The news on Christmas Eve that a U.S. Army brigade will begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations in 2013 indicates a still-expanding role for an all-volunteer Army that has been stretched nearly to the breaking point in recent years by a nearly nine-year war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan now in its 11th year.
According to the Associated Press report, teams from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division will "target" countries including Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger, where al-Qaeda-linked groups have been active. The mission will also will assist nations such as Kenya and Uganda that have been battling al-Shabaab militants on the front lines in Somalia, the AP reported.
Concerns about terrorist threats in Africa have grown in part from reports of a rise of al-Qaeda-linked groups on the continent, including the Boko Haram in Nigeria. They have also been heightened by this year's September 11 attack by militants on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The level of security at the facility and the alleged failures of the U.S. intelligence and military to detect and defend against the attack have been subjects of heated debate in Washington ever since.
The Army mission in Africa will be to conduct a wide array of exercises and training programs among the African nations, whose great diversity of languages and culture is expected to create a considerable challenge for the mission. Col. Matthew McKenna, who will begin training soldiers for the mission at Fort Riley, Kansas in March, described the difficulties that the language barriers alone present.
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