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AFRICOM: Regionally Aligned Forces Find Their Anti-terror Mission

Oct. 20, 2013 - 12:10PM   |  
By MICHELLE TAN   |   Comments
Gen. David Rodriguez
Gen. David Rodriguez (Army)
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Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue / Army

FORSCOM Chief: Demand Grows For Regionally Aligned Forces

The demand for soldiers to conduct exercises, training and theater security cooperation activities around world is increasing, as the Army works to align more and more of its forces with the geographic combatant commands.
“From the indications I have, the impact of the regional alignment of forces concept is growing, and I am really encouraged by the positive responses from combatant commanders and Army component commanders,” Gen. Daniel Allyn, commanding general of Forces Command, wrote in an email to Army Times. “One of the clearest indications is the increased demand signal for total Army capabilities from fiscal year 2013 and projected for fiscal year 2015.”
Forces that are not allocated for Afghanistan, Korea or other global missions, and those returning or in the reset phase of the Army Force Generation model, will be tasked with preparing for regionally focused missions in support of the combatant commands, Allyn said.
These missions are designed to be short-term engagements, often involving smaller elements. Soldiers could participate in a training exercise with a partner nation or conduct military-to-military engagements. They also might be called upon to run train-the-trainer missions on topics such as counterimprovised explosive device detection, marksmanship or first aid.
“Soldiers and units throughout Forces Command, to include the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, are training and engaging in the kind of professional military development that contributes relevant capabilities toward long-term security capacity development and in response to emerging contingencies,” Allyn said.
In the near term, regionally aligned brigades are expected to rotate annually, while corps and division headquarters will not, Allyn said. One factor that could affect that is the demand in Afghanistan, which remains the Army’s top priority, he said.
“Generally speaking, all active component units not committed to other global missions will be regionally aligned,” he said. “Guard and Reserve units without a global mission assignment in the ‘available’ force pool of our Army Force Generation process also will be regionally aligned.”
RotationsThe Army will use the Army Force Generation model to manage these forces, so it will source units for about a year at a time while another unit rotates in to backfill the original unit, Allyn said.
The intent is for units to know as early as two years before they reach the “available” year in the ARFORGEN cycle which region they’ll be working with, he said.
The Army also is “working toward” a rotational model that likely will put units with the same combatant command each time they’re due for an alignment, Allyn said.
“Ideally, units and soldiers that have gained valuable experience through regional alignment will build upon their experiences as they rotate to other assignments,” he said. “Because regional missions are tailored to deliver combatant command requirements, it is possible that a unit that is aligned today could rotate back to the same region to address longer-term programs of support. The stability for regional alignment comes from the Army corps and division headquarters that continue to maintain a focus on the same region year after year.”
— MICHELLE TAN

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Regionally aligned forces are making a difference in Africa as the region grapples with volatile hot spots and confronts a growing terrorist threat, two top Army generals told Army Times.

Africa Command was the first geographic combatant command to receive an Army unit under the service’s regionally aligned forces effort. The goal is to provide combatant commanders with trained and ready troops. The troops — in this case, soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division — could be called upon to conduct military-to-military engagements, participate in exercises or train and advise units preparing to serve as peacekeepers.

The demand for regionally aligned forces was always there, said Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of AFRICOM.

“The important part [about regional alignment] is rather than just anybody coming to support these efforts, these are people who have been aligned and properly prepared and trained,” he said.

Now, in addition to 2nd Brigade, the 1st Infantry Division headquarters has been aligned with AFRICOM, and efforts are underway to align more forces, Rodriguez said.

The deadly mall attack in Kenya and two recent special operations raids — one in Libya and the other in Somalia — underscore the challenges facing Africa. In East Africa, much of the threat emanates in Somalia around the al-Shabaab militant group, Rodriguez said.

Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the brazen September attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed almost 70 people.

In North Africa, particularly in Mali and Libya, AFRICOM is grappling with the threat of al-Qaida and several other terrorist organizations, Rodriguez said.

Recent trends also show some techniques migrating from Afghanistan into northern Africa, such as the use of improvised explosive devices in Mali and Nigeria, said Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahue, commanding general of U.S. Army Africa.

