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Security Cooperation in Africa; A Step Forward for the Civil Affairs Regiment

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

The author and two locally-employed staff members assigned to the Security Cooperation Office for the U.S. Mission to Bamako, Mali (July, 4th 2017).

In 2016, Civil Affairs (CA) made an incredible regimental leap forward by moving civil affairs non-commissioned officers (CA NCOs) from the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade into vacant authorizations across Africa that historically went unfilled by the Adjutant General Branch. The first soldiers selected came from the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, which is the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) aligned battalion under the 95th CA BDE . The willingness to move talented CA NCOs from the operational force to the African continent assigned to the AFRICOM J5 directorate, but working through the U.S. Missions and host nation ministries of defenses (MODs) gave the 95th de facto liaison across the AFRICOM area of responsibility. As SOF elements transfer the country's mission, they often have limited time to transfer all necessary resources and relationships. These nodes acted as a bridge to aid incoming and outgoing SOF elements by providing valuable context, cultural cues, and cultivating and sharing relationships from both the U.S. Mission and the host nation government that may have been either overlooked or marginalized during rapid transitions. 

The Civil Affairs branch can improve how it utilizes the Office of Security Cooperation positions by prioritizing these authorizations over other assignments outside of the operational force and selecting NCOs with operational deployments to fill them. The switch in both mindset and priority will result in expanding CA's operational reach through highly capable CA NCOs across the African continent that are actively looking for ways to leverage their position to advance Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs) country campaign plans and SOF supporting plans within their countries.     

What do Security Cooperation Offices Do?

The Office of Security Cooperation, also known as the Military Cooperation Office or the Security Cooperation Office (SCO) is a persistent entity charged with cooperation between host nation defense ministries and the U.S. government. SCO portfolios vary greatly depending on the size of the country and U.S. priorities. Those differences result in different budgets and programs the offices have available. 

Security cooperation is an umbrella term that encompasses all of the following but not limited to the purchase, sale, and transfer of defense articles, programs to train host nation personnel, subject matter exchanges, seminars, and conferences. These offices exert a high level of influence backed by the U.S. dollars that flow through their programs. Additionally, they are the gatekeepers to America Military academic institutions such as Command and Staff General College (CGSC), Army War College (AWC), National Defense University (NDU), and Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), which have all produced countless senior military officials all over the globe. Another valuable aspect of the American military academic institutions is that international students can bring their family to the U.S. for the duration of the school. This unveils the American way of life and values to the international officer and his/her family. 

SCOs vary between countries in terms of size, number of personnel, programs, and duration of assignment. In 2017, staffed with four personnel, the country of Mali utilized International Military Training and Education, Expanded International Military Training and Education, Counter-terrorism Fellowship Programs, and Foreign Military Financing monies. Larger countries, like Kenya, have even more extensive cooperation programs. For example, in 2015, Kenya had a foreign military sales package request for six aircraft valued at $243million (GAO, 2017). This request was just one part of the entire country's portfolio that alone overshadows most other Africa countries' contributions from the U.S.

What opportunities exist by manning SCO liaison positions?

SCO positions are seen as broadening assignments within the CA branch, allowing NCOs to gain valuable diplomatic experience. At times, filling these positions is subject to who is available as opposed to who is most capable. Additionally, the only open SCO authorizations are within Africa and, often, CA NCOs whose expertise lies outside Africa are selected to fill billets because the 91st CA BN cannot fill the current operational requirements coupled with a large number of SCO positions across Africa. Thus, the 95th CA BDE must look to other battalions to fill these vacancies. Regional expertise should be preferred, but with the current operational tempo and dwell requirements, filling these positions with NCOs whose expertise resides outside Africa is necessary. 

How does Civil Affairs move forward?

The CA Regiment must operationalize its best NCOs across the SCOs. These assignments shouldn't only be viewed as an excellent broadening opportunity or a position that will get soldiers promoted, but rather a point of leverage to advance both SOF and security cooperation objectives. CA Soldiers that move to Africa and fill these positions are doing a disservice to the 95th CA BDE operational efforts if they are not deliberately finding ways to advance the SOF mission from their position. Likewise, the 95th CA BDE could see a significant return on investment with these authorizations if they put experienced, well-articulated, critical thinkers in these positions. These billets should be an extension of the operational reach of the 95th CA BDE and should be filled with aggressive analysis and priority, especially where they co-exist with SOF missions.

I suggest that countries with small security cooperation portfolios and little to no SOF investment are ideal for senior Staff Sergeants with operational experience. The opportunities to integrate and work alongside U.S. diplomats will create well-rounded senior CA NCOs. Countries with medium-sized portfolios and some SOF investment would be ideal for former Team Sergeants. Lastly, countries with large portfolios such as foreign military sales and financing, coupled with significant SOF investment, would be optimal for Master Sergeants.

How do Security Cooperations Offices and Civil Affairs benefit one another?

