December 24, 2012

Army teams going to Africa as terror threat grows

Lolita C. Baldor / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

"How do you train for that in a way that would be applicable wherever they go?" said Dempsey, a retired Army colonel. He said he's not sure using a combat brigade is the right answer, but added, "I'm not sure what the answer is. The security challenges differ so dramatically that, to be honest, I really don't think it's feasible to have a continental training package."

The Pentagon's effort in Africa, including the creation of U.S. Africa Command in 2007, has been carefully calibrated, largely due to broad misgivings across the continent that it could spawn American bases or create the perception of an undue U.S. military influence there. As a result, the command has been based in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than on the African continent.

At the same time, many African nations are eager for U.S. training or support, as they work to build their militaries, battle pirates along the coast and shut down drug trafficking, kidnapping and other insurgent activities.

McKenna acknowledged the challenge, but said the military has to tap its conventional fighting forces for this task because there aren't enough special operations forces to meet the global training needs. He said there will be as many as a dozen different training segments between February and September, each designed to provide tailored instruction for the particular teams.

The mission for the 2nd Brigade — known as the "Dagger Brigade" — will begin in the spring and will pave the way for Army brigades to be assigned next to U.S. Pacific Command and then to U.S. European Command over the next year. The brigade is receiving its regular combat training first, and then will move on to the more specific instruction needed for the deployments, such as language skills, cultural information and other data about the African nations.

Dagger Brigade commander Col. Jeff Broadwater said the language and culture training will be different than what most soldiers have had in recent years, since they have focused on Pashtun and Farsi, languages used mostly in Afghanistan and Iran. He said he expects the soldiers to learn French, Swahili, Arabic or other languages, as well as the local cultures.

"What's really exciting is we get to focus on a different part of the world and maintain our core combat skills," Broadwater said, adding that the soldiers know what to expect. "You see those threats (in Africa) in the news all the time."

The brigade will be carved up into different teams designed to meet the specific needs of each African nation. As the year goes on, the teams will travel from Fort Riley to those nations — all while trying to avoid any appearance of a large U.S. military footprint.

"The challenge we have is to always understand the system in their country," said Rodriguez, who has been nominated to be the next head of Africa Command. "We're not there to show them our system, we're there to make their system work. Here is what their army looks like, and here is what we need to prepare them to do."

Rodriguez said the nearly 100 assignments so far requested by Ham will be carried out with "a very small footprint to get the high payoff."

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