African partners, proximity key to crisis response solutions
By 1st Lt. Danielle Dixon, Marine Corps Forces Europe
MORÓN AIR BASE, Spain -- Ebola, piracy, illicit trafficking, violent extremist organizations, and attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities are not new occurrences on the African continent. In an effort to directly confront those issues and engage with partner nations, U.S. forces are ensuring crisis-response forces are equipped, strategically located, and ready.
The U.S. European Command established three forward-staging bases, known as cooperative security locations, in Uganda, Senegal, and Gabon, prior to the creation of U.S. Africa Command in 2007. Now, with a higher demand on crisis-response capabilities, eight more locations have been established or are currently being negotiated, across the continent.
A CSL is not a U.S. facility or base. It is simply a location that, when needed and with the permission of the partner country, can be used by U.S. personnel to support a wide range of contingencies, such as the recent international Ebola response. Nearly 3,000 Department of Defense personnel utilized one of the CSLs the U.S. maintains access to during Operation United Assistance in response to the Ebola virus in Liberia last fall. That access and shared capability with international and interagency partners helped prove the vitality of forward staged logistical support facilities.
These sites allow forces to effectively reach an additional 400 miles inland with the Marine Corps’ MV-22 Ospreys, and even further with the aerial refueling capabilities of the Corps’ KC-130J Hercules. That reach provides an improved ability to protect U.S. interests, facilities, and personnel. With the help of international and interagency partners, the U.S. can place crisis-response forces hours away from potential crises or unrest.
Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa tested two of the CSLs during their rotational deployment from January to August. In March, the force relocated to Ghana for 28 days to validate their ability to sustain a force of approximately 200 Marines and sailors while remaining ready to respond to crises within the region. During their four-week operation, SPMAGTF-CR-AF trained with the Ghana armed forces and worked closely with their counterparts at the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana.
General David Rodriguez, commanding general of U.S. Africa Command, continues to speak to the benefits these relationships provide as the U.S. services and their African partners develop creative and strategic answers to shared regional security concerns.
“Africa’s security environment remains dynamic and uncertain,” Rodriguez said in his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee March 26. “We built capacity and enabled our allies and partners to disrupt transnational terrorist and criminal networks, strengthen border security, and contribute to multinational peacekeeping operations. We also ensured that cooperative security locations on the continent are able to support the temporary staging of crisis response forces to protect U.S. personnel and facilities.”
SPMAGTF-CR-AF validated a second location in Libreville, Gabon, when four MV-22 Ospreys and two KC-130J Hercules tankers moved more than 150,000 pounds of gear and approximately 180 Marines and Sailors in mid-June. The force remained aboard the CSL for approximately three weeks and linked-up with Marines who were conducting training with nearby French and Gabonese forces.
Cynthia Akuetteh, the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Gabon and the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe, explained the U.S.-Gabonese relationship as a strong and maturing partnership with shared commitments.
“In my experience, the Gabonese are both open to and eager for capacity-building opportunities. This exercise is just one piece in a broad and robust relationship; a relationship that benefits both sides through shared experiences and mutual understanding,” said Akuetteh. “Gabon is a stable, strong partner in a volatile region, and it plays a pivotal role in international efforts to ensure maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.”
The relationships made in countries like Ghana and Gabon are unique—connecting partner nations on a personal level as their service members train and learn together to solve regional issues.
“As we look to the future, I anticipate Africa’s importance to our national interests of security, prosperity, international order, and the promotion of universal values will continue to grow,” Rodriquez said to the committee.
Crisis-response Marines and adjacent U.S. forces will continue to pioneer alternative answers to the questions Africa’s security landscape poses. While the initiative and strategies behind CSLs are not new endeavors, SPMAGTF-CR-AF will continue to validate their ability to forward-stage and train with African partners.