Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Tales from the C2 crypt: The American structure for Libya was pretty confusing

The new issue of Prism has a fascinating article about American command arrangements for the Libya operation earlier this year. The authors, three souls who toiled in the lower depths of the Joint Staff’s J-7, write that, "the decision was made to retain AFRICOM as the supported command, with USEUCOM, USCENTCOM, USTRANSCOM and U.S. Strategic ...

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

The new issue of Prism has a fascinating article about American command arrangements for the Libya operation earlier this year.

The authors, three souls who toiled in the lower depths of the Joint Staff's J-7, write that, "the decision was made to retain AFRICOM as the supported command, with USEUCOM, USCENTCOM, USTRANSCOM and U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) in support."

Sounds simple, but wait: AFRICOM doesn't have any forces, so EUCOM became "de facto force provider." It is almost as if EUCOM were acting like a service. (Which would make it our sixth service, after the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and SOCOM, which already effectively has its own civilian-led secretariat, in the SO/LIC bureaucracy.)  

The new issue of Prism has a fascinating article about American command arrangements for the Libya operation earlier this year.

The authors, three souls who toiled in the lower depths of the Joint Staff’s J-7, write that, "the decision was made to retain AFRICOM as the supported command, with USEUCOM, USCENTCOM, USTRANSCOM and U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) in support."

Sounds simple, but wait: AFRICOM doesn’t have any forces, so EUCOM became "de facto force provider." It is almost as if EUCOM were acting like a service. (Which would make it our sixth service, after the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and SOCOM, which already effectively has its own civilian-led secretariat, in the SO/LIC bureaucracy.)  

It gets even more complicated.  Many aircraft were flying from bases in EUCOM’s area of responsibility, so EUCOM "retained OPCON of these forces." What’s more, EUCOM had other fish to fry, so reported Adm. Locklear, "We were responding to OPCON pleas of the provider to make his life easier rather than the OPCON needs of the commander." It’s like a waterfall running in reverse.   

Also, it turned out that AFRICOM lacked the ability to actually run an operation. (Interesting side fact: Half its staff is civilian, and it had never rehearsed to run anything.)

Final bonus fact: The U.S. military has apparently come up with the worst acronym I have heard in a long time: "VOCO." The article’s authors quote an Army brigadier as stating that in the Libyan operation, there was "Lots of VOCO between all levels of command." It stands for "verbal orders of the commander." But hold on: Aren’t all  orders are verbal, unless the guy is pointing or something? What the poor general meant was "oral orders of the commander." That would be "OOCO." I’d prefer "Unwritten orders of the commander," which would be "UOCO," but that is too hard to pronounce. It could make you poco loco in the coco.   

And remember at this point we haven’t even gotten into the command arrangements with the other 14 nations in the anti-Qaddafi coalition (AQC).

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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