US AFRICOM ready, DoD holds troops as COVID-19 threatens 1.3 billion
SAN DIEGO. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and partners now have the COVID-19 challenge to their counterinsurgency fight. Even without a viral pandemic, their job is one no ordinary force can achieve. They counter transnational threats and malign actors across 30 million square km, just under twice the size of Russia. Or bigger than Canada, the United States and China put together.
Home to the fastest-growing economies and populations in the world, Africa sits at crossroads of international commerce and trade. It watches over the world’s most important sea lines of communication. The U.S. helps ensure these strategic routes remain open to all.
AFRICOM is responsible for all U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) operations, exercises and security cooperation efforts on the African continent. With the exclusion of Egypt in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR), its island nations and surrounding waters.
Approximately 6,000 personnel are on the continent on any given day to include military, DoD civilians and DoD contractors. See how COVID-19 affects U.S. troops fighting terror in Africa, including breaking Defense Department directives.
COVID-19 in AFRICOM’s region is not taken lightly.
Over two-thirds of Africa’s 1.3 billion people live in conditions of startling poverty. The lack of food and insecurity is exacerbated by natural resource degradation, conflict, and infectious disease outbreaks.
We’ve also got thousands of Americans in uniform fighting terror in Africa. They now have the COVID-19 threat added to their dangerous job. This unrelenting disease has a mind of its own to destroy. An unwelcome invader to everyone on the planet and those serving far from home.
On March 19, The World Health Organization (WHO) recently confirmed more than 600 cases of COVID-19 in 34 [of 54] countries. Also reporting local transmission in twelve countries in the African region.
Time reported on March 21, that Coronavirus cases rose above 1000 in 40 African countries. Some reporting their first deaths as well as border closures and suspended travel.
High school junior Avi Schiffmann, the creator of nCoV2019.live, produced a massive data site on Coronavirus global that updates daily. According to Schiffmann’s statistics bank, 2,642 confirmed cases in Africa of March 25, as of this writing at 4:59pm. Hardest hit – South Africa at 709 confirmed. Africa’s total of deaths at 70.
WHO’s race to stop the virus, is not a minute too soon for deployed troops.
It’s good to know there are those, like WHO, who step up for Africa’s populations.
“The [WHO] guidelines include measures such as quarantine, repatriations of citizens and preparedness at workplaces. The Organization is also working with a network of experts to coordinate regional surveillance efforts, epidemiology, modeling, diagnostics, clinical care and treatment, and other ways to identify, manage the disease and limit widespread transmission.”
Forty-seven countries in the WHO African region can now test for COVID-19. At the start of the outbreak only two could do so.
WHO’s efforts trickle down to U.S. military members dispersed across the continent. Whether enemy or friend, anyone can unknowingly be a stealth COVID-19 carrier. As it sneaks into the body for days – even weeks – without showing itself.
AFRICOM remains mission ready: mitigates virus’ clutch to take-down.
A ready Counter-Violent Extremist Organization (C-VEO) force is what AFRICOM consistently strives for.
“The protection of our forces across the AFRICOM AOR is a top priority. We are working to ensure that our personnel have the most up-to-date information on appropriate measures to take to stay healthy and prevent potential spread,” reports AFRICOM officials.
“We are taking the necessary precautionary measures, following appropriate guidance for travel restrictions (DOD is following CDC travel recommendations), closely monitoring our operations and activities…,”adds AFRICOM.
DoD continues to send out waves of COVID-19 directives and updates for troops and their families.
Breaking March 25, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper orders “Overseas Stop Movement Order in Response to COVID-19.” The 60-day stop movement order for all DoD uniformed and civilian personnel and their sponsored family members overseas.
“This measure is taken to aid in further prevention of the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), to protect U.S. personnel and preserve the operational readiness of our global force,” says Esper.
Esper further directs,
“Building upon previously enacted movement restrictions governing foreign travel, permanent change of station moves, temporary duty and personal leave, this stop movement order will also impact exercises, deployments, redeployments and other global force management activities. Approximately 90,000 Service Members slated to deploy or redeploy over the next 60 days will likely be impacted by this stop movement order.”
The global power play across Africa remains.
U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend leads AFRICOM with a strategy of “Partner for Success”, “Compete to Win”, and apply persistent “Pressure on the Malign Networks”. In his first six months of command, and through ongoing review, Townsend learned that “small investments in Africa go a long way.” This to protect the homeland and western interests.
Excerpt from Townsend’s posture statement to Congress 2020.
