Tuesday, May 4, 2010

AFRICOM exercise begins

Jeune Afrique reports that "Flintlock 10," a three-week annual AFRICOM exercise designed to help 16 countries fight terrorism has begun. According to the magazine, "about 1200 soldiers, including 600 US Special Forces, more than 400 Africans, and 150 Europeans" are participating. The BBC adds that the exercise involves "mostly Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Chad." The exercise required the establishment of a 300-strong temporary command center in Ouagadougou (that's in Burkina Faso). AFRICOM is also working with the African Union in this endeavor.

So I have some questions for General Ward. What's the point exactly? I mean aren't there more urgent priorities for supporting these countries' militaries than doing this kind of exercise? What's the benefit to our forces? Finally, why were the participating countries selected. eg. why is CAR not involved or for that matter some of the North African countries? What do you all think?

30 comments:

  1. FlintLock, actually.

    So I have some questions for General Ward. What's the point exactly?

    To develop interoperability and share best practices for CT operations, and to build relationships with the security forces in partner countries.

    I mean aren't there more urgent priorities for supporting these countries' militaries than doing this kind of exercise?

    Like what? Security cooperation planning is based around desired endstates, which is to say that strategic guidance lays out where you want things to end up in a theater, then you build backwards to how different countries can help you realize those objectives. That means that activities are coordinated along certain lines of effort, rather than looking at a country by itself and saying "what's the thing we ought to focus on with these guys?" as if in a vacuum.

    What's the benefit to our forces?

    It's interesting that you ask this question, because it's sort of contradictory to the previous one (where you suggested that the focus ought to be on what capabilities we're developing in the partner militaries). But the answer is 1) interoperability (even to a limited extent), and 2) development of capacity and capabilities in training foreign security forces.

    Finally, why were the participating countries selected. eg. why is CAR not involved or for that matter some of the North African countries?

    Back to regional endstates and the theater security cooperation plan. This stuff is all worked backwards from the Guidance for the Employment of the Force (GEF), which is sort of the foundational, DOD-level strategic guidance to the COCOMs and the services for security cooperation.

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  2. Also worth noting that this exercise is being executed through the named operation OEF-Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) under the auspices of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. That explains the choice of partner countries, as all those named are partners in OEF-TS.

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  3. They run Flintlock every year, I believe. But I think this might be the first time Europeans participated in it.

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  4. Thanks for correcting my spelling Gulliver...made that quick correction. The rest is going to have to wait until later because I need to get back to work after a lunch meeting.

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  5. It seems to me that this is meant to be preventative medicine--train operatives from central countries where terrorist cells could harbour themselves, and provide them the tools to combat those cells. "Teach a man to fish," etc etc.

    Not to mention the relationships the operation can promote between the US and Northern African nations, which is to the benefit of our foreign policy there.

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  6. Interesting discussion you all; re: country selection: please see here on Somali Pirates http://annlytical.com/blog/2010/5/4/war-on-piracy-new-ways-to-fund-al-qaeda.html

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  7. Ok, sorry for being out of the loop...work gets in the way of blogging. Gulliver, I intended for the questions to be contradictory, maybe I didn't do a good job with phrasing but I was trying to get to utility from the perspective of the recipient and from the perspective of the donor.

    You've all made some interesting points and thanks for the links. Still the points have largely focused on what we're getting out of this.

    When reading about these exercises, I'm struck by interviews I did several years ago (2006) with DC-based, African defense attaches (including countries on this list). We asked them what their priorities where for US security assistance. They said things like "Can you help us learn how to better respond to natural disasters? Or severe country-wide riots stemming from failure to pay public servant salaries?"

    When we asked about terrorism they said "well, that's not a priority, terrorism (from AQ for example) isn't going to affect the survival of our state institutions." Now we may disagree with that assessment but that's what they said.

    The Chadian military, when a column last entered from Darfur and went all the way to the capital, had to rely on the French to rout the rebels. The rebels had no links to terrorism at all (that I know of). Is responding to this kind of incursion similar to responding to terrorism?

    The President of Niger, for the first time, has admitted to a famine problem this year (the New York Times had a good story on that). His military could probably use some help responding to that emergency (not just as a band aid for this time around but planning for the inevitable next time).

    The countries that are part of this initiative have serious civilian control of the military problems (maybe Senegal a bit less and Nigeria has some mechanisms in place in this areas but the others not so much). If CT training consists of gathering intelligence, helping their elite forces to storm houses, kill people at long distances or take down people on the street, there are inherent risks in building those types of skills. In other words, are we teaching recruits how to fire a gun before before we teach them discipline and how to march?

