Sunday, August 3, 2008

6th Fleet Focus: Task Force 65 Under New Command

This blog does not shy away from our interest of western Africa. We believe this will ultimately be a major region to watch in the 21st century, and have a number of reasons why that we will not cover in this post. Needless to say, we discuss what is taking place there as often as it grabs our attention, and will continue to do so.

The US Navy Task Force that operates in that region is known as Task Force 65. When we talk about the African Partnership Station, that is the Task Force we are talking about. Stars and Stripes is reporting Task Force 65 is under new management as of Friday by Capt. Cindy Thebaud, and we really like her attitude.

The APS program’s main mission is to teach African navies, militaries and other organizations to secure coastlines and waterways to counter drug-smuggling, illegal human trafficking and illegal fishing, a $1 billion industry. The goal is to have African nations defend their own shores and waters so the U.S. Navy, or others, don’t have to.

"I see it as a brilliant, very much needed, and dynamic mission," said Thebaud. "Everybody I’ve spoken with … the Africans I’ve met at various APS conferences ... all reiterate the development of maritime safety and security is imperative in establishing stability in the region and economic growth and prosperity."

APS also aims to bring in humanitarian organizations at the onset of planning of missions and to work closely with embassies in the region to establish what projects and needs the Navy can get involved in, Thebaud said.
Lets be blunt, the Gulf of Guinea among other regions in the area of operations for Task Force 65 is a backwater shit hole with a ton of problems. It is also ground zero for massive economic growth in Africa, and has one of the most strategically important counterinsurgencies in Africa taking place in Nigeria. This is ground zero for every peacemaking and war winning military strategy concept the joint forces has in their arsenal, and what we see as one of the biggest challenges in the 21st century facing the United States.

Who are the players? The big fish is China, and lets be clear on this. There are many who see China as more than an economic competitor, rather as an adversary the United States will need to deal with. Regardless of whether the relationship between the United States and China is competitive in nature, or adversarial in nature, one of the front lines for that clash of economic titans is the Gulf of Guinea.

We love Capt. Cindy Thebaud's attitude, because while the Navy may be in a peacetime posture, the necessity to go on the offensive with a peacetime strategy is much needed in that region. The African Partnership is one of the more effective tactics in that regard, but it is not the only tactic that can be used. There is a clear military role in the region, specifically for the Navy, but that role is in support of the joint government approach that the State Dept., USAID, and others need to embrace. This is where full spectrum peacemaking strategy must be effective if the United States is going to be a factor in Africa, and build real partnerships in the 21st century.

Capt. Cindy Thebaud is filling big shoes by taking over for Capt. John Nowell, who we followed during the African Partnership deployment and had an opportunity to talk about APS with him during a blogger roundtable. The African Partnership Station represents the most important tactic the United States has in its strategic peacemaking arsenal for Africa. It isn't just the Navy though, as David Axe noted over the weekend on Danger Room, the Coast Guard is there too. Check out the transcript (PDF) of the recent bloggers roundtable with U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Robert Wagner. That is a good read.

For the record, note how the story of US Navy and Coast Guard involvement of Africa is being told. Bloggers. This is why we are supporting independent journalists like David Axe. If we don't support them, who else is going to tell the story?

We want to wish Capt. Cindy Thebaud good luck in her new command, but want to also advise a warning. Sixth Fleet really dropped the ball a few weeks ago. As the near miss of that incident reminds us, APS is only part of the solution.

Update: The Unofficial Coast Guard Blog is also discussing the USCGC Dallas (WHBC 716) operations off Africa.

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