The Army has stood up a quick-reaction force to respond to contingencies such as the September attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
The East Africa Response Force, made up mostly of soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, is based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
Officials declined to discuss specifics about the force, citing operational security. But Air Force Lt. Col. Elizabeth Ortiz, spokeswoman for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, said “recent events and the growing complexity of the security environment have demonstrated the need for [the Defense Department] to position responsive forces globally with the capability to respond to potential crises in the African region.”
The East Africa Response Force “provides the commander of U.S. Africa Command an additional capability to respond to crises and contingencies throughout the area of responsibility,” she wrote in an email to Army Times.
The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, leading to outcry and hearings in Congress, and questions about why the military did not or could not send help quickly enough as the facility was being overrun.
The EARF is one of three such forces available to Gen. David Rodriguez, commanding general of AFRICOM.
In an effort to improve AFRICOM’s theater response capabilities, the command has units that are ready to deploy in emergencies, said Tom Saunders, a spokesman for AFRICOM.
This includes the commander’s in-extremis force, which was stood up in October.
The force is based out of Fort Carson, Colo., and it rotates forces so it has elements that are constantly forward deployed, he said. Saunders said he could not provide more details.
In addition to the CIF, AFRICOM now also has two regionally focused response forces: the EARF and a 500-strong Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response unit that’s tailored for response in northwest Africa, Saunders said.
The Marine task force, which was formed in May, is temporarily based at Moron Air Base, Spain.
The EARF is designed to respond rapidly within East Africa, which includes Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda, Ortiz said.
If needed, the force can be sent wherever the commander deems necessary across Africa, she said.
The EARF’s “forward positioning” makes it more regionally responsive than a force that’s based in the U.S. or Europe, Ortiz said.
While on Camp Lemonnier, the EARF is under the operational control of AFRICOM, which has delegated it to the commander of CJTF-Horn of Africa, led by Maj. Gen. Terry Ferrell.
The EARF is composed mostly of soldiers from 2nd BCT, 1st Infantry Division, but the force also has Navy and Air Force personnel, Ortiz said.
Soldiers from 2nd BCT’s 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, began deploying to Djibouti in April, Army officials have said.
The EARF is in place to conduct operational area security and engage in “limited interventions as directed,” Brig. Gen. Kimberly Field, deputy director of strategy, plans and policy in the Army G-3 (operations), said during a press briefing May 30.
This includes non-combatant evacuation operations and personnel recovery-related force protection tasks, she said.
“Soldiers have been on the ground in Djibouti to support this mission since April and have the capabilities they need to conduct it,” she said. “The company is linked to dedicated lift, has been certified for the mission, and rotates its platoons to meet a tough recall standard. The EARF is postured to respond to protect U.S. interests in East Africa.”