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New rapid reaction forces at work in Africa crises

Dec. 27, 2013 - 01:43PM   |  
Soldiers with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's East Africa Response Force (EARF) depart an Air Force C-130 from Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 18. The EARF deployed to South Sudan supporting the ordered departure of the U.S. Embassy.
Soldiers with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's East Africa Response Force (EARF) depart an Air Force C-130 from Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 18. The EARF deployed to South Sudan supporting the ordered departure of the U.S. Embassy. (Tech. Sgt. Micah Theurich/Army)
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U.S. military quick-reaction forces put in the field after the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consular compound in Benghazi, Libya, have been in the middle of this month’s evacuation of Americans from strife-torn South Sudan.

Based in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, soldiers in the Army force first left for South Sudan on Dec. 14 to evacuate diplomats at the embassy in the capital of Juba. Meanwhile, Marines stationed at an air base in Moron, Spain, have deployed to Djibouti and Uganda to help in the evacuations.

These moves follow the unsuccessful evacuation attempt of U.S. nationals by a Djibouti-based Navy SEAL team on Dec. 21. Four SEALs were wounded in the evacuation attempt when their V-22 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft came under small-arms fire over the town of Bor. Their mission was aborted.

As the U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan winds down, a series of Africa crises in 2013 has led to greater U.S. activity on the continent. That includes ferrying French troops and supplies to that nation’s intervention in the insurgency in Mali in west Africa, continued activity from Djibouti-based units in the east Africa nation of Somalia and a U.S.-backed effort to stop African warlord Joseph Kony.

The anti-Kony effort involves two of the countries now currently racked by ethnic-based fighting that is veering toward civil war — South Sudan and the Central African Republic, where rival Christian and Muslim groups are fighting for control of the government. Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also participating in the fight against Kony, who been engaged in a regional power struggle that started in Uganda in the 1980s and is accused of directing atrocities during that time. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court and is believed to be hiding in the Central African Republic.

Much of the increased U.S. activity in Africa is based at Camp Lemonnier. Home to at least 3,200 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors, the base has been in operation since 2001 and has grown steadily in the last five years. Surveillance drones routinely fly from the base, as do Air Force U-28 intelligence aircraft.

The 2014 defense bill passed last week includes $29 million for more housing and a Navy armory at Camp Lemonnier, and a military construction provision in the bill extends the Defense secretary’s ability to use money to pay for more military construction projects in various parts of the world, including Djibouti and other African nations.

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