A U.S. Army brigade will begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge.
The teams will be limited to training and equipping efforts, and will not be permitted to conduct military operations without specific, additional approvals from the secretary of defense.
The sharper focus on Africa by the U.S. comes against a backdrop of widespread insurgent violence across North Africa, and as the African Union and other nations discuss military intervention in northern Mali.
The terror threat from al-Qaida linked groups in Africa has been growing steadily, particularly with the rise of the extremist Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria. Officials also believe that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed the ambassador and three other Americans, may have been carried out by those who had ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
This first-of-its-kind brigade assignment — involving teams from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division — will target countries such as Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger, where al-Qaida-linked groups have been active. It also will assist nations like Kenya and Uganda that have been battling al-Shabab militants on the front lines in Somalia.
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.
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.