    All this to ask: do these CT programs include training to possibly deal with the priorities recipient militaries might have defined themselves? Are we including CT as part of wider security assistance programs? Are we relying on other donors to take care of wider training issues? If not, it seems to me that we are providing CT training as a stand-alone because it's sexy right now and when we asked the recipient countries, they said “sounds great” because they knew that was the only way they would get anything from us. How much are we doing this because while it increases our interoperability, experience in these settings, the more relevant thing is we can get money for it right now? What are they getting that really benefits them in the long term?

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  8. In my dealings with AFRICOM, Lil, Stuttgart makes a good point: Often, the skills needed to roust armed irregulars are the same skills necessary to fighting conventional wars, interdicting smugglers and whatnot.

    They're sort of at the rudimentary level of shooting, moving and communicating, which is hard for anyone to master and is especially so when working in concert with the forces from other nations.

    AFRICOM would answer "affirmative" to all your questions in the last paragraph. Our spending there actually is pretty minimal, the effort greatly understaffed and the geo-strategy decidedly indirect (see previous discussion), which makes it unpopular across the wider Army.

    And which probably is why it will succeed.

    Also, no nation needs to be in it. They can opt out.

    SNLII

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  9. Ugh, I loathe blogspot. I just typed a really, really long response to Lil's last and it disappeared into the ether. Will effort to replicate it after lunch, maybe.

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  10. Ok, let's try this again (in substantially abridged form).

    When reading about these exercises, I'm struck by interviews I did several years ago (2006) with DC-based, African defense attaches (including countries on this list). We asked them what their priorities where for US security assistance. They said things like "Can you help us learn how to better respond to natural disasters? Or severe country-wide riots stemming from failure to pay public servant salaries?"

    When we asked about terrorism they said "well, that's not a priority, terrorism (from AQ for example) isn't going to affect the survival of our state institutions." Now we may disagree with that assessment but that's what they said.


    I don't think this comes as a shock to most people, simply because it should be obvious that the priority for a country like Burkina Faso (or for its military) is NOT the fight against transnational violent extremist organizations. That said, it IS a priority for the United States, and as of now -- and especially in the near term -- perhaps the only priority. To put it quite simply, you have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to convince yourselve that the best use of U.S. assistance dollars is training the Malian military on how to stanch country-wide riots. This is one of those "the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must" kind of things. Security cooperation is not no-strings development aid.

    Further, there's an important distinction here between Title 10 security cooperation and Title 22 security assistance. The former, which consists of exercises, military-to-military contacts, senior leader engagements, conferences, workshops, and seminars, and so on, is funded and authorized through the Defense Department. Title 10 SC requires as its end some improvement to U.S. capabilities, some direct benefit for U.S. forces.

    The latter, funded and authorized through State, is security ASSISTANCE. This still isn't the same as development aid, but it's more partner capacity/capability focused, and includes the sale of equipment and the provision of training.

    The exercise you've highlighted here is Title 10 security COOPERATION. We might call it "training," but the law doesn't. It's mentorship, and engagement, and interaction, and whatever else you want to call it, and the partner militaries may derive coincident benefit from that, but by law it must be directed at some gain for U.S. personnel/units.

    All this to ask: do these CT programs include training to possibly deal with the priorities recipient militaries might have defined themselves?

    If by this you mean "when we teach low-capability militaries how to do CT-oriented stuff, are there safeguards that they're not using this capability development to do things like shooting protestors and tracking down political opponents?," then the answer is "sort of." The safeguard, really, is the narrow and targeted nature of the engagement. (As a sort of aside, this is the reason, really, for the distinction between Title 22 and Title 10 activities: so that the Defense Department can't run its own foreign policy through the pursuit of expansive and unlimited security assistance and security cooperation programs.)

    (cont'd...)

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  11. Are we including CT as part of wider security assistance programs?

    See above. In some cases, yes. In others, no. It all depends on the country, the level of extant capability, and the place that we're trying to get them to. In a country with minimal political stability and an uncertain future, it's senseless to engage in a massive security sector reform effort with a government and military that may not be around when you need to call on all that new capability.

    Are we relying on other donors to take care of wider training issues?

    Yes and no, but mostly no. There's minimal coordination with some NATO allies who are also engaged on the continent, but there's not any sort of Master Plan. It's hard enough to coordinate security cooperation and security assistance, or to coordinate DoD efforts with a larger Mission Strategic Plan or Country Plan.

    If not, it seems to me that we are providing CT training as a stand-alone because it's sexy right now and when we asked the recipient countries, they said “sounds great” because they knew that was the only way they would get anything from us.

    This is true. It's also true that the way we build strategic plans makes it really hard to do it any other way.

    How much are we doing this because while it increases our interoperability, experience in these settings, the more relevant thing is we can get money for it right now? What are they getting that really benefits them in the long term?

