Transforming EUCOM, Part 3:Zeroing in on the African continent
Stars and Stripes June 17, 2003
Terrorists attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in Kenya. Western tourists are kidnapped in Algeria. Suicide bombers kill dozens in Morocco.
Africa is a hotbed of terrorist activity. And that’s on top of civil wars currently in more than a dozen countries across the continent.
Meanwhile, rampant poverty, ethnic strife and the epidemic spread of AIDS — which kills about 8,000 Africans every day — has made it impossible for regional leaders to stem the continental hemorrhaging.
“We don’t pay enough attention to Africa, but I think we’re going to have to in the 21st century,” Marine Gen. James L. Jones told Stars and Stripes recently. Leader of the 109,000-strong U.S. European Command, Jones’ area of responsibility covers most of the African continent.
Much of the attention on Jones’ plans to reshape his forces has centered on setting up bases in Eastern Europe, but Jones also is looking south. EUCOM officials have begun scouting potential basing arrangements in places such as Tunisia and Morocco, according to U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander Gen. Gregory Martin.
“I am concerned about the large ungoverned areas of Africa that are possibly melting pots for the disenfranchised of the world, so to speak, the terrorist breeding grounds,” Jones told congressional leaders in late April.
“I believe that we’re going to have to engage more in that theater, and part of the basing realignment and proposals that we are coming up with will establish some footprints at a very low cost,” Jones said.
Jones told Stripes he envisions using troops already in Europe to rotate into bare-bones Forward Operating Sites throughout the continent.
A good example may be the Marine Corps-led force now operating in the Horn of Africa — the only part of the continent outside of the EUCOM map — tasked with hunting down terrorist cells where Africa meets the Middle East.
“Hopefully we’ll see more visits and more presence by our American forces, and maybe even coalition forces coming from the European theater, to begin to stem the tide of what is going to be, I think, an extremely difficult story with regard to the developments of not only the southern rim of the Mediterranean, but sub-Saharan Africa as well,” Jones said.
One likely candidate for that kind of presence could be Mali in North Africa. While Mali’s government is staunchly pro-United States, the country is among the 10 poorest nations in the world.
U.S. intelligence believes terrorist groups have set up camps and opened up supply lines through northern Mali’s largely ungoverned desert wastelands along the Algerian border, according to a top-level U.S. military official.
“They have established lines of communication that support operations in and out of the region,” said the official. The no-man’s land is “far enough off the beaten path they can also conduct training camps there,” he said.
“Those [terrorist] structures need to be eradicated,” he said, but added that “cannot be done with a bolt out of the blue. We have to create the relationships that determine how best to do the intelligence. That doesn’t necessarily mean a permanent presence, but frequent presence by the right people and then the ability to mass and do something about it.”
In addition to exploring new basing possibilities, Jones has said he would like to see more of the Navy’s carrier fleets and Marine Expeditionary Units patrolling the coast of Africa.
Traditionally, the Navy has tried to keep a carrier battle group in the Mediterranean at all times. Iraq, however, has pulled those assets into the Persian Gulf more often than not in recent years.
Now with the U.S. Army in control of operations in Iraq, Jones hopes to shift ships to potential trouble spots outside of the Mediterranean.
The Air Force and Army already are leaning south.
Both services have been stepping up exercises in Morocco and Tunisia, for example.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, conducted maneuvers in both countries recently before jumping into Northern Iraq.
Meanwhile — unprecedented in recent years — the Air Force was planning war games in civil war-torn Algeria .
Involving C-130 Hercules and search-and-rescue crews, the exercise was slated for May, “but the Air Force chief there is immersed in the hostage crisis so it’s been postponed,” Martin told Stars and Stripes in May.
More than 30 Europeans were captured in a string of abductions between February and April in Algeria. The terrorists responsible for the kidnappings are believed to be linked to al-Qaida, Algerian officials said. Last month, The Associated Press reported that 17 of the hostages were freed in a battle that left nine suspected hostage-takers dead.
Gen. Martin said Morocco has already agreed to basing rights for cargo aircraft, and “we’re getting ready to start that process in Algeria.”
Farther to the south, Martin said, the Air Force has also established forward operating locations in Ghana, Senagal and Gabon.
Transforming EUCOM: Series index
Part 1: Mapping out the future of EUCOM
Part 2: The opportunities in Eastern Europe
Part 3: Zeroing in on the African continent
Part 4: Consolidate and back to the States
A history of military bases
U.S. bases in Eastern Europe would be a first for that part of the world, but they’d be nothing new in Africa.
Bob Work, a senior military analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington, DC., said the basing eras follow the course of the entire U.S. history, including:
• The Continental Era — 1775-1890: During this period there were no overseas bases. The U.S. military was focused on securing the continent. “But by the end of the Battle for Wounded Knee,” when cavalry forces fought the last of the major campaigns against the Native Americans, the United States “was beginning to look outward,” Work said.
• The 1st Expeditionary Era — 1891-1950: The U.S became a global power. The focus was on establishing bases to support the Navy in the Pacific. Major bases were established in the Philippines, Wake Island and Guam. Even China hosted the 4th Marine Regiment.
• Nuclear Warfare Era — 1950-1960: Bases such as Wheelus in Libya sprung up, joining others in Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey.
• Garrison Era — 1960-1989: The key drive now was containment of the Soviet Union, and Cold War basing in Western Europe took root, with scores of Army and Air Force garrisons. “The U.S. military brought our families to the frontier. It was extremely expensive,” Work said. “But it was a cost our allies were willing to pay for.”
• 2nd Expeditionary Era — 1989-present: Even as the Cold War was ending, the United States was becoming more prone to taking challenges with military might. Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 began a series of major military campaigns that have continued every year since, including two wars against Iraq, two air campaigns against Yugoslavia, invasions of Haiti and Afghanistan, and multiple peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and elsewhere.
— Stars and Stripes