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Airpower role essential in Africa

by Tech. Sgt. Carrie Bernard
Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa Public Affairs


4/5/2007 - CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti (AFNEWS) -- With a mission covering roughly two-thirds the span of the United States, airpower is a critical part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, according to the Air Force's top officer in U.S. Central Command.

During his recent visit to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, Lt. Gen. Gary North, commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces, said Airmen are having a positive impact in the organization's mission to prevent conflict, promote regional stability and protect coalition interest in order to prevail against extremism in the region.

"To get to some of the places in CJTF-HOA, you've got to have airpower," he said. "We also have to take all our equipment with us because the infrastructure is not there to support the things we have to do, whether it's digging wells, providing humanitarian support or conducting medical and veterinarian projects."

That unique capability is what makes airpower an important piece of the Horn of Africa mission, which includes the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti and Tanzania.

"It's what General (T. Michael) Moseley said our Air Force is all about -- range and payload," said Gen. North, referring to the Air Force chief of staff. "And in this case, the range is long and the payload is the humanitarian efforts or civil military affairs efforts supporting our U.S. Army brothers and sisters, or the Marine Corps or the U.S. Navy Seabees who are at CJTF-HOA. That's what airpower is all about."

In order to establish a more integrated approach to those efforts, officials recently announced the establishment of a new U.S. Africa Command to oversee military operations on the African continent.

"The president has decided to stand-up a new unified, combatant command, Africa Command, to oversee security cooperation, building partnership capability, defense support to non-military missions, and, if directed, military operations on the African continent," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Responsibility for operations on the African continent is currently divided among three combatant commands: U.S. European Command, which has responsibility for most of the nations in the African mainland except in the Horn of Africa; U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya; and U.S. Pacific Command, which has responsibility for Madagascar, the Seychelles and the Indian Ocean area off the African coast.

How the new command will affect Airmen assigned to the regions is still being determined by a transition team operating in Stuttgart, Germany, however Gen. North said one thing will remain the same -- the need for airpower across Africa.

"Many people don't realize the actual size of Africa -- you can put the United States, China and Europe inside its outline, so airpower -- the United States Air Force and our coalition partners that can provide airpower -- is going to be critical across the expanse of the continent," he said.

As missions evolve in Africa, General North said he believes Airmen will continue to work closely with partner nations and coalition partners to effect positive change in the region.

He cited recent operations in Kenya as an example of bilateral air force to air force efforts. In that country, Airmen are working side-by-side with Kenyan Airmen on integrated operations and maintenance issues.

"That's what it's all about," said General North. "Airmen working side-by-side with Airmen regardless of nation, regardless of the capability because we have a common mission."

That mission of preventing the conditions needed for terrorism draws in Airmen and provides them a great deal of personal satisfaction, he said.

"We've got absolutely outstanding Airmen, many who volunteer to come back to outposts like Djibouti," said General North. "They see they are making a huge difference and are able to get out and work in a humanitarian effort, supporting a very critical mission in Africa."

Subsequently, the general said he believes Airmen also see professional benefits from working in the Horn of Africa, specifically from the joint environment.

"As they interact in the joint environment with Army, Marines, Airmen from all countries and certainly the Navy as the lead service in Djibouti, this is jointness at execution," he said. "Our young Airmen will be much, much more capable and better joint Airmen as they go home from this rotation."

Supporting his pledge of "each rotation, visit every location," the United States Central Command Air Force commander continues to keep a watchful eye on the Airmen at Camp Lemonier.

"Every time I come back to Djibouti and see the Airmen, either assigned to the air expeditionary group or to Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa, they make me absolutely proud," he said.



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