    I don't know the specifics of this exercise, and whether there's a pot of money set aside for TSCTP. (I would assume that there's a budget line under the DoD's OCO OEF-TS justification, but I don't know.) Otherwise it's just being done out of hide by AFRICOM, without any special authorization or funding, and it MUST be dedicated to improving U.S. capabilities.

    To be totally honest with you, what the partner country gets in the long term is not at the top of the priority list here. While the USG would obviously like to build sustainable, enduring capability in partner countries (if only because it represents much better value for money), there are a number of obstacles to this that are often obscure or inaccessible to U.S. planners.

    I hope I'm not getting too down into the weeds on this, because I think you've raised some interesting points about a subject that not a whole lot of people know much about. In order for us to deliver really effective security assistance/security force assistance, there's going to have to be a massive and meaningful reorganization of the security assistance apparatus. That means new laws and authorities, new programs, new funding lines, new organizational structures, and so on and so forth. It's a much bigger problem than just DoD, though Secretary Gates recognizes the importance of this issue and is already exerting pressure for change.

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  12. Let me come back to the point I should've originally made in response to the last paragraph of your post, Lil. You wrote:

    So I have some questions for General Ward. What's the point exactly? I mean aren't there more urgent priorities for supporting these countries' militaries than doing this kind of exercise? What's the benefit to our forces? Finally, why were the participating countries selected. eg. why is CAR not involved or for that matter some of the North African countries? What do you all think?

    First of all, GEN Ward and AFRICOM didn't choose these countries or these priorities. FLINTLOCK is an annual exercise that's nested into an ongoing named operation, OEF-TS. That operation, conducted by the DoD, is nested into the larger Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Program. According to AFRICOM's website, "TSCTP is a State Department-led initiative specifically developed to address potential expansion of operations by terrorist and extremist organizations across West and North Africa. Interagency coordination is critical to its success."

    So State determined that indterdiction of terrorist operations in West and North Africa was a priority. Then DoD looks and says "how can we build our operation to support that objective?", and comes up with OEF-TS. As a part of that, AFRICOM uses the authorities and resources available to say "we're gonna run an exercise that works on development of CT capabilities, as well as intel-sharing, interoperability, and so on."

    The planning is all nested into a larger national objective, as it should be. This means that the country objectives are considerably different than they might (and note that I say MIGHT!) be if it was just a case of the COCOM pursuing bilateral security cooperation according to a tailored country plan. The reality is that what we'd be doing with Burkina Faso, for example, if they weren't a part of OEF-TS is way, way less than what we're doing now.

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  13. Gulliver, the above is some fantastic knowledge. Thanks for sharing it.

    As you note, OEF-TS is not the only partnership work going on between AFRICOM and African nations; it's highly dependent on what a given nation may need and what the DOD and State are willing to provide. Exercise Phoenix Express May, for example, was a project of the USN and several North African countries, and the USAF has been very involved in training and assistance in many nations, including Rwanda and Nigeria.

    Operation Flintlock is an interesting example, because as Lil notes, it's very much in line with US interests in the region, but is only one part of a much larger sustained effort of AFRICOM since its inception in 2006.

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  14. The other thing about OEF-TS (Overly Expressive Femme -- Transexual) is that it's so cheap. I'd have to go and look it up, but I think the annual budget runs between $80 - $100 million, which is probably what the Coast Guard spends on Deepwater paper clips.

    SNLII

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  15. According to this report it's $100m per year; the budget for AFRICOM in 2010 is $278m, so the action represents about a third of the budget.

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  16. I talked to the commander in January and he said it was between $80 million and $100 million. Part of why it's lower than in that report is because it's under-staffed.

    SNLII

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  17. karakapend -- According to this report it's $100m per year; the budget for AFRICOM in 2010 is $278m, so the action represents about a third of the budget.

    Forgive my bluntness, but you've got this mixed up. The $100M/yr number is for TSCTP. OEF-TS also isn't funded out of the AFRICOM budged, as it's a named operation; the $278M number is the requested operating budget for AFRICOM.

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  18. This RAND study by Jennifer Moroney suggests that as of 2007, the budget for OEF-TS training and equipping efforts was something like $17M (p56). That's obviously not the entirety of the money spent in the operation, but a slice of it.

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  19. Sorry, this is confusing, but I seem to have been wrong about that. The $17M in 2007 seems to be the TOTAL budget for OEF-TS in that year. I'm sure it's gone up now that AFRICOM exists and is able to administer the program more directly (it was previously done, like all SC work with Africa, through EUCOM).

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  20. The rabidly militaristic chick who is Great Satan's Girlfriend unfortunately hasn't (un)covered AFRICOM that much.

    http://greatsatansgirlfriend.blogspot.com/search?q=AFRICOM

    SNLII

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  21. And also, finally, for what it's worth: a lot of the training performed under the auspices of OEF-TS is done through the Joint/Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program, which is a special Title 10 authorization (with a sort of misleading name) that's used by SOF to train foreign military forces. The regional Special Operations Commands can send teams that are expressly authorized to provide training through some sort of loop-de-loop justification that those U.S. personnel are improving their own capability to partner with FSF. That's how most of the on-the-ground, hands-on training gets done during FLINTLOCK.

