A New US Crisis Response Force for Africa

“Send in the Marines” Is Now a Faster Option

Following the deadly September 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the Marine Corps created a new crisis response force for Africa – smaller and faster than its predecessors – and recently ordered its first emergency mission.  On January 3, a team of Marines landed in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, and evacuated US Embassy personnel from amid the civil war there.

Weeks after that first test, the force’s commander, Col. Scott Benedict, visited the Atlantic Council from his unit’s forward operational center at southern Spain’s Morón Air Base. At the Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Benedict briefed Africa and military analysts, defense industry leaders, military officers and diplomats on his unit’s mission and its challenges in the Mediterranean and Africa.

The force is designed to quickly fly dozens or hundreds of troops into crisis spots by combining a fleet of the Marines’ MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (which cruise like airplanes, but land vertically in tight spots, like helicopters) with tanker aircraft. The tankers refuel the Ospreys enroute, extending their range. On the South Sudan mission, Ospreys and their tankers flew from Morón to Djibouti and on to Uganda’s Entebbe airport – more than 3,400 miles, and farther than the distance from Anchorage, Alaska, to New Orleans. From Entebbe, elements of the force flew to Juba for the evacuations.

The new unit – called the “Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response” – has shown sufficient promise that one to two additional groups are being planned for the Latin American or Middle East regions, US press reports say.

In his briefing, Benedict discussed the challenges facing his force. The fast-moving crises of recent years in Africa demand a more flexible use of air transport, he noted.  Benedict also discussed the ways in which his unit is working with allies, notably by training for joint operations with Spanish, Italian, Senegalese and French forces. In November, Marines from his force flew to France to practice a combined assault with troops of France’s Foreign Legion.