Africa Command Learns from Libya Operations

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2011 — Libya was the first major com­bat oper­a­tion for U.S. Africa Com­mand, and its men and women respond­ed well, the unit’s com­man­der said.

Still, Africom — the military’s newest com­bat­ant com­mand — is assess­ing the lessons learned from Libya and will make nec­es­sary changes, said Army Gen. Carter F. Ham.

Ham spoke to the Defense Writ­ers’ Group here yes­ter­day.

In March, Africom par­tic­i­pat­ed in Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn — the Amer­i­can effort to pro­tect Libyan cit­i­zens from Moam­mar Gadhafi’s regime. Lat­er, the oper­a­tion was trans­ferred to NATO’s Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor.

Offi­cials have to exam­ine the Libya oper­a­tions close­ly to draw lessons, the gen­er­al said.

“It would be wrong in my mind to say ‘this is the tem­plate, this is the mod­el’ we will fol­low,” Ham said. “As all mil­i­tary oper­a­tions are, they are con­di­tions-spe­cif­ic.”

The U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973 called on mem­ber states to pro­tect the Libyan peo­ple from a mas­sacre at the hands of Gadhafi’s army, which was then threat­en­ing Beng­hazi.

“I remain con­fi­dent that had the U.N. not made the deci­sion, had the U.S. not tak­en the lead with great sup­port, I’m absolute­ly con­vinced there are many, many peo­ple in Beng­hazi alive today who would not be [oth­er­wise],” Ham said.

Africom was able to respond quick­ly to aid Libya, he said, because of the U.S. military’s flex­i­ble air and mar­itime forces based in Europe.

“There was great sup­port from NATO nations for bas­ing and over­flight and, in many cas­es, con­tri­bu­tions of forces,” he said. “It was a great inter­na­tion­al effort, and there is some­thing to be learned from that.”

Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn was able to build on the NATO frame­work, and oth­er non-NATO allies also were able to fall in on that frame­work.

“How you do that in oth­er parts of the world where you don’t have that stand­ing alliance is some­thing we need to think seri­ous­ly about,” Ham said.

Offi­cials, he added, also have to look at how to bring togeth­er a multi­na­tion­al coali­tion with­out NATO stand­ing agree­ments and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty that played such a great role in the Libya cam­paign.

Inside Africom, the gen­er­al said, the great­est learn­ing curve involved kinet­ic tar­get­ing.

“It was not some­thing we had prac­ticed; we didn’t have great capa­bil­i­ty honed and refined inside the orga­ni­za­tion, and Odyssey Dawn real­ly caused us to work in that regard,” Ham said.

The com­mand had to define what effects it need­ed, and what spe­cif­ic tar­gets would con­tribute to achiev­ing those effects � a pre­cise endeav­or, Ham said. If attack­ing a com­mu­ni­ca­tions node, plan­ners must ask them­selves what does that par­tic­u­lar node do? How does it con­nect to oth­er nodes? What’s the right muni­tion to use? What’s the like­li­hood of col­lat­er­al dam­age? What’s the right time of day to hit it? What’s the right deliv­ery plat­form? And final­ly, how to syn­chro­nize attacks.

“That lev­el of detail and pre­ci­sion … was not some­thing the com­mand had prac­ticed to the degree that we were required to do in Odyssey Dawn,” Ham said.

The exper­tise came very quick­ly, the gen­er­al added.

“It’s unsur­pris­ing to you that most of the intel­li­gence ana­lysts, most of the tar­ge­teers across the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary have done this in pre­vi­ous deploy­ments to Iraq and Afghanistan and oth­er places,” Ham said. “They know how to do it but, col­lec­tive­ly, Africa Com­mand had not pre­vi­ous­ly done this.”

Ways to sus­tain this exper­tise is some­thing the com­mand must look at in the future, the gen­er­al said The same is true, he added, in the mar­itime envi­ron­ment.

Ham said inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with non-NATO allies is anoth­er aspect that needs to be strength­ened. Qatar, the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, the African Union and oth­ers par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Libyan oper­a­tion.

Going for­ward, Africom has to stress inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with part­ners on the con­ti­nent. “If we were to launch a human­i­tar­i­an oper­a­tion, how do we do so effec­tive­ly with air traf­fic con­trol, air­field man­age­ment, those kind of activ­i­ties?” he said.

The Unit­ed States has to craft those prac­tices with African part­ners, he added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)