DJIBOUTI -- A crisis on a continent as large, diverse and complex as Africa requires a robust whole of government approach where the Department of Defense and Department of State work together to quickly provide for the safety of American citizens and facilities. A key component of this response rests in the East Africa Response Force, located at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
The EARF, under the command and control of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, provides a combat-ready rapid deployment capability to support crises operations in the U.S. Africa Command Area of Responsibility.
It demonstrated its rapid response capabilities, Jan. 2, 2019, when President Donald Trump authorized the deployment of the EARF to Libreville, Gabon, in support of potential unrest in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Their mission was to "be in a position to support the security of the United States citizens, personnel, and diplomatic facilities in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)," in a notification to Congress signed by the President of the United States.
Reports of possible violence and unrest in the DRC by the delay of scheduled presidential elections there, resulted in the deployment of the EARF shortly after receiving orders to mobilize.
"With 53 countries and more than 50 U.S. embassies and consulates, ensuring an ability to quickly respond to any challenge is a top priority and one we take very seriously," said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. William West, AFRICOM deputy director of operations. "Through our relationships, talented professionals, and constant coordination and communication with our African partners, we remain committed to ensuring the safety and security of U.S. personnel and citizens while achieving mission objectives on the continent."
The EARF deployment was part of an AFRICOM- and DoS-coordinated response-planning process known as New Normal where planners across both agencies work together to ensure crisis response efforts are fully coordinated. The New Normal construct is composed of several areas of planning, security and whole-of-government communication.
To coordinate and centralize planning efforts during crises, AFRICOM establishes interagency teams, also known as Operational Planning Teams. The OPTs include representatives from AFRICOM, DoS, the FBI and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
For the 2019 elections in DRC, AFRICOM convened an OPT to plan for the timeliness of execution to send a security team to the embassy and tasked CJTF-HOA to reduce the flight response time from Djibouti to Kinshasa.
"We prudently positioned our forces to put ourselves at a relative advantage, mostly against time, to be able to respond if that request came through," said U.S. Army Col. Ryan P. O'Connor, CJTF-HOA director of operations. "The tyranny of distance in Africa cannot be overstated."
O'Connor said the EARF is capable of responding to a broad range of military operations including the protection of U.S. citizens and diplomatic facilities, support for non-combatant evacuation operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief operations, recovery capabilities of aircraft and personnel, and other missions as directed.
Upon arrival in Gabon, the EARF Soldiers established contact with the U.S. embassies in Gabon and the DRC, as well as with the Gabonese Republican Guard and emergency medical personnel.
"I am glad to be a part of this mission as it is unlike anything I have done previously," said U.S. Army Capt. Connor McCarthy, the commander of Bravo Company, 1-26th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. "Essentially, our company is able to be the primary response force for the majority of the African continent. Though it isn't always the best of situations, if we get the call, our company is always ready to support."
After several weeks monitoring the situation in the DRC and because anticipated violence did not occur, the EARF redeployed to Camp Lemonnier to stand by for the next rapid response request.
"The EARF's readiness to respond at a moment's notice provides a critical and valued capability when time is of the essence," West said. "It is reassuring to know the capability is always there and able to respond rapidly when called."