The slaughter of 28 people in the Tunisian tourist city of Sousse has yet to be directly attributed to ISIS, but given the extremist organization’s call for its followers to escalate their attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, it seems likely. Of course the response to Tunisia will be we must do more and where’s the Marines?, but lost in all of this might be accountability for what the United States is already up to. It is all over the continent—U.S. intelligence, diplomats and military personnel are scurrying and turning Africa into the latest theater of war. Whatever they are doing, it clearly didn’t prevent today’s attack, maybe because our African mission seems to be as concerned with ordering stationery and writing regulations as fighting terrorists directly or protecting civilians.

I’m not arguing that the U.S. military could or should do more, but I am asking what are they doing at all. And one might think that at least the “special operators” would be able to cut through the bureaucracy and achieve more than just kill the latest al Qaeda or ISIS number three; that there might be some benefit from their core pre-9/11 mission, which is building internal capacity.

But I’ve gotten a peek at the special operations annex to the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Five Year plan and I’m still recovering from acronymic shock. The plan, prepared by the theater special operations entity called Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA), is more than 500 pages long, including chapters, appendices, sample orders and documentation, tables, glossaries, etc. Even here, even with the supposed elite, I smell a paper dragon.

The Five Year Plan is not a strategy. It’s not an operational plan. It’s not the actual “SOF Annual Deployment Schedule” that it makes abundant reference to. It is more a guidebook, a template, a manual that purports to lay out what the command might do between now and 2020. At the same time, it is completely divorced from the reality of either what U.S. national security strategy is, who is (or might be) president, or what the situation on the ground might demand, either on a country-by-country basis or in aggregate as a region.

The “plan” is meticulous, down to the specifications regarding everything from rules for vaccines to adhering to U.S. and international human rights policy. For any and each planned activity, it lays out the preparation of the requisite policy letters, Terms of Reference (TORs), Request for Deployment Orders (RDOs), MOIs, Letters of Instruction (LOIs), fact sheets, messages and After-Action Reports (AARs) addressing all deployment matters. This is the exhaustive and exhausting standard paperwork required for planning and operations.

I’ll just share with you some of the parameters of the activities and players, which in itself describes the frenzied crush that the drives the bureaucracy to master the new continent—well, new to the Pentagon.

Operations in Africa fall under one of two categories, theater-named operations and contingencies; and deployments. Named operations and contingencies include:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom—Trans-Sahara (OEF-TS), the original war against al Qaeda and affiliated movements (AQAM); focus includes Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) among its targets.
  • Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), the original Djibouti-based post-9/11 al-Qaeda-oriented campaign focusing on Somalia and other countries in the region, but also including support for counter-piracy. “Combined” means the United States, Djibouti, and France.
  • Operation Javelin Strike. (Got any idea what this is? Not the PACOM exercise; send us an Email).
  • Operation Lion Archer. (Got any idea what this is? Send us an Email).
  • Operation Objective Voice: “OPERATION OBJECTIVE VOICE (OOV), known previously as OPERATION ASSURED VOICE - AFRICA (OAV-A), is an operation that strikes at the heart of violent extremist efforts—ideology. OOV is a proactive effort where multiple agencies partner with African governments to broadcast messages to counter extremist propaganda. Military Information Support Teams, in conjunction with DOS public diplomacy, have demonstrated success in several countries including Nigeria, Mali, and Kenya. We continue to work with participating nations, Embassy Country Teams, and DOS to enhance this program.”
  • Operation Odyssey Dawn (and the NATO Operation Unified Protector).
  • Operation Onward Liberty: United States’ support to the government of Liberia.
  • Operation Trident Reach/Ocean Look.
  • Operation Trident Reach II. (Got any idea what this is? Send us an Email.)
  • Operation Tusker Sand: Reconnaissance operations reportedly aimed at locating Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony.
  • Operation Creek Sand: air operations in Mali.
  • The integrated survey program (ISP), a special operations red-team that assesses the security of U.S. government facilities in Africa.
  • Emergency non-combatant evacuation (NEO) operations.
  • Contingency support beyond NEO.
  • Foreign internal defense (FID).
  • Crisis military operations in support of failed governments as directed by the President of the United States.
  • Unilateral (UNIL) operations.

Deployments include:

  • Security Force Assistance (SFA).
  • Counter Narco-Terrorism (CNT), which really means counter-drug operations coordinated with host-nation forces and agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
  • Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET).
  • Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE).
  • Organized (regular) bilateral and multilateral exercises (e.g., African Lion, Judicious Response, Phoenix Express).
  • 1208 projects (Assistance for Forces Assisting the U.S. Combat Terrorism under the National Defense Authorization Act).

“Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremist organizations are using wide and multiple areas of Africa, particularly from northern Mali to southern Libya, as safe havens in order to train and funnel troops and funding and launch attacks against various targets throughout Africa. They then return to those safe havens to rest, refit and re-equip. Is special operations uniquely qualified to capitalize on its Title 10 authorities such as counterterrorism, direct action and FID to control, manage and/or dismantle those sanctuaries? If so, how and what skills would be most effective?”

Special Operations Research Topics 2015

Every operation and deployment has to be coordinated with a set of at least a couple of dozen entities, which gives some sense of the paperwork of war:

  • The Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon.
  • Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Florida and Washington.
  • Department of the Army and the other service departments.
  • USAFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany; and its subordinate components (AFAF (Air Force), USARAF (Army), NAVAF (Navy), MARFORAF (Marine Corps), and CJTF-HOA).
  • Military Group (MILGP)/Country Teams at the Embassy level.
  • USAID representatives at the country level and in Washington.
  • The service special operations commands and entities that have responsibilities in Africa, including AFSOC (Air Force), NAVSPECWARCOM (Navy), USASOC (Army), USASFC (Army), and MARSOC (Marine Corps).

“The threat of al-Qaeda and other groups remains an area of concern for the U.S. and its allies around the world. The reach of al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks can now be found not only in the U.S. Central Command AOR, but expanding into the U.S. Africa Command AOR as well. In particular, there is concern for militant groups operating in eastern Central African Republic, Northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, South Sudan, and Sudan, including their operating areas, membership, ideology, and smuggling routes. Additionally, research in the area should include those territories that are transitioning to Sharia Law.”

Special Operations Research Topics 2015

The specific units that operate in support of SOCAFRICA when it is conducted either operations or deployments (and have regular Africa-related missions), include:

  • Naval Special Warfare Group 2 (NSWG-2), NSWG-10, and Naval Special Warfare Unit 10 (NSWU-10)
  • 19th & 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
  • C-2/10th SFG(A)
  • 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR)
  • 16th Special Operations Wing (SOW)
  • 720th Special Tactics Group (STG)
  • 6th Special Operations Squadron (SOS)
  • 75th Ranger Regiment

AFRICOM now has a command presence in 33 countries, and operates 17 Offices of Security Cooperation (OSCs), each responsible for coordinating and fostering bilateral activities with host nations. There is also one Security Assistance Office, and three permanent Liaison Officers in unnamed countries. It’s all so organized, one might even believe we have a clue what we are doing there.

[Top photo courtesy of Department of Defense. Second and third photos courtesy of AP. All other imagery obtained by author.]

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