The number of American soldiers deployed in Africa has grown to approximately 6,000, a quarter of which belong to Special Forces units. About two-thirds are stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Their mission is to support the Organization of African Union's mission to suppress the al Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab. Pictured: American soldiers, deployed from Camp Lemonnier, with Ugandan soldiers in the Bududa District, Uganda on March 2, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Specialist Peter Neser/Released)
American Green Berets are currently gripped in helping dozens of African countries in a low-key but desperate struggle to prevent a vast swath of the world's poorly governed spaces from falling to Islamist terrorists. The U.S. Special Operations Africa Command's 3rd Special Forces Group (3rd SFG) has been operating in 33 such countries, training and equipping their local armies to enable them to combat threats to state sovereignty posed by al Qaeda and ISIS. The same goal was the impetus behind the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007.
Since then, the number of American soldiers deployed in Africa has grown to approximately 6,000, a quarter of which belong to Special Forces units. About two-thirds are stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Their mission is to support the Organization of African Union's mission to suppress the al Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab, in its effort to challenge state sovereignty in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and to combat piracy operations in international shipping lanes along the East African coast.
Since 2015, the 3rd SFG has borne the brunt of the burden, returning to an earlier "Area of Responsibility," following a lengthy deployment in Afghanistan. These Green Beret troops serve as a force multiplier to African counter-terrorist units, by providing needed intelligence and supplying logistical resources.
The key area of focus, due its vulnerability, is the Sahel region, flanked by the southern Sahara Desert in the north to the savanna grasslands in the south, and stretching from the Atlantic Coast to the Red Sea. Sahel includes parts or all of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. Green Berets are serving in an advisory position and/or combat role in each.
Jihadists, however, have been expanding their scope to include countries south of Sahel, necessitating the deployment of Green Berets to Cameroon, and occasionally to nearby Benin.
In early June, the Pentagon completed its investigation into the October 2017 terrorist ambush in Niger -- where some 800 U.S. troops were deployed -- and that resulted in the deaths of four Green Berets and four African soldiers. The group responsible for the killing was the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The incident reportedly came as a surprise to many Americans, who had been unaware of the presence and necessity of U.S. soldiers in Niger and elsewhere in Africa.
What skeptics need to understand is that the Green Berets in Africa -- as all U.S. troops are doing in other places and other contexts throughout the world -- are performing a crucial service to U.S. interests. They are helping America maintain a small footprint in states at peril of losing the battle against jihad and its totalitarian ideology, or other threats, while often assisting local militaries transform from corrupt, domestic bullies to national protectors of the people.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.