Operational Considerations for Sub-Saharan Africa

By Stanton, Martin N. | Infantry, September/October 1996 | Go to article overview

Operational Considerations for Sub-Saharan Africa


Stanton, Martin N., Infantry


Given the recent history of U.S. military operations in Somalia, Rwanda, and Liberia, it is reasonable to assume that we will again be committed to some sort of action in Sub-Saharan AfriCa in the near future. This action may range from strictly humanitarian operations (as in Rwanda) to noncombatant evacuation or hostage rescue operations (Congo 1964-65, Kolwezi 1978, Liberia 1990) to peacekeeping (Angola) to lowintensity conflict (LIC) peacemaking or peace enforcement operations (Somalia).

The U.S. experience in Somalia revealed many of the operational challenges that face armies operating in Africa. Although some of the considerations discussed here were unique to Somalia, many of them are true of the entire area.

The single most important factor is the sheer size of an area of operations. Somalia, for example, is the size of California, and at the height of UN participation, there were fewer than 30,000 soldiers of all nations in and around the country and a high ratio of support and nation-building units to combat units. This meant that small units were given large areas of operation (AOs), in terms of either population density (one Marine battalion for Mogadishu) or area (one Army infantry battalion with an AO bigger than Connecticut).

Another consideration is logistics. After the relatively benign environment of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Somalia came as a shock, and it is reasonable to assume that in future interventions we will face what we experienced there to one degree or another. In many nations in Africa, the infrastructure dates from the 1950s or early 1960s at best. Everything logistical is an issue, even such simple things as potable water. Nothing is available from the host nation.

Intelligence is likely to be inadequate. As in Bosnia or any number of areas of conflict in the former republics of the Soviet Union, many of the conflicts we are likely to face in Africa will be multi-sided. Far from being simple operations against a national adversary (such as Iraq) or even operations against a formally organized guerrilla force (such as the Viet Cong), many of the combatants in African conflicts are organized along tribal and familial lines. Gathering intelligence on the plans and operations of these closed groups can be extremely difficult. A dozen armed groups may be vying for the dominance of their particular clan power base.

It is important that we consider now, before our next commitment, the best organizations and tactics for employment in this unique environment.

Organizing for Extended Operations

Although organizing for extended operations is in many ways based on METT-T (mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time), most force packages for African interventions will share several common characteristics:

They will be heavy on combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS). Because of the austerity of the environment and the possibility of supporting allied units as well as our own, U.S. forces will have a higher tail-to-tooth ratio than they would have in Europe or Southwest Asia. This will be especially true of transportation units, both ground and air. Extensive engineer efforts will have to restore (or create) the transportation infrastructure to support extended operations.

They will require extensive augmentation to command and control. Because of the size of the AOs, normal doctrinal distances will be at least quadrupled. Units that normally communicate with their higher headquarters and adjacent or subordinate units on FM or secure radio may find that their equipment does not have the necessary range.

In Somalia, both Army and Marine Corps units were extensively augmented with tactical satellite (TACSAT) teams, and these were often the only way the separate units could communicate with one another. It is even more critical than usual that J-6 personnel be in on the initial planning for operations in this part of the world so they will fully understand the communication requirements and task organize effectively to meet the challenges of distance. …

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