A plan to merge U.S. Army Africa with the newly elevated four-star command of U.S. Army Europe will give soldiers on the African continent more influence back in Washington, D.C., according to Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, who took over the Italy-based Army component this summer.
Having a four-star general overseeing both commands and regularly making trips to Congress, the Pentagon and think tanks in D.C. will “give us greater advocacy,” Rohling told Army Times during a recent telephone interview.
“In my last job, I was the deputy commander for United States Army Europe,” Rohling said. “So I’ve been involved in this discussion since its beginning. … If I didn’t think it was good, knowing that I was coming to be the commander of United States Army Africa, I’d never have been for it.”
The merger won’t change the number of soldiers assigned to Army Africa, Rohling said. What merging will do is eliminate some of the administrative burdens on his command and help synchronize exercises with Army Europe and tap into some of its resources, Rohling explained.
“There’s always been a way to do it, but you had to go between two different [combatant commands],” he added. “They can [now] make that transition in a much easier bureaucratic manner than you could’ve in the past, and it’s given a lot of flexibility for both commands.”
The merger comes on the heels of some combat incidents around outposts on the Horn of Africa, including a May 9 attack on U.S. soldiers assigned to a coordination cell in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Seven soldiers received Combat Action badges following the attack, the details of which were not elaborated on during the telephone call.
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Rohling’s predecessor, Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr., obtained wartime awards approval authority after a brief but complex al-Shabab attack was repelled by U.S. soldiers at Baledogle Airfield, in southern Somalia, on Sept. 30, 2019. The approval authority allowed the awarding of combat badges for some 120 soldiers at the airfield.
“I personally have retained that authority and I have signed combat awards since I’ve been in command,” Rohling said. “And has there been small-scale combat? Yes. Major combat? I would say no.”
Army Africa approved 160 combat badges in fiscal 2020. About two-thirds of those were from the Baledogle incident, according to command spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon.
A Jan. 5 attack by al-Shabab at Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya claimed the lives of a U.S. soldier and two Pentagon contractors. The investigation into that incident remains ongoing, but some recommendations have already been implemented, Rohling said, though he declined to discuss what those were until the investigation is released.
“Special Forces is very good at training tactical-type units; They’re very good at accompanying tactical-type units,” McConville said. “But SFABs build a professional military force, which is different.”
U.S. Africa Command boss Gen. Stephen Townsend characterized Manda Bay as a place that both the Americans and Kenyans incorrectly viewed as a safe haven. He told Congress earlier this year that the Kenyans had family housing there for their military members and considered it “a resort area.”
“We’re working hard to make sure we’ve integrated the lessons-learned from that investigation,” Rohling added. “I get a brief on it routinely, [and] I brief Gen. Townsend on it routinely.”
In the days following the Manda Bay attack, roughly 120 infantrymen from the 101st Airborne Division were sent to secure the area, lay concertina wire and build defensive positions.
Force protection is one of Rohling’s leading priorities going into his tenure leading Army Africa.
“That means that we continually work to make sure that if we put a United States Army soldier onto the African continent that they’ve got everything they need in terms of their preparation, their training and then once they get there, [ensuring] that they’re in a safe place, they’re not going to get harmed [and] they have access to medical care,” Rohling said.
Under a new regional alignment model for the Army’s security force assistance brigades, the 2nd SFAB, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will soon start rotating teams to Africa, providing dedicated advisers to military units from countries like Tunisia, Djibouti and Somalia.
Those partnerships with African militaries have been limited these past few months due to the coronavirus pandemic. So far, SFAB teams have been mostly dispatched to places where there is already a U.S. footprint, like East Africa.
“As we make our assessments in accordance with what AFRICOM and the Department of Defense wants to do, we’ll position them elsewhere across the continent,” Rohling said.
The U.S. National Defense Strategy argues that some sort of U.S. presence on the continent prevents terror groups aligned with the Islamic State and al Qaida from gaining ground there. A U.S. presence also provides a counterweight against other non-African powers, like China, which are interested in the region’s emerging markets and raw materials.
Africa is “the emerging front of global power competition,” Rohling said during the telephone call with Army Times. “The Army has a role in Africa, and we’re operating there every single day.”
About Kyle Rempfer
Kyle is a staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the U.S. Army. He served an enlistment as an Air Force Special Tactics CCT and JTAC.