Regionally Aligned Forces:

DOD Could Enhance Army Brigades' Efforts in Africa by Improving Activity Coordination and Mission-Specific Preparation

GAO-15-568: Published: Aug 26, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2015.

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What GAO Found

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) identifies and synchronizes security cooperation activities through various planning processes, but the brigades allocated to AFRICOM sometimes lack key information about these activities. The brigades have conducted hundreds of security cooperation activities, such as exercises with partner nations, throughout Africa. As part of AFRICOM's planning processes, the Offices of Security Cooperation—located in U.S. embassies in Africa—work with U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) to identify and develop security cooperation activities based on the needs of the host nation and AFRICOM's objectives. The brigades are tasked to conduct many of these activities, but they sometimes lack timely and complete information about the activities, such as activity objectives, which can compromise their effectiveness. While personnel from USARAF and the Offices of Security Cooperation coordinate informally, they do not always have a shared understanding of the activity objectives or involve the brigades in planning. Furthermore, USARAF does not have a formal mechanism that includes both the Offices of Security Cooperation and the brigades to shape activities and address information gaps. As a result, the brigades' ability to conduct activities may be challenged, and the resources invested may not have the anticipated effect.

The brigades have been trained and equipped for their core missions, which has generally prepared them to meet requirements in Africa, but opportunities exist to enhance their mission-specific preparation. The brigades' core training is estimated to cover 90 to 95 percent of the skills needed to support activities in Africa. The brigades have developed regionally-focused, mission-specific training programs to cover the remaining skills. Some Army officials identified concerns about how this training is being supported, but the Army may not have the information it needs to address these concerns, because it has not completed an Army-directed assessment of training for regionally aligned forces. In addition, the brigades have experienced some equipment gaps, particularly in communications systems, because the Army has not fully identified mission-specific equipment requirements or established, or applied, a mechanism to ensure that brigades have the necessary equipment. Furthermore, the Army and the Department of State have not agreed on a process for providing official passports to brigade personnel before their employment period. As a result, the brigades have faced challenges in obtaining passports that have limited their ability to deploy the appropriate personnel to Africa. Without action on these issues, the brigades' ability to fully support the mission in Africa may be affected.

Brigades Face Coordination Challenges and Gaps in Mission-Specific Preparation

Brigades Face Coordination Challenges and Gaps in Mission-Specific Preparation

Why GAO Did This Study

In support of the Department of Defense's (DOD) increasing emphasis on strengthening partner nations' security forces, the Army is aligning its forces with geographic combatant commands to provide tailored, trained, and responsive forces to meet the commands' requirements. In 2013, AFRICOM became the first combatant command to be allocated an Army regionally aligned brigade combat team—the first of three to date—which was tasked to the command primarily to support security cooperation.

The House Report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 included a provision that GAO assess DOD's efforts to plan for and employ these brigades in Africa. This report assesses, among other things, the extent to which (1) AFRICOM has clearly identified and synchronized security cooperation activities for the brigades in Africa and (2) the brigades have been prepared to meet mission requirements in Africa. The term ‘synchronize' refers to coordination efforts by AFRICOM and its components to achieve unity of effort across the command. GAO reviewed documents and data and interviewed DOD and Department of State officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD develop a coordination mechanism to improve planning for activities, assess mission-specific training for aligned forces, identify and provide mission-specific equipment for the brigades, and that DOD and the Department of State coordinate on providing passports to the brigades. Both concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or russellc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: U.S. Army Africa has begun conducting quarterly planning events, known as Theater Security Cooperation Workshops with all regionally aligned force units in order to synchronize the planning and execution of all security cooperation events scheduled over the subsequent two quarters. According to the command, the output of workshops includes planning matrices that ultimately form the deployment orders for the brigades and a quarterly order that captures the results of the refined security cooperation activity planning to provide fidelity to the brigades for final planning and execution of missions. These workshops also inform quarterly Regionally Aligned Forces Synchronization Conferences, which provide a venue for the brigade commanders to discuss upcoming activities, lessons learned, and execution challenges with the U.S. Army Africa staff. These planning mechanisms meet the intent of our recommendation, and we believe that they will allow the regionally aligned force brigades access to more timely and complete information about the security cooperation activities that they are tasked to conduct.

