Africa is a continent of potential, and service members at the Southern European Task Force, Africa work every day to help African partners turn that potential into reality, said Army Maj. Gen. Todd R. Wasmund, commander of the unit based in Vicenza, Italy.
“We are responsible for all of the Army’s operations, activities and investments in support of U.S. Africa Command,” Wasmund said today.
Africa is the second largest continent, with more than 50 nations and hundreds of languages. Tens of millions of people live in poverty even as the resources exist to lift up populations.
The African continent contains more ungoverned, under-governed or misgoverned areas, which attract extremist groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, al-Qaida and the like, according to Defense Department officials.
It’s also a continent with little infrastructure and many natural disasters.
SETAF-AF — as the task force is abbreviated — provides a scalable crisis response option to the commander of U.S. Africa Command. “It is scalable from a platoon all the way to a two-star Joint Task Force headquarters,” Wasmund said. The command had to do that recently following the coup in Niger. The task force quickly stood up and managed the U.S. forces in Niger. There are about 1,000 U.S. service members in the country with a small footprint in the capital of Niamey and the most at an airfield in Agadez. The command provides the facilities for the Air Force and Special Operations Command — Africa, which had the counter terrorism mission.
Yesterday, the State Department said that the July 26 deposition of the elected president was, indeed, a coup, which limits the aid the command may provide to Niger. Restrictions under section 7008 of the U.S. Department of State’s annual appropriations dictate what the U.S. can provide to Niger in foreign assistance, as well as military training and equipment.
“With the announcement yesterday of the 7008 status for Niger, there will be some things that are suspended,” Waslund said. “They do require a little bit more scrutiny of how we might provide some of that partner support. That’s not something we can continue without further policy decisions.”
The 7008 status does not mean no communications between the militaries. The command will continue to maintain communications as the State Department establishes with the Nigerien junta a path to reestablish constitutional government, the general said.
Overall, the command’s operational activities include security cooperation, exercises, key leader engagements, medical readiness exercises, and a whole host of other engagements during the course of the year.
The command also provides crisis response, which they provided when they ran a non-combatant evacuation operation from Sudan earlier this year.
While West Africa is a focus for the command — it is the most populated portion area — it engages across the continent. The biggest exercise each year is African Lion — hosted by Morocco and SETAF-AF. It brings together nations from the continent and from Europe to train together. The command also sponsors a yearly African Land Forces Symposium giving military leaders the chance to meet and exchange ideas.
SETAF-AF and U.S. Africa Command help partner militaries as many of them mount their own counterterrorism efforts. U.S. service members help train partner militaries and help as they establish new capabilities. The Africans train with U.S. Army security force assistance brigades and with civil affairs teams. U.S. military personnel participate in medical readiness exercises and more. “We have a lot to offer, but we are careful about their capacity so that we don’t overwhelm them,” the general said.
The command works hand in glove with the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. Wasmund called the program “brilliant” and said it was a true force multiplier. The program, which started 20 years ago in Africa, pairs a State National Guard unit with an African nation. The first two partnerships were Morocco-Utah and South Africa-New York.
“These soldiers grew up together,” the general said. “That gives us this depth of relationship, [and] continuity. What we’re doing is ensuring everything … we do with the African partner is synchronized and complimentary.”