Written by: David Wiley
Primary Source: Africa Militarism Watch
In addition to the 662 U.S. military bases in 38 countries around the globe, AFRICOM has announced the creation of additional new lily pad bases in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon in addition to the principal AFRICOM base Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. There also are supporting bases in Germany, Italy, and Spain plus drone bases in Seychelles, Ethiopia, Somalia, Niger (2), Chad, and an unknown number of CIA airfields. Lily pad bases are Cooperative Security Locations (CSL), a U.S. military term for “facilities used for regional training in counterterrorism and interdiction of drug trafficking, and also to provide contingency access to continental areas with little or no permanent U.S. personnel and which may contain pre-positioned equipment and/or logistical arrangements and serve both for security cooperation activities and contingency access.” In short, they are standby bases, usually with airfields, on the ready for use by AFRICOM and its allies.
U.S. Africa Command’s Gen. David Rodriguez said (May 8, 2015: STUTTGART, Germany), “By expanding the lily pad sites, the AFRICOM …crisis-response forces can now reach hot spots in western Africa in a matter of hours thanks to a collection of military outposts established since the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya exposed capability gaps .
Senegal, Ghana and Gabon are playing key roles as hosts to so-called cooperative security locations, which function as bare-bones launching pads for quick-reaction troops called upon to secure U.S. diplomatic facilities in the broader region, Rodriguez said.
“That enables us to be within four hours of all the high risk, high threat (diplomatic) posts,” said Rodriguez during an interview at his Kelley Barracks headquarters in Stuttgart on Friday.
Since he assumed command in 2013, a major focus for Rodriguez has been finding strategies to shrink the effective distances in Africa, a continent three times the size of the continental United States.
“We are in a much better spot than we were before, and we will keep working it to make it better,” he said.
The limitations of U.S. crisis response capabilities were exposed following the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The attack prompted a series of moves by the military to increase the availability of troops for quick reaction missions on the continent.
In all, AFRICOM now has access to 11 cooperative security locations across Africa, some of which have been around for years. With only one major military base on the continent — Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti — smaller staging facilities help stretch AFRICOM’s reach. In the case of western Africa, the sites are spartan but strategically positioned near airfields that provide quick in-and-out access, Rodriguez said.
“It’s just an austere site. There’s nothing there but a couple of warehouses full of stuff,” Rodriguez said, referring to the sites in western Africa. “When people come down, they put up tents and that’s where they stay.”
The Rumsfeld Model
If the idea of a leaner U.S. military deployed to more points around the globe sounds familiar, it’s because Bush-era defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld proposed similar changes-before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Rumsfeld talked about ‘lily pad bases’ with a lighter-weight force spread to more places around the world,” Leatherman said. “This has the potential to be a good idea. … But it will be very difficult to realize—it’s never been as clean and easy as when a new policy proposal has been rolled out.” (Obama Administration Quietly Altering Military’s Global Presence, Jan. 24, 2012)
Locating AFRICOM forces nearer to African Hotspots
The facility in Senegal was recently put to use during the military’s response to the Ebola crisis in western Africa. A special task force of crisis-response Marines based in southern Europe maintains a rotating presence at the respective facilities, where they conduct periodic training missions with partner militaries, Rodriguez said. That means AFRICOM needs to catch signs of potential threats in the early stages to ensure the Marines have time to mobilize.
“When indicators warrant or when requested by the State Department, then we would move to one of those locations, and that will enable us to get closer and be able to respond,” he said. “The real challenge is the indicators of warning to be able to get their fast enough.”
While the East Africa Response Force, an Army unit positioned in Djibouti, can carry out quick-response missions around the Horn of Africa, Marines based out of Moron, Spain, deal with threats in northern and western Africa. When needed, they also make use of the U.S. Navy base in Sigonella, Italy, which puts troops in striking distance of countries such as Libya. In July, Marines launched from Sigonella to evacuate U.S. Embassy personnel as security conditions in Tripoli deteriorated.
The skeleton-style outposts in Senegal, Ghana and Gabon are aimed at putting U.S. forces closer to hot spots in the region, including Mali and Nigeria. Al-Qaida-aligned militants in Mali and Boko Haram in Nigeria show signs of striking out into neighboring states.
With the emergence of Islamic State militants in Libya and Boko Haram’s recent pledge of allegiance to the group, AFRICOM is monitoring the two militant organizations for signs of cooperation, which for now appear limited,” Rodriguez said.
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