out with “a very small footprint to get the high payoff.”

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