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  22. Gotcha. No apologies necessary--I'd rather know the right information than persist in incorrectness. Thanks for the clarification.

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  23. I'm beginning to suspect that we've been had.

    How do we know that calling out GEN Ward wasn't some Ink Spots' attempt to get onto the MPRI radar?

    SNLII

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  24. How do we know that calling out GEN Ward wasn't some Ink Spots' attempt to get onto the MPRI radar?

    Damn, and I thought we'd covered our tracks!

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  25. I'm sure you'll be duly "balanced," Gulliver.

    Is there a thought to why it's under-staffed? I can think of some broad reasons, but I'm interested to know from you two, Gulliver & SNLII. Is that on purpose, to keep the command relatively small, or due to exterior budget constraints?

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  26. It's mostly because the command can't get the right officers to join it. It requires a certain temperament to do that kind of work.

    One might suggest also that it's probably considered a career dead end. If you want to make your mark in COIN, do you go to Afghanistan and become a BCT XO? Or do you work the indirect method in OEF-TS?

    I'm not an expert on that, but I know that I would rather make my mark in OEF in the 'Stan than in Stuttgart (making frequent trips to beautiful Niger).

    SNLII

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  27. Is there a thought to why it's under-staffed? I can think of some broad reasons, but I'm interested to know from you two, Gulliver & SNLII. Is that on purpose, to keep the command relatively small, or due to exterior budget constraints?

    I'm not totally clear on what SNLII is getting at when he says "it" is understaffed. Neither TSCTP nor OEF-TS has assigned personnel, AFRICOM doesn't have organic forces, and I don't think anyone on the COCOM staff is permanently assigned to that mission.

    The COCOM itself (and its component commands, such as U.S. Army Africa) is undermanned simply because they're still being stood up, have not filled all their staff billets yet, and because the Army at least is undergoing a component command redesign to try to figure out exactly how the staff ought to be built. No one is entirely sure how different AFRICOM is going to be in a steady-state sense from the other COCOMs, so they're still getting up to speed and up to full manning. Manning shortfalls at AFRICOM could potentially influence the money devoted to OEF-TS as a result of just stressing too few staff officers too many ways (but I doubt it).

    Now, that said, the troops who do the actual mil-to-mil interactions and who participate in this exercise, as far as I know, are SF guys from the Groups that focus on Africa. They're not organic to AFRICOM (but rather to USSOCOM or the theater special operations commands) and have to be requested through the Global Force Management system to source security cooperation missions.

    Of course, SNLII still makes good and necessary points about the challenges involved in getting guys to self-select for the advisory mission, or to become Africa Foreign Area Officers (FAO) for example. FAOs make up much of the security cooperation staff at the COCOMs and component commands, and both organizations are definitely short of those guys.

    I'm not sure that anyone's making the choice between being a BCT XO in Afghanistan and a trainer in OEF-TS just because we're using the GPF/operating forces in Afghanistan and SOF in TS, but you make a fair point about the dilemma of trying to create advisory force structure out of the combat arms talent pool.

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  28. Gulliver--thank you so much for all of those clarifications. Seriously, that's a really clear explanation of the difference between Title 10 and Title 22. Much appreciated.

    There's so much in this discussion you've been having, I think it's going to take me a couple iterations to get through the questions I have as a result...

    I'm going to start with the first one that comes to mind. Gulliver, you said that for the programs to be more effective, there would need to be a massive reorganization, new legislation etc. Has anyone written that up?

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  29. Gulliver, you said that for the programs to be more effective, there would need to be a massive reorganization, new legislation etc. Has anyone written that up?

    The short answer is no. Really what you'd be talking about is comprehensive national security reform, which would be way bigger than security assistance. So there are programs like PNSR and the whole "Beyond Goldwater-Nichols" thing, but nothing specifically focused on security assistance.

    Of course, there IS the recent Foreign Affairs article by Secretary Gates, and other comments and writings to similar effect, but nothing nearly so specific and comprehensive as you'd like to see.

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  30. OEF-TS is helmed by a LTC out of Stuttgart. The last time I checked in (February), they were supposed to have 11 staffers but had only seven, including the LTC (promotable).

    The lack of personnel doesn't affect the raw numbers of the budget, but rather what programs they can run. The more staffers specifically tagged to certain initiatives, the more they can do (there are coordination, grant monitoring and other issues that must be reconciled from DoD's standpoint). The infil can't come from State for a lot of this.

    SNLII

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