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Lessons learned in Libya

STUTTGART, Germany — When U.S. Africa Command stood up in 2008, it was touted as a military combatant command unlike the others. Rather than warfighting, AFRICOM’s focus was to be security cooperation with its partners in Africa. With nearly half of its headquarters staff composed of civilians, AFRICOM also was designed to improve how a military command coordinates with other elements of the U.S. government.

So when Operation Odyssey Dawn launched in March 2011, AFRICOM found itself in an unlikely role: leading a kinetic military operation on the African continent. While the no-fly zone mission over Libya eventually proved to be a success, AFRICOM's unique structure complicated U.S. efforts, particularly during the early stages of the mission, according to an article in the March edition of PRISM, a National Defense University security studies journal.

“In this scenario, the presence of a large number of State Department and other non-DOD civilian personnel on the USAFRICOM staff did little to improve or coordinate between myriad players,” according to the PRISM report, which was based off of a classified study on Operation Odyssey Dawn conducted by the Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis division of the Joint Staff.

“At the onset of the Libyan crisis, USAFRICOM was not manned to plan and conduct large-scale contingency operations,” the report continued. “There were not enough target analysts assigned to support USAFRICOM, the JTF (Joint Task Force), or the JFMCC (Joint Force Maritime Component Commander), and until analysts could be moved from other commands to fill the void, planning to enforce the embargo and a no-fly zone was slow to develop.”

The high number of civilians on staff also made it more difficult to stand up a 24-hour Joint Operations Center, which eventually did get stood up but would have been unsustainable over a long campaign, according to the PRISM report. The challenges didn’t end there. AFRICOM also lacked sufficient systems for delivering orders to staff, and lacked sufficient network capability to ensure secure communications.

“As events unfolded in Libya, it became apparent that USAFRICOM did not have adequate satellite bandwidth to conduct operations. USEUCOM transferred bandwidth to USAFRICOM; however, this put some of USEUCOM’s potential operations at risk,” the report stated. Still, despite the challenges, the authors of the PRISM report credited commanders for overcoming the early obstacles.

The full report can be read here.

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