Airmen Support Pan Sahel Initiative
Release Date: 3/17/2004
By 1st Lt. Phillip Ulmer 435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
TIMBUKTU, Mali - Airmen from bases throughout Europe are supporting Special Operations forces along the fringes of the Sahara Desert in Northwest Africa in the continuing global war on terrorism.
Currently, soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Stuttgart, Germany are training African soldiers in Mali and Mauritania to provide tactical military training for the Pan Sahel Initiative. The initiative is a U.S. Department of State Security Assistance Program focusing on four countries in the Sahara region of Africa: Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.
While this was primarily a Special Operations mission, it couldn't have started without the support of the 86th Contingency Response Group and the 37th Airlift Squadron, both from Ramstein AB, Germany.
"It was a pretty complex task bringing the SOF units from Germany to four different locations in Africa in very austere conditions," said Air Force Capt. Chris Miller, 86th CRG deployed commander.
The 37th AS flew 25 C-130 sorties in roughly two weeks to deliver the 1/10th SFG (A) and all their equipment. Forward based at Rota Air Station, Spain, and with load teams strategically placed at locations in the Pan Sahel region, the group worked 16-hour days flying daily shuttles in and out of Africa. After the desert dust had settled, they had moved more than 252 tons of cargo and 357 soldiers into the region.
The group's challenges and Herculean efforts didn't go unnoticed.
"The CRG is an absolutely superb unit," said Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Csrnko, U.S. Special Operations Command, Europe commander. "They got us on the ground about four days earlier than expected. We couldn't have performed our mission without them."
Once the 1/10th SFG (A) was on the ground and performing their mission, the 352nd Special Operations Group from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, flew in to deliver sustainment supplies and for some local training.
"We're able to support the PSI mission and we're getting training out of it at the same time," said Air Force Maj. Brian Rausch, 7th Special Operations Squadron pilot and mission commander. "We're flying our air land missions along with low level airdrop bundles to teams in the field and personnel drops."
With no U.S. military installations in the area, security fell on the able shoulders of Security Forces members from RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, England. These Airmen are responsible to protect the aircraft, cargo and crew during the re-supply mission.
"This has been quite a trip," said Staff Sgt. Josh Carter, 48th Security Forces Squadron anti terrorism non-commissioned officer at RAF Lakenheath. "Even though our six-person team is working long hours and sleeping on the plane, we're making sure everyone is safe and secure."
Airmen from the 352nd SOG also got an opportunity to conduct unilateral or "skills training". This type of training allows SOF forces to learn from different environments and situations that they normally wouldn't encounter at familiar training ranges. They become familiar with the environment and it's an opportunity to test equipment and procedures.
"We get a lot out of this type of training," said Master Sgt. B.K. Mitchell, 7th SOS chief loadmaster. "We performed three air operations over Timbuktu for the first time ever."
The air operations included two standard airdrop training bundles, basically a sandbag with a parachute attached dropped for accuracy, and one Army personnel drop.
"This is another opportunity for our great Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to get out on the ground and conduct meaningful training in this region," said Csrnko. "It allows them to hone their skills and operational techniques."
Soldiers assigned to the 1/10th SFG (A) deployed in November to Mali and Mauritania in Northwestern Africa to provide tactical military training for the Pan Sahel Initiative.
According to State Department officials, the Pan Sahel region of Africa has become important in the global security arena. Vast expanses of unpopulated areas, instability, porous borders and corruption make Africa an inviting playground for terrorists.
"Mali has a region the size of Texas that is called the Sahara Desert that is full of caves and flatlands, really it's a no man's land," said Madame Vicki Huddleston, U.S. Ambassador to Mali. We're helping to teach them [the Malian military] how to control this area themselves so they can keep it from being used by terrorists," she said.
The Pan Sahel Initiative supports U.S. national security interests in the war on terrorism by enhancing regional peace and security. It directly assists Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania in protecting their borders and exploiting opportunities to detect and deter terrorists by providing basic training and equipment.
"If we don't help [these countries] control their territories," said Huddleston, "then these territories will be used by the bad guys."
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