U.S. Army Africa continues to provide training to different African nations to help them secure their own borders, thereby helping them secure the region. Because of this, whatever American interests are in that region or country will, as a secondary effect, be secure as well.
USARAF’s mission of protecting and defending national security interests is accomplished by strengthening African land forces.
“By helping Africans help themselves, it means that we don’t have to get involved ourselves. If Africans are solving African problems, then the U.S. government doesn’t have to use the U.S. Army to solve African problems,” said Maj. Albert Conley III, USARAF's Counter Terrorism Desk Officer for International Military Engagements.
“By having a conglomerate of nations in the African Union going into [a particular country] to help fix that nation’s problems, American servicemen won’t have to go into ‘that’ country to help fix that problem,” he said.
The recent month-long airlift operations in Rwanda, Burundi and the Central African Republic that began in mid-December is an example of the impact USARAF’s training is making on the continent to prevent atrocities and provide a stabilizing influence.
“The recent operation in Rwanda is not the first time USARAF has been in Rwanda and it is also not the first time Rwanda has deployed to other countries; the first mission USARAF ever did was to move a Rwandan force to DARFOR back in 2008,” said Col. Marcus DeOliveira, USARAF Assistant Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations. “What stands out is how smooth the operation went in Rwanda because they had trained on loading supplies and deploying soldiers before so the experience was not new to them,” he said.
In Bangui (Central African Republic), DeOliveira said before their supplies and soldiers arrived they had already been conducting their mission to include conducting the first convoy all the way to the border with Cameroon. “There aren’t too many armies in the world that can do that with a battalion, so it shows the level of experience and the level of skill they have to be able to do something like that,” he said.
Col. John “Boone” Ruffing, USARAF Security Cooperation director, concurs that in a lot of ways USARAF’s African partners are quite capable of conducting their own operations.
“We didn’t train the Chadians when they went to Mali. They self-deployed from Chad through Niger into Mali. They conducted combat operations side-by-side with the French and for the most part, they have been successful,” Ruffing said.
But it’s more than just training, Ruffing said, it’s about developing an ethical-based mentality throughout the training – and this is what USARAF focuses on as it works with its partners.
“We’re not out there trying to say that it’s the U.S. way or the highway, or these are the U.S. Army values and you have to follow them,” Ruffing said. “From battalion commander on down, we try to provide mentors to work, shape, mold and coach these young minds. We want to train a battalion that is more than just ‘a battalion;’ showing them it’s more than the flag on their shoulder, it’s about a greater need,” Ruffing said.
Ruffing said expertise in understanding the environment in Africa is very limited, with most of Middle America thinking Africa is a country, not a continent.
“When I came in the Army in the 80s, a lot of people knew about Latin America. We spent the 70s and 80s in Latin America. Now since the 90s, we have a lot of people who know about the Middle East, and have operated in the Middle East,” Ruffing said. “So, now we are developing an expertise about the continent of Africa using the Regionally Aligned Forces concept and learning the culture, the language, how to operate in the various environments, and the regional orientation. We have a new generation of Soldiers who are learning a lot about Africa -- appreciating and wanting to be involved in Africa is something we haven’t had in a long time,” Ruffing said.
The U.S. Army is a learning organization that is ever changing, according to Ruffing.
“After 12 years of war, we were used to having a fairly large, sustained logistics trail to sustain us wherever we were -- we don’t have any of that in Africa,” Ruffing said. “So the challenge is going back to the way we used to be in the Army, and that is to be expeditionary, to live in austere environments, to rely on partners for sustainment. Everything we do on the continent, we want to do it in good faith and in a transparent way not only for our government, but for our African partner nations too.”