Eight days ago a US Army Special Forces* Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA, A Team, small team) partnered with a Nigerien Special Forces team were ambushed along the Niger-Mali border. The Green Berets, from 3rd Special Forces Group, were conducting a Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission. Foreign Internal Defense is defined in Joint Publication 3-22/Foreign Internal Defense as:
Foreign internal defense (FID) is the participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization, to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to their security. The focus of US FID efforts is to support the host nation’s (HN’s) internal defense and development (IDAD), which can be described as the full range of measures taken by a nation to promote its growth and protect itself from the security threats described above.
Derek Gannon has provided excellent coverage over at SOFREP. Including a powerful op-ed. But it was this point that he made that I found the most thought provoking:
Gannon’s reporting brings us back to one of the points I made in May when discussing plans to send an additional 4,000 or so troops to Afghanistan:
… the conventional Army can’t do much more than what it is actually doing. And neither can the Air Force or the Navy or Special Forces. Eventually something will have to give. Either the US will have to adjust its national security strategy expectations down so they are in line with the ways and means available/likely to be available or it will have to adjust the ways and means available up so they are in line with our national security strategy expectations and obligations. Given that the US is the only country to ever cut taxes, twice, while waging two wars, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to increase our means in any significant manner. To do so would require actually increasing Federal revenue, which is anathema to the GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate, as well as movement conservative and Republican party orthodoxy.
What Gannon reported in regard to US Army Africa and US Africa Command’s inability to provide close air support (CAS) and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) by air isn’t just confined to US Special Forces operating in Niger. US Army Africa has one, let me repeat that, ONE brigade combat team allocated to it. Currently it is the 1st Brigade Combat Team/101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), also known as the 327th Infantry Regiment or “Bastogne”. That brigade, approximately 4,500 to 5,000 Soldiers (if it is at full readiness) garrisoned at Ft. Campbell, KY is usually broken up to conduct a number of advise, assist, train, and support missions as tasked by US Army Africa. It is supplemented by small teams of Soldiers from a variety of state National Guard elements as every state National Guard has foreign country partners. This is not a new development, rather it is how US Army Africa has been organized since its inception. The only other brigade combat team that the US Army Africa commander has at his command is the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which is allocated to the Southern European Task Force, which is the other command that the US Army Africa commander is dual hatted to run**. They are the rapid reaction force for US Army Europe and the Southern European Task Force, as well as for US Army Africa. However, they are garrisoned in Vicenza, Italy, which is also the home station for US Army Africa and the Southern European Task Force.
It has recently been reported, however, that the 173rd is struggling to meet and maintain readiness as a result of technological changes and as a result may not be able to successfully fulfill its mission set:
But the assessment details a series of “capability gaps” the unit has identified during recent training with Ukrainian troops with experience battling Russian-backed separatists, who have used cheap drones and electronic warfare tools to pinpoint targets for artillery barrages and devastated government armored vehicles with state-of-the-art Russian antitank missiles.
Some of the shortfalls, like the brigade’s lack of air defense and electronic warfare units and over-reliance on satellite communications and GPS navigation systems, are the direct results of the Army’s years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy has no air power or other high-end equipment and technology.
“The lessons we learned from our Ukrainian partners were substantial. It was a real eye-opener on the absolute need to look at ourselves critically,” Col. Gregory Anderson, who commissioned the report earlier this year during his stint as the brigade’s commander, told POLITICO after it had obtained a copy of the report. “We felt compelled to write about our experiences and pass on what we saw and learned.”
The reason that this is important and the reason it has to do with the four dead Green Berets last week is one more indicator that the ends, ways, and means of the US military are way out of balance. The US military is currently designed to be expeditionary. To be forward based and forward deployed to help positively shape the 21st Century operating environment and various areas of responsibility through a variety of missions. A lot of these missions are military to military partnering. Foreign Internal Defense, advise and assist, train, equip, as well as military to civilian development (National Guard engineering teams partnering with host country elements to build or refit infrastructure ), humanitarian assistance (Civil Affairs and other units conducting medical and veterinary operations, etc) and military to military and military to civilian diplomacy. These four Soldiers killed in action continues to hammer home that despite what we’re spending on the US military we’re still unable to properly sustain operations. The inability to provide close air support or casualty evacuation by air when troops are in contact with hostile forces is inexcusable. This isn’t the US Army Africa or the Special Operations Command Africa Commanders faults per se. They have been given missions to carry out. They also have not been provided with the appropriate resources to support those missions. Eventually these two things are going to be in conflict. Unfortunately it happened eight days ago and involved four dead Green Berets, as well as a number of our Nigerien partners.
This is an ends, ways, means out of alignment problem. It has contributed to three collisions and one grounding over the past year in the 7th Fleet, which is the Navy’s most active command. Tired, overworked Sailors are going to make mistakes. And they have.
This isn’t an argument for more defense spending, rather it is an acknowledgement that given what we’re spending we’re not getting optimum outcomes. Some of this is that US Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps aviators have been at war continuously since 1991. Some of it is that the tooth (combat elements) to tail (support elements) needs to be reapportioned. I’m not nocking all the hard working uniformed and civilian personnel doing acquisitions, logistics, combat arms support, sustainment, garrison/home station operations and installation management, medical, dental, and veterinary services, etc. If they go away then the combat elements are going to be in even worse shape. But right now we appear to have too little operational capability and capacity to do what is necessary. Eventually something will have to give. Either the US force posture, the idea of being expeditionary and using the US military to proactively shape the global operating environment will have to be reconsidered and reconceptualized or the ways and means provided will have to be adjusted accordingly. If we can’t provide close air support and casualty evacuation to a 12 man ODA and their host country partners in contact with hostile forces in Niger, then we have a problem. And that problem is only going to get bigger and worse as long as the discussion of what the US military is for, how it should be structured to achieve the objectives set for it, and how we pay to do that gets punted from one continuing resolution to another and from one waiver of the Budget Control Act to the next. Regardless of how one feels about what the US military is doing or should be doing, the ambush in Niger is a major signal that we have a problem. And this problem is bigger than just what the US military is tasked to do and how it is resourced to do it.
* Special Forces (SF) specifically refers to the US Army’s Green Berets. All other US special operations elements are referred to as Special Operations Forces (SOF).
** US Army Africa is technically a build out and restructuring of the Southern European Task Force. Hence the US Army African commander being dual hatted as the Southern European Task Force commander.