Africa is fast-becoming a continent where terrorist groups, like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, are reconstituting their numbers by co-opting local fighters into their ranks, Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, head of special operations for U.S. Africa Command said.
“Africa is providing them that safe haven, that venue where they can establish themselves,” he said Wednesday during an online interview with the American Enterprise Institute.
“Some regional militants in Africa are now primarily identifying themselves as members of transnational terrorist groups like al-Qaeda rather than with their local tribes. Once the militants become aligned, their goals change,” Maj. Gen. Anderson said.
But I don’t see it this way. My opinion is that militants are identifying themselves based on money, resources, and recruitment.
Let’s be honest; the State Department does not need the U.S. military going around killing a bunch of people in Africa, making the U.S.’s ambassadors’ jobs harder than they already are. Even the former SOCAF Commander was quoted as saying that Africa was at war, not the United States.
This makes it extremely frustrating for the very eager and capable Green Berets in Africa that have developed deep personal relationships with the local partner forces.
Several years ago, when I was in Niger, the mission approval process took forever, sometimes up to a week. It seemingly got kicked back to the team over and over again for grammatical corrections that did not even matter. Our partner force at the time was a quick response force, capable of responding to an attack within a couple of hours. The partner forces would be back, would have cleaned up, showered, and eaten while the Green Berets were still working on version 29 of the CONOP (concept of the operation) to get the mission approved. Annoying.
But wait, don’t we have a blanket CONOP with all the critical information already on it before we even get in-country? Shouldn’t the military commanders only need a few updated notes on who is going, etc.? The answer is yes.
The bottom-line truth of the matter is that the State Department and the military are not in a position to accept the loss of another soldier. Nobody is willing to accept the possibility of another Niger, Togo Togo incident. At the same time, your highly-trained Green Beret, who is young, fit, and motivated, cannot understand why he cannot just do his job. For the higher-ups, it is much easier to slow roll the mission prep — usually until it renders response ineffective — and have the teams do nothing than accept the risk of losing a Green Beret.
As a Green Beret, I have felt the pain of a fallen comrade’s loss. I’ve sat through the funeral service of my best friend while his widow wept and the 21-gun salute went off. I have missed Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries — year after year. Green Berets are three-time volunteers: They volunteer to join the military; they volunteer to jump school; and they volunteered to become a Green Beret. They know exactly the risks involved in their chosen profession.
But I have seen many one-term Green Berets get out of the military because it was not what they thought it was going to be. As the older guy that had done nearly a dozen combat trips, I explained to them that everything comes in rotations. This means they would get those challenging Afghanistan combat trips, but also the less-than-desirable missions. But unfortunately for that young 24-year-old Green Beret, this leaves a sour taste in his mouth, and he now is going to look elsewhere.
To have fully capable Green Berets in countries and not use them to their full capacity is to waste their capability. To make matters worse, it negatively contributes to the security situation on the continent. Team guys have been relegated to providing staff mentor-ship to African commandos and supply bullets for training.
To be clear, this type of support — Foreign Internal Defense — is one of seven core pillars of Special Operations Forces. While FID is an important mission, SOF should also be able to respond kinetically in a timely fashion and not be bogged down by protracted CONOP prep. Doing so undermines SOF retention as well as the security and stability within a region. If SOF weren’t hamstrung by their commands, they could make a positive changes in the region and further increase the security situation alongside their African Brothers.
After the Niger Tongo Tongo ambush that left four American soldiers dead, it seems as though the U.S. tucked its tail and went on to do nothing in retaliation. The French were the ones that were first on the scene and helped to find our missing soldier. Granted, Niger is a French colony, and they have a large presence in the region. But shouldn’t the U.S. have dedicated the resources and effort for retaliation? Do we not have a CRF (Crisis Response Force) for a situation such as this? Again, the answer is yes.
The Defense Department has 11 combatant commands, each with a geographic or functional mission that provides command and control of military forces in peace and war. Every two years, based on presidential guidance, they ultimately bid on how many teams are needed in which locations. I’m not exactly sure what the number is for Africa as a whole, but if we continue to keep the chains on our Green Berets, forcing them to stay on the base while our partners go on missions, recruiting will continue to be a very serious problem for SOF and stability in the region will crumble.