Stratfor has received multiple reports of U.S. and French military movements that we would like to highlight to our readers. These movements could have multiple explanations and might not be linked. But given the numerous ongoing crises specifically centered in North Africa and the Middle East, we consider these developments to be worth following.
According to a worldwide network of aircraft spotters and trackers, at least a dozen MC-130H, HC-130N, HC-130P and AC-130U military transport planes and gunships crossed the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 13 heading eastbound. These aircraft are typically used for a variety of special tasks, including in close cooperation with special operations forces. The last reported stop for the aircraft was Souda Bay, Crete. It is unclear whether the aircraft have left Crete, but we are working on tracking them down.
Also on Sept. 24, The New York Times published an article stating that Iraq and the United States were negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of U.S. soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to U.S. Gen. Robert Caslen, a unit of Army special operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and to help with intelligence. It is possible that at least some of the MC-130 aircraft previously mentioned were delivering these special operations troops to Iraq.
Another report on Sept. 24, this one by the Le Figaro French-language newspaper, said some 100 French special operations troops had been deployed in the sub-Saharan region to counteract militants in northern Mali. Le Figaro also reported that maritime patrol aircraft that can be used to collect intelligence will be deployed to the region and that commandos of the French navy will reinforce the French special operations troops.
All these deployments could be previously scheduled movements for training or part of ongoing operations. They also do not necessarily mean any one mission is imminent. The United States and France could simply be positioning military assets in a region that is rife with conflict and that may eventually require rapid military intervention or action.
Whatever the intent, these deployments, taken together, are too compelling to ignore. Given the fluid conflicts in North Africa, Syria and Afghanistan, as well as the current tensions with Iran, these movements and reports are important to highlight to our readers.