How the US is trying to invest in Africa’s security

A US State Department briefing with key commanders outlines US support.

US Army Europe Commander Christopher Cavoli and US Army Europe Director of Public Affairs Joe Scrocca attend a media briefing after deployment of US troops from 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division for military exercises in Drawsko Pomorskie training area, Poland March 21, 2019.  (photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
US Army Europe Commander Christopher Cavoli and US Army Europe Director of Public Affairs Joe Scrocca attend a media briefing after deployment of US troops from 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division for military exercises in Drawsko Pomorskie training area, Poland March 21, 2019.
The US State Department held a special telephone briefing, facilitated by its Africa Regional Media Hub. This is important because the extremist threats from the Sahel in Africa can impact the Middle East.
The call, which took place on Tuesday, was between US Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the commanding general of the US Army Europe and Africa, as well as its deputy general, Maj.-Gen. Andrew Rohling. The soldiers called in from Vicenza, Italy.
International rivalries involving the US, Iran, China, Russia, as well as Turkey and other countries in the Gulf, hold great importance for the continent, as do Africa's regional rivalries.
Additionally, countries like Sudan and Tunisia could serve as pillars of stability if investment is made in them.  
The senior officers discussed the recent US Army Europe and Africa consolidation, as well as the different commitments America has made to Africa. They also touched on the African Lion training exercise scheduled for June 2021.
Cavoli has been commander of US Army Europe and Africa since last October. The title he owns is one that emerged after the consolidation of armed forces.
The two said they were about to go to Tunisia for key meetings.
“This consolidation is an example of how the US Army is modernizing, how we are posturing ourselves to be able to think regionally - in this case across an entire hemisphere - rather than sort of artificially dividing up problems set by our administrative boundaries,” Cavoli said.
He noted that regional security threats can spread from one area to another and that the US can now streamline how to address that. “This gives me the opportunity as the commander of a force based in Europe to coordinate closely with our European allies on their operations and activities and their investments in Africa," he said. "So this is a very big advance, both [for] north of the Mediterranean and south of the Mediterranean."
Rohling will focus exclusively on Africa, the briefing noted. “It’s an opportunity for the US Army Europe, with four-star headquarters, to provide additional support and resources to the Southern European Task Force, which has always – for the past 10 years – been focused on Africa," Cavioli said.
"So I think it’s a win-win.”
WHAT IS the mission of Southern European Task Force's (SETAF)? “My command remains focused on Africa every day,” said Rohling. “When an emergency situation arises and the US Army is asked to assist, we can look at and access assets already on this side of the world, both in Africa and in Europe, to decide how best to support the mission.”
The joint drills, such as African Lion, are important as well. African Lion takes place around the same time as Defender 20, another drill linked to NATO’s Steadfast Defender exercise.
“This year we’ll conduct African Lion with about 10,000 troops and about 20,000 from our partner nations. We’re going to conduct it in three countries: Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia,” Rohling said.  
What does the US do in Africa these days?
The military set up Africa Command in 2007, one of numerous regional commands. However, it has never been seen as important as Central Command.
America under the Trump administration sought to draw down resources.
But Washington is involved in counter-terror operations in Somalia and also in countries in West Africa, such as Niger. It also has an important base in Djibouti, as well as other assets in Africa.
Cavoli noted that French-led efforts are important, with the US providing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) support, as well as aerial refueling and transport.  
THE OFFICERS also discussed China's importance and influence in Africa. The US is now dealing with near-peer rivals like China. Rohling noted that “China is looking to compete in Africa, and they’re seizing opportunities across the continent.  
"Our strategic approach, the United States strategic approach, continues – continuing to position the US and our allies as the partners of choice in Africa.”
The activities that are directed by Africa Command come in several categories. This included counter-terrorism and “capacity-building."
“We conduct counter-IED training for countries across the continent,” Rohling said. “We provide logistics training, engineer training, medical training, and mission-command training to our partners.”
The US also has elements of Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs). "Currently, we have Security Force Assistance elements in Djibouti, we have them in Tunisia, and we’re making reconnaissance in other countries across Africa,” he said.
The SFABs work in small groups of ten or twenty. The purpose is to build an organization capable of training US partners and training with its partners to increase their capacity. The US has done the same thing in Afghanistan and Iraq, withdrawing some SFABs working in Nineveh in 2020.  
AFRICA COMMAND recently sent a delegation to Sudan, but the commanders couldn’t speak about the trip. This is important for regional security because Sudan has been moving toward peace with Israel and has distanced itself from past extremism.
It is not widely known how important Tunisia is for counterterrorism efforts. The briefing explained the key role that Tunisia plays, calling it "pivotal." In addition, the SFAB in Tunisia is the largest in Africa right now. It has been there several months.  
The role of the SFABs, and the US military's evolving concept, has changed as they evolved beyond Afghanistan to Iraq and the Pacific, Europe and Africa. “In each country, it’s really a Security Force Assistance Team, so a small element of our soldiers that are deployed in each one of those countries goes to conduct training with our allies.
"In the case of Tunisia, for example, where we’re heading tomorrow, one of the things we’re going to talk with them about is exactly how our Security Force Assistance Team there is contributing into African Lion, which in Tunisia is very significant,” Rohling said.  
Rohling also touched on the Sahel region that stretches across Africa, as well as regarding al-Shabaab and Boko Haram and other extremist groups.
“They’re a brutal, capable enemy, as they’ve planned and conducted numerous violent attacks on African citizens, US military service members, international military forces and, as General Cavoli mentioned earlier in his comments, civilians such as Ambassador [Luca] Attanasio from Italy – yesterday he was very unfortunately killed along with his carabiniere security officer," he said.
"But the United States is committed to working with our African partners to counter and contain violent extremist organizations – and we’ll continue to do so over the course of time.”
WHAT ABOUT the Russians in the Central African Republic, where Russian mercenary or contractor groups allegedly are involved? That country has seen insurgency and fighting and the UN has a force there, but there are questions about whether the instability there will spread. “Regarding the Russians specifically, [they] are using their diplomatic, economic and in some cases military means to expand their access and influence," Cavoli said.
"And I think that the United States offers Africa more," he said. "We offer a different model.  We offer stability.  We offer counter violent extremist organization activity.  And we offer the promise of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, which is what the United States has always stood for – and that’s what we bring to our partners in Africa."
There are many threats in Africa and often not enough elite units and structures to defeat them, whether in Somalia, Nigeria or West Africa. Cavoli noted that “a great example of how this works is a new initiative, the PAWA partnerships – Partner Armies in West Africa Coordination Center – which the French are standing up in Senegal this year. I was talking with the chief of the French Army about this just the other day.”  
The US has repositioned in Somalia after decades of involvement, but has not withdrawn. “Our repositioning from Somalia does not change our commitment to maintaining the pressure on the violent extremists and those that support them in that region,” said Rohling. He pointed to the Danab unit that “remains the most well-trained and capable force in Somalia based on their brave soldiers and their commitment to their country.   
The US in Africa has many units and forces. From the Army to Navy, Marines and special operators, it also combines members of the State Department and soldiers. This illustrates the important role the US is playing across Africa, but also some lack of resources that may have made it difficult for varying missions and countries to defeat the chaos and killing that has harmed Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, the Central African Republic and other countries.