Operation Odyssey Dawn, the U.S. Africa Command-led U.S. mission in Libya last year, imparted important lessons the Defense Department’s newest combatant command is applying as it welcomes a new African partner to the fold while still dealing with some of the residual challenges left by the former regime, the Africom commander said.
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham conceded during recent congressional testimony that the challenges in Libya didn’t end with the fall of Moammar Gadhafi and his dictatorship.
“There are some small pockets remaining in Libya and in other places in North Africa that were centers of foreign fighters who left North Africa, transited along various routes and ended up fighting against us and other coalition forces inside Iraq,” he told the House Armed Services Committee in February.
“There are remnants of that, and there are indications that al Qaeda senior leadership is seeking ways to reestablish those networks,” he said. “And that’s one of the challenges that lie ahead for us.”
Ham said he’s concerned about their influence on Tunisia as well as Libya as both countries attempt to establish representative governments.
“It’s very clear that extremist organizations – notably al Qaeda, with some direction from al Qaeda’s senior leaders – would seek to undermine that good governance that the Tunisians and the Libyans seek,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. “And so I think that’s the real threat that is posed.”
“So I think we need to partner very closely with the security forces [and] armed forces of Tunisia and Libya to prevent the reestablishment of those networks [and] to prevent those violent extremist organizations from undermining the progress that both countries are seeking.”
Africom is forming a new military-to-military relationship with the Libyans and is working to strengthen its long-term military-to-military relationship with the Tunisians, Ham said, emphasizing the importance of close partnerships with both nations.
“I am very satisfied with the progress of the military-to-military relationship that is developing” with the new Tunisian government, he reported. “We need to sustain that.”
“And similarly, with the Libyans, we are forming a good relationship,” he continued, noting the standup of an Office of Security Cooperation at the embassy there that can help coordinate security assistance, international military education and training and other security cooperation. “So we’re moving in the right direction, but we need to sustain that effort,” he said.
Speaking with American Forces Press Service at his headquarters here, Ham said military operations in Libya drove home the point that all U.S. combatant commands including Africom must be capable of operating across the full spectrum of conflict.
“It is probably not going to be very often where Africa Command goes to the more kinetic, the more offensive operations in Africa,” he said. “But nonetheless, we have to be ready to do that if the president requires that of us.”
Africom typically conducts relatively small-scale, non-offensive missions focused on strengthening the defense capabilities of African militaries, he noted. “But there is an expectation that we must be able to do the full range of military activities.”
Operation Odyssey Dawn also reinforced that the United States won’t conduct military operations alone, Ham said. “We are always going to do them as part of some type of coalition,” he continued. “So building the processes, the mechanisms that allow us to readily incorporate the capabilities of other nations is an important aspect for us as well.”
Ham noted the United States’ long history of operating with NATO, but said it wasn’t as prepared to work side-by-side with non-NATO partners, particularly Arab countries, that joined the coalition. “We had to make sure we were postured to incorporate them very quickly,” he said. “I think that is a good lesson for us as we think about operations across Africa in the future.”
Africom’s close association with U.S. European Command, with both command headquarters here in Stuttgart, proved particularly valuable during the Libya campaign, he said.
Ham called European-based forces absolutely critical to Operation Odyssey Dawn. “Simply stated, we could not have responded on the timelines required for operations in Libya had air and maritime forces not been forward-stationed in Europe,” he said.
“Operations in Libya have truly brought U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command to a higher level of collaboration,” Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And this year, we’ll continue to work closely together to seek to more effectively address security challenges in our respective areas of responsibilities.”
The Europeans, both through NATO and through the European Union, are heavily invested in security matters in Africa, Ham told the House Armed Services Committee. “And it is our strong relationship and partnership with U.S. European Command that allows us to have access and meaningful dialogue in the planning and coordination of those activities.”
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the Eucom commander who testified alongside Ham, noted that the two commands have shared nautical component commanders and regularly partner in counter-piracy operations.
“We are also exploring ways that we can create efficiencies in intelligence and information sharing,” Stavridis said. “And I believe we essentially share intelligence facilities now, and there may be some ways to do even more of that.”