At the end of May, the U.S. Air Force stood up a squadron of cargo planes at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. The new unit could help ease the Pentagon’s reliance on private companies to move troops and equipment around East and Central Africa.
The 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron will control a number of four-engine C-130J Hercules transports. The flying branch will send aircraft and crews to America’s East African hub on temporary rotations.
The aircraft have already hauled more than 420 tons of cargo and 280 people around the region. The passengers have included both American commandos and regular troops.
We don’t know what countries had been visited or what the specific missions were. But the forces did include civil affairs teams and military advisers, according to officials in Djibouti.
These specialized personnel were working with African militaries which have sent forces to help keep the peace in Somalia and South Sudan, the public affairs officers explained. We could not confirm whether this meant the C-130s actually flew to Juba or Moghadishu.
This new squadron also represents a small but important shift in the Pentagon’s posture in Africa. Washington has preferred to use small, private aircraft to support many missions on the continent.
The new deployment plan actually builds on the initial deployment of older C-130H aircraft to the region in October 2013. At that time, the Air Force Reserve contributed the planes and crews to form the 52nd EAS.
This squadron was the first ever Air Force transport unit to work directly for U.S. Africa Command. Previously, AFRICOM had to rely on other commands for this kind of support.
Two months after its creation, the 52nd EAS flew troops from the Army’s new East Africa Response Force into South Sudan. The soldiers protected American diplomatic posts and helped evacuate civilians after a coup attempt turned into a virtual civil war.
Now, the 75th EAS has completely replaced its predecessors. But the new squadron is still on call to transport these soldiers in a pinch. The unit is also available to help out in the event of small medical emergencies or major natural disasters.
In addition, the C-130s will no doubt participate in training exercises in the region and can drop supplies to American or African forces actively engaged in operations.