Standing against big government and for the people!
As violence swept the young East African nation, Marine aircrews aboard two KC-130 Hercules planes flew about 20 diplomatic staff members and citizens of other countries from Juba to Entebbe, Uganda, according to the U.S. departments of State and Defense.
The special purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force from Morón, Spain, had staged about 150 Marines — including reconnaissance infantrymen, logistics and aviation personnel — at Entebbe and Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, several weeks ago after an alleged coup attempt in South Sudan sparked political and ethnic clashes.
They were standing by with planes and MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft, not knowing if they would be needed in South Sudan, when Gen. James Amos visited Camp Lemonnier Sunday as part of a holiday tour in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
U-T San Diego was with the Marine commandant when he stopped in Djibouti, before a rebel attack on the South Sudanese city of Bor this week sent his task force into action.
“We’re America’s insurance policy,” Amos told the Marines. “You buy insurance because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s why America has a Marine Corps. Because the world is uncertain.”
Amos was en route to Spain to meet with the crisis response force when violence surged in South Sudan on Dec. 21. That day, four Navy SEALs on an evacuation mission in Bor were wounded when their Osprey was hit by small-arms fire.
As Amos landed the next morning in Morón, the task force’s Hercules and Osprey aircraft were lifting off for the 3,400-mile journey to the Horn of Africa. He caught up with them during a preplanned stop at Camp Lemonnier to visit Marines staffing the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa based there.
“This is why we’re here. Your C-130s took off as we were landing, your V-22s were taking off with Marines in them,” Amos said. “We provide an ability for national leaders to be able to look at a crisis at any time and say, what kind of force can I send in there right away?”
Marine Col. Scott Benedict took command of the new special purpose task force in late July. The unit, which is focused on crises in northern and western Africa, became fully operational with a force of about 500 in September, he said.
It has been dispatched several times to Italy, stopping at a naval air station in Sicily that serves as a forward operating base, as potential crises boiled in Libya.
“What we are really talking about is reaction time,” Benedict said in an interview at Camp Lemonnier. “By being closer, we greatly shorten that reaction time. That provides confidence to those putting their lives in danger doing their diplomatic mission. They can have confidence knowing that some of their fellow countrymen are in a position to support them.”
The crisis response force is the newest of a constellation of rapid response units of varying sizes the Corps has arrayed in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.
Another Marine special purpose task force based at Sigonella, Italy, has been busy in recent years training with allied military forces in Africa, in countries such as Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Senegal. A team of those Marines was in Uganda when the SEALs were wounded in South Sudan and assisted in their medical evacuation.
Benedict can use his security force of ground troops to fight into an embassy or conflict area if needed to protect U.S. government lives or interests. The Osprey, with its ability to refuel mid-flight and land vertically without a runway, adds flight range and flexibility compared with helicopters.
The task force could serve as a toehold until a larger force such as a Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed on Navy ships arrives. Or it could act as a security force to permit commercial planes to evacuate embassy personnel.
Its presence may even de-escalate a crisis, Benedict said.
“Nothing is getting less complicated in the world. A force like this that allows us to get rapidly to a point of friction I think in a lot of ways has a deterrent aspect,” he said.
All the services have been tasked with a presidential directive to better protect U.S. embassies from extremist groups.
Amos said the Marine crisis response task force in Morón was — “besides winning battles” in Afghanistan — “probably the most significant thing we’ve done in the last year and a half as far as adjusting the Marine Corps for what people are now calling the new normal, which are these crises that are happening around the world.
He and other Marine leaders conceived of the unit in response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three Americans with San Diego ties, Amos said.
Ship-based Marine Expeditionary Units no longer linger in the Mediterranean. Amos wanted a task force for northern Africa with its own aviation and logistics, making it more robust than his Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams near hot spots.
“It gives decision space to the president and the secretary of defense and the national command authority. It gives them the ability to go, ‘OK good, I’ve got Marines in there now, let’s see what happens with the situation,’ ” Amos said.
Benjamin Benson, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, said in a statement: “One of the lessons learned from the tragic events in Benghazi was that we needed to be better postured in order to respond to developing or crisis situations, if needed.”
Djibouti is about a three-hour flight from South Sudan, underscoring what military commanders describe as an acute “tyranny of distance” in Africa.
About 45 Army soldiers based in Djibouti with the East Africa Response Force, an Army quick reaction force formed in May, remain in Juba several weeks after they were sent there to secure the U.S. Embassy.
Not including the recent influx of crisis response Marines, the U.S. normally has about 4,000 troops at Camp Lemonnier with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, as well as an undisclosed number of special operations personnel.
Djibouti lies just 20 miles across the Red Sea from Yemen, a battleground for Islamist radical groups and U.S. drone strikes. Somalia is also a focus, because of piracy and al-Shabab, the terrorist group allied with al-Qaeda that killed scores of people this year in an attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
The United States primarily plays a supportive role in the fight against al-Shabab, by enabling and training with allies deployed for the African Union Mission in Somalia against violent extremist groups.
“The Africans are taking care of Africa in their eyes,” Army Maj. Gen. Terry Ferrell, commanding general of the Horn of Africa task force at Camp Lemonnier, told Amos.
Marine Col. Phil Millerd, officer in charge of Marines on staff there, said, “You see this change in Africa where now the other nations are willing to step up to the plate and learn to help others as well, not only themselves.”
Why should Americans be concerned about such a distant region?
“Instability in the Horn of Africa impacts our stability in the United States. Currently they have aspirations to be a global force, a threat to our nation — the insurgents, the violent extremists who work here,” Ferrell said. “If instability is not stabilized by the African nations along with our support, then it can come to our homeland.”
Millerd added: “Terrorist organizations, just like anyone else, need support. They need money, they need training, they need equipment. We are going to try to prevent them from having a safe haven anywhere in the world.”
What I saw from Benghazi and Africa is we had the military but in Benghazi we saw the terrorist threat but didn't do anything about it and 4 Americans lost their lives. Thanks Mr. President and Secretary of Defense.
If you missed this morning's news click Saturday Morning