Shift to Africa requires additional surveillance assets, says DOD

The Defense Department's plan to shift forces to the Pacific as the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan winds down has been superseded by new threats that have sprung up over the past 24 months in Africa, reports The Washington Post.

U.S. air, naval and ground forces are now being deployed to conflicts that are destabilizing Northern and Central Africa, the story said.

In response to inroads by al Qaeda affiliates and activity by various warlords in those regions, American naval warships have increased patrols of the coastlines of East and West Africa, the story said. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force is in the process of establishing its fourth air base in Africa from which to carry out armed and unarmed attacks by its fleet of long-range unmanned aircraft.

While U.S. ground troops based in the countries of Djibouti, Central African Republic and Niger are but a fraction of those deployed in countries such as Afghanistan and South Korea, their numbers might increase over the long run.

U.S. military officials are calling for additional assets that would allow them to boost intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions on the continent to counter the threats, the story said.  

Army GEN David Rodriguez, who has been nominated to become the next leader of the U.S. Africa Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a written statement submitted during his confirmation hearing that he believes U.S. surveillance missions on the continent need to increase 15-fold.

The Africa Command needs additional unmanned aircraft, other surveillance aircraft and more satellite imagery, Rodriguez said. He noted that the command receives only half of what it says it needs for North Africa and only 7 percent of its total requirements for the entire continent, the story said.

To date, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is the only permanent U.S. base on the continent, the story said. The U.S. military has temporary unmanned aircraft staging bases in Ethiopia and in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and a forward operating base for special operations forces in Kenya. The newest staging area would be Niger, the story said.

The Africa Command, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany, has a staff of 1,300 military personnel and civilians, the story said. The command is not located in Africa because African nations have voiced strong concerns in the past over what they believe are attempts by the United States to militarize the region, the story said.

In the wake of the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, the DOD has given the Africa Command a small rapid-reaction force with which to respond to whatever military crises might develop, the story said. The U.S. has not yet decided where the unit will be stationed.

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