    Recommendation: To enhance the efforts of the allocated brigades in Africa, and to help ensure that the allocated brigades have timely and complete information to enable them to prepare for and execute security cooperation activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander of AFRICOM in conjunction with the Commander of USARAF, to develop a formal mechanism--such as regularly scheduled, country-specific meetings that include USARAF desk officers, the Offices of Security Cooperation, and the brigades--to review and discuss upcoming security cooperation activities to ensure that key stakeholders are aware of critical information, have an opportunity to shape the activity, and can gather additional information if necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The Army has taken positive steps in this area, such as developing a handbook to assist Regionally Aligned Force brigades in planning and training for their missions. Specifically, in November 2015, the Center for Army Lessons Learned published a handbook entitled "Regionally Aligned Forces Brigade Planning". Among other things, this handbook is intended to serve as a starting point for the identification of, planning for, and execution of missions as regionally aligned forces to an Army Service Component Command. Specific to training, this handbook includes guidance for brigades on how they should conduct mission-specific training for the regionally aligned forces mission, including: identifying potential subject matter experts and Army institutions to support mission specific training; providing sample training schedules; and highlighting specific doctrinal publications and key training considerations for use in guiding planning and preparation. According to an official from the Center for Army Lessons Learned, this handbook was intended to provide interim solutions to Regionally Aligned Force units to mitigate some of the difficulties that they have experienced until the Army formally addresses these issues with a permanent solution. While a positive step that could provide some remedies to the concerns cited in our report regarding mission-specific training, this handbook does not directly address our recommendation for the Army to conduct an assessment of its training approach for providing mission-specific training to regionally aligned forcesrecommendation. Thus, this recommendation remains open.

    Recommendation: To enhance the efforts of the allocated brigades in Africa, and to identify opportunities to enhance brigade mission-specific training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in coordination with the Commander of Army Forces Command and the Commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, to conduct an assessment of the Army's approach to providing mission-specific training to regionally aligned forces, including the brigades allocated to AFRICOM, and determine whether any adjustments are needed. In addition to the assessment questions already identified by the Army in the Regionally Aligned Forces Execute Order, this assessment could consider (1) The degree to which the brigades' training--to include the curricula, resources, and execution--should be managed or coordinated at the institutional level. (2) How unit training programs should be resourced and the degree to which dedicated funding may be needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Army is pursuing the establishment of Africa Activity Sets to provide a range of mission-specific equipment for units conducting activities in Africa, including regionally aligned force brigades, but these equipment sets are still pending validation and funding.

    Recommendation: To enhance the efforts of the allocated brigades in Africa, and to facilitate consistent, and predictable planning for mission-specific equipment requirements and efficient provision of such equipment, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in coordination with the Commander of Army Forces Command and the Commander of USARAF, to: (1) Identify the mission-specific equipment requirements on an appropriate requirements document for the brigades allocated to AFRICOM for security cooperation and other missions in Africa. (2) To the extent practicable, establish a consistent mechanism (e.g., a rotating equipment set, mission-essential equipment list) to ensure that the brigades allocated to AFRICOM are equipped with all known mission-essential equipment at the outset of their missions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to officials, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs entered into an Inter-Agency Agreement for special issuance passport reimbursements effective 3 November, 2016. As a result, DoD's Department of Executive Travel (DET) now requires DoD applicants for special issuance passports to establish their need for a passport and obtain approval from DOD, prior to submitting applications to Consular Affairs. Under the agreement, DOD is paying for these passports, and now requires units to do an analysis on the number of individuals who need passports. This analysis is then reviewed by DET for approval. A DET-approved memo is then used by the applicants to proceed with the application for and subsequent processing of an official passport. While this does not constitute a waiver, Consular Affairs officials said that it is a mutually acceptable framework for providing Special Issuance Passports. We believe that these actions meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance the efforts of the allocated brigades in Africa, and to facilitate the timely and efficient provision of official passports to the brigades allocated to AFRICOM, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, Commander of Army Forces Command, and the Commander of USARAF to: (1) Conduct an analysis of the brigades' personnel deployment trends for security cooperation activities to identify the number of official passports typically required for each allocated brigade to support its mission. (2) Based on this analysis and building upon the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between DOD and the Department of State, as appropriate, coordinate with the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs to develop, agree upon, and execute a waiver process authorizing an allotment of official passports to brigades allocated to AFRICOM at the outset of their rotations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to officials, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs entered into an Inter-Agency Agreement for special issuance passport reimbursements effective 3 November, 2016. As a result, DoD?s Department of Executive Travel (DET) now requires DoD applicants for special issuance passports to establish their need for a passport and obtain approval from DOD, prior to submitting applications to Consular Affairs. Under the agreement, DOD is paying for these passports, and now requires units to do an analysis on the number of individuals who need passports. This analysis is then reviewed by DET for approval. A DET-approved memo is then used by the applicants to proceed with the application for and subsequent processing of an official passport. While this does not constitute a waiver, Consular Affairs officials said that it is a mutually acceptable framework for providing Special Issuance Passports. We believe that these actions meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the timely and efficient provision of official passports to the brigades allocated to AFRICOM, building upon the process in the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between DOD and the Department of State as appropriate, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Consular Affairs to coordinate with the Department of the Army to mutually develop, agree upon, and execute a waiver process authorizing an allotment of official passports to brigades allocated to AFRICOM at the outset of their rotations, based on the brigades' personnel deployment trends.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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