WASHINGTON — A contingent of U.S. soldiers has helped to strengthen capacity among African partner-nations and assisted them to work together in confronting joint security challenges on the continent.
The 4,500 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division based at Fort Bliss, Texas, learned just how diverse Africa is during their nine-month rotation as the Army’s second regionally aligned brigade for Africa. Brigade commander Army Col. Barry “Chip” Daniels briefed reporters yesterday in the Pentagon about his unit’s experiences.
Developing Partner Capacity
The overall mission in Africa is to “develop partner capacity so they are able to find regional solutions to their own problems,” Daniels said.
Unlike past deployments to the Middle East or Central Asia -- where the full brigade deploys -- the Bulldog Brigade deployed in portions.
The brigade had three primary missions. The first and largest was as the security force for U.S. installations in Djibouti and Kenya as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. A battalion spent the full nine months on that mission.
But more typical was the second role -- theater security cooperation missions across the continent. These missions are the crux of U.S. Africa Command’s strategy for the continent. The missions serve to strengthen partnership capacity in the nations and help the nations work together to confront joint challenges.
“We ended up doing roughly 100 of those missions and it ended up being in 26 different countries,” Daniels said. “At the high point, we had about 1,100 of our 4,500 soldiers deployed on the continent at one time.”
The third role was to conduct joint and combined exercises for U.S. Africa Command across the continent.
“We executed all four Accord-series exercises focused on facilitating partner capacity and regional stability,” Daniels said. The Accord exercises were in East Africa, West Africa, South Africa and in the Netherlands, which took the place of Liberia after the Ebola epidemic started. There is no Accord-series exercise in North Africa.
Deploying Small Teams
For the most part, the brigade rotated small teams -- from three people to 130 -- to the continent to conduct the theater security missions or the exercises, Daniels said. They could go for as little as a week to four months. The brigade set up a 24/7 operations center at Fort Bliss to monitor the teams.
The countries on the continent would ask for small teams with small footprints to either conduct tactical level training on specific skills or headquarters-level staff functions. Many of the nations were “stability exporters,” Daniels said. They would send these troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations on the continent.
Many African nations impressed Daniels as they trained.
“The first questions I learned to ask were, ‘Who is motivated and why are they motivated?’” he said. “One of the things we found to be very refreshing was the level of motivation. These are countries that are exporting security and they are very interested in stabilizing their own backyard.”
In Zambia, Malawi and Ethiopia brigade soldiers trained forces that were shortly going to go to Somalia, the Congo or the Central African Republic as part of U.N. missions or under the auspices of the African Union.
“They had the level of motivation; the capability is the next question,” Daniels said. “We were particularly impressed with the Ugandans – they are very serious about improving their capability to securing East Africa through a regional approach. I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism and capability of the Ugandan’s Peoples Defense Forces.”
Daniels said it is important to look at the strategy in Africa with the long view, and that is often difficult for those in the military because they want immediate results.
“I was asked by a lot of folks in the Army, ‘Okay, you were just over there. How is it better today than in January,’” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. I think we need to ask, ‘How is it better three, five, 10 years from now?’ And then we need to assess this, over time.”
The 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia, relieved the Bulldog Brigade and those soldiers are currently performing the mission. Daniels made sure he shared his unit’s experience with the follow-on force. He said there was too much emphasis on language training and not enough on the cultures. The most popular courses for the African nations, he said, are field medicine and communications.
Daniels emphasized ensuring training units bring the right technology to assist African forces. He said it is important to ensure the African nations can continue follow-on training by themselves.
Daniels said his soldiers enjoyed their experiences in Africa.
Soldiers join the force to “do something,” he said, and they enjoyed traveling to places they hadn’t been.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)