“A few bucks and a few troops can make a significant difference and have proven to be the cornerstone of multinational efforts in the region. What U.S. Africa Command accomplishes with relatively few people and few dollars, on a continent 3.5 times the size of the continental United States, is a bargain for the American taxpayer. That said, U.S. Africa Command is diligently working to make our operations even more efficient and adjusting our posture and activities to ensure U.S. strategic access for today and tomorrow. Africa is key terrain for competition with China and Russia, and our support to [Counter- Violent Extremist Organization] (C-VEO) operations is necessary.”
“Outside of arms sales that they leverage to their own benefit, China and Russia do little to counter violent extremist groups seeking to destabilize Africa,” says Townsend.
Countering VEOs has been altered by COVID-19.
AFRICOM protects U.S. interests by partnering with African partners, including host nation governments. Extremist attacks produce their own humanitarian crises and now add the health pandemic hardships.
“COVID-19 is a priority for our command, and while it has altered the environment we are operating in, we remain mission ready. Our mission has not changed and our commitment to our partners and allies endures,” reports AFRICOM officials, adding, “While the size and scope of some activities may be adjusted to ensure the safety and protection of forces – both U.S. and partner nation – AFRICOM has the flexibility required to continue to meet our core mission objectives on the continent.”
Breaking March 25: AFRICOM,
Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL):
“Your well-being is at the forefront of every decision we make, and we are taking deliberate action to safeguard your health and security.”
Combatant Commander (CCDR):
“It’s a new day in Europe and a new dynamic on the African continent. Take care of one another. Stay alert, stay healthy and stay ready.”
Africa’s VEO challenges then and now.
We cannot assume terror will stop with a disease outbreak.
“There isn’t necessarily a symbiotic relationship between [one VEO] group and various other groups,” says Major Melvin G. Spiese III, who works for the command.
He stresses that focusing on one group or region only could strengthen another one’s position. Things morph quickly throughout the continent…
Al-Shabaab is the primary concern for threats in the East. AFRICOM estimates there are between 5,000-7,000 fighters whose attacks range from unsophisticated to complex operations.
Al-Shabaab attacks Somali military bases – having had a vendetta for years to topple the Somali government.
In the North, AFRICOM monitors about 150 ISIS Libya fighters as well as the al-Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group. The insurgents use “under-governed” spaces as sanctuaries to recruit, conduct attacks, and raise funds to support terror operations. AFRICOM mitigates as necessary threats of an external attack against western interests in North Africa.
The Al-Qaida-affiliated Jama-at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) has penetrated the Sahel in the West. Causing issues in the tri-border countries of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso against U.N., French and international forces. AFRICOM has specific focus on approximately 1000 to 2000 fighters that continue to expand support in order to partner with criminal networks and sustain the fighting.
AFRICOM’s success cannot be identified by one role, mission, or partner.
Lays Potato Chips threw us the gauntlet with the challenge, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” It’s not just one country to save and not just one saving it. Yet, the taste of success leads to saving another. Working on a plan of six lines of effort, AFRICOM emboldens local forces by increasing capabilities, developing and containing security, and basically setting the theater, incrementally.
“The progress is the result of a truly international effort inside the country,” says AFRICOM regarding Somalia. That taste of success leads to another.
They’ve helped train Somali security partners to lead successful incursions into al-Shabaab territory, build forward operating bases, and hold the ground.
Back in 1991 when the U.S. closed the Embassy in Somalia – the country was torn apart by rampant violence. Al- Shabaab filled the security vacuum using terror for control. In contrast, today, a U.S. ambassador is permanently located in Mogadishu. Along with the USAID Mission Director, they work with the Federal Government of Somalia to improve the environment, promote stability.
“In the end, we recognize that this progress in not irreversible, so we remain engaged with our partners,” promises AFRICOM.
BREAKING UPDATE FROM AFRICOM MAR 26:
At this time no U.S. Africa Command service member on the continent has tested positive for the virus.
At this time, no significant changes to AFRICOM force laydown on the continent due to COVID-19. No visible shift in enemy action associated with COVID-19, states AFRICOM officials.
AFRICOM refrains from discussing specifics related to troop movement. AFRICOM is following all guidance from Dept. of Defense regarding personnel travel.
“While the size and scope of some AFRICOM activities have been adjusted to ensure the safety and protection of forces – both U.S. and partner nation – are commitment to Africa endures. Any decisions to modify our activities are made in coordination with our partners from the Department of State and the host nation,” adds AFRICOM officials.
Featured Image: KENYA, Feb. 12, 2020. U.S. Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command, addresses U.S. military service members at Camp Simba. Townsend’s command visit was to personally assess the security situation at the Kenyan Defense Force installation at Manda Bay, Kenya and to thank the U.S. military personnel for their service and highlighted the value of their work alongside our Kenyan partners. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano