U.S. Special Ops Adds to African Presence for ‘Secret’ Price Tag of $70 Million

Libyan civilians celebrate the Libyan Military and Police's raid of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades compound, Sept. 21, 2012. Even before the Benghazi attack, small teams of U.S. special operations forces arrived to Africa to set up counterterrorist networks.

Mohammad Hannon/AP

AA Font size + Print

Libyan civilians celebrate the Libyan Military and Police's raid of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades compound, Sept. 21, 2012. Even before the Benghazi attack, small teams of U.S. special operations forces arrived to Africa to set up counterterrorist networks.

Increasing fears about the spread of al-Qaeda across Africa have the Pentagon sending its Green Berets back to their original mission. By Ben Watson

The U.S. has deployed teams of additional U.S. Special Operations soldiers across North and West Africa in recent months as part of a low-profile Pentagon program to counter the spread of al Qaeda affiliates, according to The New York Times.

The elite troops included trainers from the Army’s Green Berets, a force that specializes in training indigenous forces and building host nation armies. The soldiers have fanned out across Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and are training and equipping African troops.

The program, which is reportedly part of the Pentagon’s “new Africa plan,” includes $70 million in classified spending to assemble counterterrorism battalions in Niger and Mauritania, two nations where progress has been made in forming these teams. Very little real progress has held in Libya, where unrest has spiked in recent months, and Mali, where the government is struggling to stabilize after a coup in 2012.

(Related: Special Ops Moves from ‘Perpetual War to Perpetual Engagement’)

As the U.S. continues drawing down its troops in Afghanistan over the coming months, the Pentagon is increasingly focusing its attention on Africa and the surrounding region. In March, Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, told lawmakers special operations forces are currently working in more than 70 countries. The command has more than doubled its active personnel from 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 today to meet a global demand to counter what McRaven called “irreconcilable” extremists growing out of Somalia, Yemen, Syria and North Africa.

The biggest question in this small-team training approach, McRaven said, is “whether or not the host nation wants to have a SOF footprint in their country.” The next question, as the Pentagon has learned in the hunt for the more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, may prove a bit more complicated.

(Related: 5 Takeaways from the U.S.Special Ops Raids in Somalia and Libya)

“You have to make sure of who you’re training,” said U.S. Army Africa’s commander, Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue II. “It can’t be the standard, ‘Has this guy been a terrorist or some sort of criminal?’ but also, ‘What are his allegiances? Is he true to the country, or is he still bound to his militia?’”

U.S. forces maintain a marginal but growing presence in 13 African nations, and maintains crisis response teams staged in Italy and Spain. Those teams are on call for operations including embassy evacuations, such as what unfolded in South Sudan in January, and what may be necessary in Libya, where anti-government militias have split their allegiances and continued with violent opposition, including a rocket attack on the prime minister’s home. 

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • GBC Issue Brief: Supply Chain Insecurity

    Federal organizations rely on state-of-the-art IT tools and systems to deliver services efficiently and effectively, and it takes a vast ecosystem of organizations, individuals, information, and resources to successfully deliver these products. This issue brief discusses the current threats to the vulnerable supply chain - and how agencies can prevent these threats to produce a more secure IT supply chain process.

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.