First, working with SCOs gives CA access to SCO data. Every SCO maintains a database of host nation personnel it helps train. Their databases capture an incredible amount of information about prominent soldiers and civilians that have been trained by the United States. One must keep in mind that countries only send their top performers to the Command and General Staff College, Army War College, National Defense University, and Naval Postgraduate School. Selected personnel are both well-connected and groomed for command or other key positions at the highest levels of the defense apparatus and other ministries. The SCO's ability to send civilians from various ministries, including but not limited to the Ministry of Finance, Justice, Transportation, Economic, and Security, is another valuable security cooperation function. 

By having access, Civil Affairs Teams (CATs) can leverage the SCO databases and locally employed staff (LES) to identify critical nodes within a targeted region with a particular skillset, military occupation, history working with the U.S., religious, or linguistic capabilities. If CATs had this knowledge going into engagements, the ability to build rapport would be increased immediately. Understanding someone's beliefs and exposure to the U.S. offers a unique opportunity for CATs to exploit.

Second, LES members that work in the SCO have cultivated relationships over the years with preeminent soldiers and civilians across the government. Furthermore, they read, write, and speak in multiple languages and tend to better understand the U.S. and its foreign policy ambitions within the country. Moreover, they are well connected to U.S. program managers and provide the enduring presence for the U.S. Mission as its citizens are continually moving in and out of the country. Chances are, they can contact most people within the host nation's defense sector within a day or two. Both the SCO databases and their locally employed staff are nodes that have already been vetted that could help CATs build, expand, and mobilize friendly and neutral networks to assist African partners and achieve US objectives.

Finally, the SCO's regular meetings and established relationships can lead to informative engagements. These meetings could highlight and report on adversaries' programs and objectives within the host nation. Armed with this information, both CATs and the SCO can tailor their efforts to achieve their desired end state. At the same time, they should seek ways to compete in a manner that incurs high costs or setbacks to U.S. adversaries.  

The SCO is the artery connecting the U.S. government with the host nation's Ministry of Defense. They possess a unique, invaluable network of contacts within the host nation. These linkages can help CATs validate the information from current networks, understand the dynamics within the host nation military, identify partner forces, and identify future operations to compete with adversaries. Moreover, the SCO helps with vital administrative functions such as submitting Leahy Vetting, completing memorandum of agreement, and drafting diplomatic correspondence. CA NCOs that understand current and future SOF programs and investments will be at the forefront of the administrative processes that establish physical and human infrastructure for current and future SOF core activities. 

The Civil Affairs Regiment must better understand how these well-connected entities can assist operational success while curbing the time required to develop and mobilize friendly networks. SCO networks are vast and enduring, and the CA Regiment should use its soldiers in a manner that allows the SOF enterprise the ability to tap into these networks and databases to advance objectives for both entities.

With professional application from the ground up and a high level of return on investment, Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC) and Theater Special Operations Commanders (TSOC) will undoubtedly become both a driving force and an advocate for CA NCOs residing in the OCS. Imagine having CA Soldiers in five GCCs spanning across 100+ U.S. Missions. The connective tissue and the ability to establish the human and physical infrastructure needed to support future SOF core activities could stem from an already existent SOF presence within the desired country. Likewise, Civil Affairs billets expand the SCO's ability to gain an understanding of the needs of partner forces at the operational and tactical levels, assisting them in recommendations to host nation MODs and GCCs. Furthermore, Civil Affairs practitioners provide the SCO with language and cultural trained soldiers to support SCO and Country Team objectives over 24-36 month tours. The Adjutant General Branch can't match this capability nor the symbiotic relationship that helps the US and host nation partners achieve regional security objectives.


U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), (2017). Foreign Military Sales: Kenyan Request for Armed Aircraft. September 5th. Retrieved from:

About the Author

First Sergeant Ricky McCarty is currently serving in the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne) as the HHC First Sergeant. Previously, he served as the Deputy Chief of Security Cooperation for the U.S. Mission to Bamako, Mali, from August 2016 until September 2017 and has deployed twice to Africa with the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne). 1SG McCarty holds a Bachelor of Science from Excelsior College and is pursuing his Master's in Organizational Leadership from Western Kentucky University. 

Standard Disclaimer. The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government


Ryan McCannell
Ryan McCannell
Sep 27, 2020

This is tremendous news and excellent advice. One enduring frustration expressed by State and USAID Foreign Service Officers is the difficulty in establishing consistent relationships with CA personnel given the relatively high rate of turnover (compared to multi-year FSO assignments). Any efforts made to improve handover and maintain the "thread" of SC and other CA responsibilities will be a win-win across the civ-mil divide and ensure better whole-of-government unity of effort. Thanks for this article!


Roy Ferrell
Roy Ferrell
Sep 01, 2020

Good Job of reporting the use of SNCO'S in the process. We all know how valuable they are. I wish You good Luck in your efforts. Africa presents a good opportunity to advance the Missions assigned.

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