AFRICA: The State of Africa Command

March 7, 2014 at 2:02 am 1 comment

Eyes in the Sky Needed

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

The head of U.S. Africa Command said Thursday (March 6) that he is woefully short of intelligence-gathering assets like unmanned aircraft to monitor the vast, troubled stretches of North West Africa.

Gen. David Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that only 11 percent of his command’s intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) needs were being met – but that was up from just 7 percent last year.

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the panel, said he found those numbers “pretty troubling.” He noted that when violence broke out in South Sudan last December, ISR assets had to be pulled away from helping African and U.S. Special Operations troops track down the murderous renegade rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Headed by indicted war criminal Joseph Kony, the LRA has for decades murdered and plundered its way across Central Africa, kidnapping children to be used as soldiers or sex slaves.

There are two unmanned surveillance drones and about 100 U.S. Air Force personnel to operate and maintain them based in Niger to help French and African peacekeepers restore order after a military coup fueled a revolt by nomadic Tuaregs that morphed into a takeover by Islamic extremists. More drones reportedly fly out of the U.S. military’s one African base, Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti to monitor Sudan, Somalia and other flash points around the Horn of Africa.

Rodriquez told the Senate panel that the biggest intelligence gap he faced ranged from northern Mali to eastern Libya at the northern end of the continent. The Army general said he needed Joint STARS surveillance aircraft and remotely piloted air vehicles [drones] “to cover that vast range.”

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) (U.S. Air Force file photo)

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS)
(U.S. Air Force file photo)

At he start of the hearing, to explore the needs of AFRICOM and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, said ISR assets were “a particular area of focus” for the panel this year since the Pentagon decided to reduce its capacity for round-the-clock unmanned combat air patrols because of budget constraints.

In his written testimony for the hearing, Rodriguez said his command was “making significant progress” in expanding collaboration and information-sharing with African and European partners to reduce threats and increase stability in a region threatened by violent extremist organizations..

Rwandan soldiers wait in line to board a U.S. ir Force C-17 Globemaster III to deploy as peacekeepers to aid French and African Union operations in the Central African Republic.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Rwandan soldiers wait in line to board a U.S. ir Force C-17 Globemaster III to deploy as peacekeepers aiding French and African Union operations in the Central African Republic.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

While AFRICOM can mitigate immediate threats and crises like violent extremist organizations like al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab in Somalia, long term solutions will hinge on development of “effective and democratic partner nation security institutions and professional [armed] forces that respect civil authority.

He noted that Africa will be “increasingly important to the United States in the future.” It is home to six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies, a population estimated to double by 2050. “Nearly 80 percentr of United Nations peacekjeeping personnel worldwide are deployed in missions to Africa,” Rodriguez said. “Modest investments, in the right places, go a long way in Africa,” he added.

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Entry filed under: Africa, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, Disaster Relief, International Crime, National Security and Defense, Peacekeeping, Skills and Training, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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