Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Mobile Reserve for AFRICOM

The number of special forces on the ground in Africa may be reduced in the aftermath of the loss of four American special forces troops in Niger. Is the need for American special forces in AFRICOM's area reduced as well? If not, AFRICOM needs a mobile reserve of special forces

Well, that's one way to reduce the risk to American troops on the ground in Africa:

A sweeping Pentagon review of elite United States commando missions is likely to result in a sharp cut — by as much as half over the next three years — in Special Operations forces in Africa, military officials said.

Ordered by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in recent weeks, the assessment of Special Operations units worldwide follows an ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers last fall. The review is an outgrowth of a Defense Department strategy that focuses on combating rising threats from Russia and China.

I'm torn about the Niger issue. On the one hand, it does seem like the mission was hasty and used troops without the experience and support necessary should stiff resistance be met. And there may have been a bit of fudging of report on the situation to get the mission going. That's my impression.

On the other hand, I like the ability of local commanders to move on targets of opportunity within broader mission objective parameters that everybody is clear about.

If special forces are needed for the missions against peer militaries, we do have to make choices about where special forces go. We can't expand them too fast without diluting quality (is Niger one result of that?).

Certainly, pulling special forces out of forward positions in Africa will reduce the ability of local commanders to take risky action--for good and bad.

But if the need for American military help to control jihadis is not lower, what do we do?

Well, one measure might be to put special forces and supporting forces--including a Marine or light infantry company--on a couple of modularized auxiliary cruisers that can carry out such missions while being under tighter command and control.

I described such a power projection platform in "The AFRICOM Queen" two years ago.

With afloat forces, AFRICOM would have a mobile reserve to deploy for specific raids or missions, staging inland to existing bases (or creating temporary bases) beyond the range of their sea-based aircraft; or as reaction forces for missions carried out by reduced land-based forces.

And if AFRICOM rated higher on the priority scale for regular Navy and Marine Corps assets, they'd have tats capability already--as CENTCOM has:

U.S. Marines, attached to special operations forces in Syria, often found themselves in direct-fire gunfights with Islamic State fighters earlier this year, according to the commander of the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response for Central Command.

The unit, designed with capability to launch combat forces within six hours anywhere in the CENTCOM theater, sent two rifle companies to support Special Operations Command units operating in Northern Syria between January and April, Marine Col. Christopher Gideons, commander of the task force, said Friday at the Potomac Institute.

I'm assuming this is the afloat reserve that CENTCOM has long had with a Navy amphibious ready group carrying that kind of battalion-sized ground force supported by air elements.

I don't think the need for military help to our African allies has decreased a whole lot. Modularized auxiliary cruisers could make AFRICOM great again.