Marines from A detachment from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response–Africa kicked off a month-long security cooperation mission Aug. 31 last week in West Africa's Republic of Benin.
The squad-size element from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, Regiment is working toe-to-toe with Benin’s National Surveillance Police to bolster its ability ies to guard the nation’s porous borders.
"It’s the first time we’ve gone outside the military aspect, working with police forces and border security; it makes the mission unique," team leader 1st Lt. Clifford A. Miles told Marine Corps Times.
Their mission is aligned with the Expeditionary Force 21 concept, the Corps’ post-Afghanistan vision of small units missions deployinged on a wide range of mission sets over large swaths of territory.
It’s also the first time a foreign military has worked with the fledgling National Surveillance PoliceNSP, which was stood up 10 ten years ago to as the country’s primary border security force.
However, the NSP’s 300 members have faced an uphill battle, stretching as they’ve stretched personnel and resources as they try trying to protect an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania.
Benin is a major transshipment point used by traffickers for cocaine destined for Western Europe, according to the CIA. In addition, a July and a recent State Department report warned of human trafficking through the country.
"I wouldn't say they're undermanned, but they're just not getting to it," Miles said.
The primary issue for the small security force, he said, has been the inability to sustain tactical operations out of forward operating bases in remote areas of the country for weeks at a time.
This is a skill set Marines know well, and they’re sharing their knowledge with the paying it forward to the approximately 150 Beninese involved in the training.
Beginning with basic marksmanship, combatives and first aid, the NSP will work up to through more complex tasks, such as conducting patrols, small-unit tactics, vehicle checkpoints, and detainee handling.
The Marines' mentoring will culminate in a final exercise testing these skills when the NSP conducts a mock raid including tactical site exploitation and tactical questioning.
Such "specialized skills are exactly what the National Surveillance Police need," Benin’s Minister of Interior Placide Azande said at an Aug. 31 news conference on Aug. 31st. "In order to be more effective on the ground, we need this training and I am confident we will benefit from [the Marines'] their efforts."
Training missions like this, historically, are historically "meat and potatoes" for the Corps, according to retired Army Special Forces Col. Steven Bucci, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. Throughout the protracted engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military simply lacked the troops to conduct them, he said.
"Now we can go back to engagements like this one," Bucci said. "They are highly profitable. … Very practically, when a friendly country can better protect itself, in a manner that is both professional and humane, we all win."
Three days into the busy training schedule, the Beninese were already well ahead of schedule.
"Within the first two days, they conquered [basic combat marksmanship], whichwhat was supposed to take a week," Miles said.
He attributes this to the policemen’s high degree of motivation: they’re there because tThey’re hungry for the training.
The Marines employ a "train the trainer" approach, and the goal is to have the Beninese institutionalize these skills and spread them across the force move these skills forward as they head to the field.
"The training we're doing is being utilized, and it's getting embedded in their heads," Miles said.