“The enemy is learning from experiences in Afghanistan and transferring that learning into Africa,” he said. “We’re seeing things we’re very familiar with in other places.”

In the southern portion of the continent, the U.S. continues to support the African Union’s regional task force against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, Rodriguez said.

Another big focus for AFRICOM is protecting U.S. personnel and facilities across the region, Rodriguez said.

“The highest number of high-threats to our embassies is in Africa, and we work very hard to support the State Department to protect our personnel and facilities,” he said.

One asset available to Rodriguez is the East Africa Response Force in Djibouti. The force, made up mostly of a company of soldiers from 2nd BCT, 1st ID, is ready to quickly respond to protect U.S. facilities and personnel, Rodriguez said.

The EARF was ready to respond to Kenya during the mall attack, Donahue said, but wasn’t called.

Army Africa also is looking at enhancing its contingency response capacity, Donahue said.

“Africa is a large continent,” he said. “It’s hard for Americans to comprehend how big it is. Effectively, we need more than one [contingency response force]. We’re working with our partners, the Marine Corps, our embassies, and coming up with options.”

These trends and the volatility of parts of the region underscore the importance of building the capacity of African defense forces, Donahue said.

“We had Americans wounded in Kenya, an ambassador killed in Libya; there are threats to America in Africa,” he said. “I’m trying to shape the environment over here by making the Africans more effective in defeating our common threats.”

AFRICOM works closely with the State Department to support the African Contingency Operations Training and Assist Mission, which prepares and trains peacekeeping forces deployed across the region, Rodriguez said.

This includes sending U.S. troops for two to four months at a time to serve as trainers and advisers, he said.

In October, soldiers from 2nd BCT, 1st ID, trained a battalion from Malawi to serve in Congo, Donahue said.

They also will soon begin working with units from Chad that will take on peacekeeping and quick-reaction force missions, he said. About 1,300 of those soldiers will eventually serve in Mali, and they will be trained and advised by about 60 soldiers, led by a lieutenant colonel, from 2nd BCT.

At the same time, about 30 American and 10 French troops will train an 850-man battalion from Guinea that will also deploy to Mali, Donahue said.

“Altogether, that’s almost 2,300 soldiers [2nd BCT] will be training,” he said.

The U.S. also supports the French troops in Mali with aerial refueling, intelligence support and air movement of personnel and equipment, Rodriguez said.

“Across the board, we help all the nations out there however they’d like us to support their efforts to try to decrease the impact of the terrorist groups,” he said.

The Guard’s State Partnership Program is another element of the regionally aligned forces concept available to AFRICOM, Rodriguez said. There are 65 state partnerships, eight of them with African countries.

AFRICOM is working with the Guard to see if the states can pick up more countries, most likely those that border current partner nations, so they’re partnering with up to three countries, Rodriguez said.

Last year, regionally aligned forces supported more than 100 engagements across Africa. They include providing combat lifesaver training to Rwandan Defense Forces, counter-IED training to Burundi National Defense Forces, Raven unmanned aerial vehicle training with Kenya Defense Forces, and 60mm mortar training with defense forces from 12 African nations.

On average, the U.S. engages with 20 different African nations a week, Donahue said, and these engagements are carried out by soldiers from all three Army components.

This year, AFRICOM is plan-ning a series of exercises using regionally aligned forces, Rodriguez said.

Major exercises planned for this year include Central Accord in Cameroon, Donahue said. During this exercise, the U.S. will prepare a brigade headquarters for deployment in the Central African Republic.

The Americans also will participate in Eastern Accord in Uganda. This exercise involves four neighboring countries and will focus on dealing with porous borders, Donahue said.

Army Africa is planning to include 1st Infantry Division headquarters in an AFRICOM exercise, Donahue said. The intent is to make the 1st Infantry headquarters a joint task force headquarters for AFRICOM in case of any major contingency on the continent, Donahue said.

“The ones that are very important to us are the command post exercises, where we train the leadership,” Rodriguez said. “We really want the partners to work together. In Mali, we have nine nations now participating and supporting, so it’s a regional solution to the challenges there.”

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