Most of West Africa Now Qualifies for Combat Pay

Service members deployed to Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda qualify.

Some news I missed last week from WaPo (“Pentagon adds Niger, Mali and parts of Cameroon to areas where U.S. troops receive imminent danger pay“):

The Pentagon has added Niger, Mali and parts of northern Cameroon to the list of areas where U.S. troops receive imminent danger pay while deployed, a move that reflects the evolving dangers in West Africa and follows the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger last year.

[…]

The pay — $225 per month deployed, or $7.50 per day for partial months — was approved as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reviews final drafts of an investigation of the Oct. 4 ambush in Niger. The final report is expected to be released this month, detailing what went wrong and recommendations for change.

[…]

The issue of danger pay has been scrutinized in the aftermath of the ambush, in which a force of about 50 armed militants attacked a unit of 11 American and about 30 Nigerien soldiers. U.S. troops deployed in Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda already qualified, according to Pentagon pay guidelines.

Troops in Niger, Mali and northern Cameroon previously qualified for $150 in “hazardous duty location pay.” That incentive for U.S. troops was reduced to $100 with the approval of imminent danger pay to meet a Pentagon cap on the incentives when combined.

The issue came up at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, with Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) asking why Niger and other countries in the area did not qualify while other nations like Algeria and Egypt did. Marine Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the chief of U.S. Africa Command, said a packet submitted to the Pentagon several months ago was still awaiting approval.

Waldhauser was not aware at the time that imminent danger pay for Niger already had been approved, the New York Times first reported Wednesday. A Pentagon spokeswoman, Air Force Maj. Sheryl Klinkel, said the approval was backdated to June 7, before the Niger ambush, because that is when Africa Command initially requested it.

The countries were added to the list as West Africa grapples with militants who have re-branded themselves as Islamic State-West Africa. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) also has had a presence in nations including Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Mauritania. Waldhauser said that AQIM groups have consolidated into a group with a new name, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), and move freely around northern Mali.

In increasing order of importance:

  1. This was obviously the right call; these places are obviously combat zones, so troops risking their lives there should be duly compensated.
  2. Our military pay structure is incredibly skewed. During the Global War on Terror, we raised base pay—which is permanent and is the basis for determining retirement pensions—at rates well above inflation to entice people to join and remain in the service. We should instead have relied on bonuses and, especially, vastly increased the amount we pay for deployment to combat zones. $225 a month is absurdly low. (There are other benefits, such as exemption of salary up to a certain amount from taxes while deployed; still, it’s not enough.)
  3. There’s something wrong with a system where, not only does the informed public not know where their military is in harm’s way but even the combatant commanders and the Pentagon bureaucracy can’t keep track.
FILED UNDER: Africa, Military Affairs, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Question No. 4: When did Congress authorize American boots on the ground in Africa?

    I know, I know. I’m asking a silly question.




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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Uh, uh, Lindsey Graham says we should crush the terrorists!




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  3. John Peabody says:

    My local radio hosts despises the term ‘boots on the ground’. “They are not boots,” he says, “they are our sons and daughters.”




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  4. Lounsbury says:

    I know you Americans are famously indifferent to even a passing knowledge of geography, but the title is just bizarre: “Most of West Africa Now Qualifies for Combat Pay”

    Service members deployed to Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda qualify.

    Of these Niger and Mali are West African countries by standard definition.
    They hardly represent most of West Africa by whatever measure you choose (area, population)…

    Most of the Sahel works perhaps (as there you get your Central African Chad and Cameroun).

    Most of West Africa, only if you are geographically illiterate. Even if one ignorantly includes Chad and Cameroun, it is still not accurate.




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  5. RGardner says:

    I’d like to see some numbers here – as in the usual number of service members in each country that are not at the US Embassy (Marine Security Group, communications, and Security Cooperation + Defense Attache offices). I see Africom’s AOR has 53 countries.




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  6. James Joyner says:

    @Lounsbury: I was writing a hasty post at 6am and influenced by the WaPo lede in writing a pithy headline. My initial inclination was “most of Africa” but that was way too broad given the sheer number of countries. I don’t study Africa enough to have a sense of why Cameroon is “Central Africa” vice “West Africa,” given that it’s on Africa’s west coast but, really, the piece is only tangentially about Africa.

    @RGardner: That’s a fair point. I don’t have any sense that we’re conducting combat operations in Egypt, for example.




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  7. DrDaveT says:

    There are other benefits, such as exemption of salary up to a certain amount from taxes while deployed; still, it’s not enough.

    The Combat Zone Tax Exclusion is, in general, a huge handout to officers who are not actually in any danger. Its value is directly proportional to salary, and the ‘zones’ involved are drawn much more broadly than “where the danger is”.

    I agree completely that bonus pay for troops actually placed in danger is a good idea. Paying most of the “combat pay” to officers who aren’t actually in danger is a thumb in the eye to the enlisted personnel and junior officers who actually fight the fight.




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  8. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Paying most of the “combat pay” to officers who aren’t actually in danger is a thumb in the eye to the enlisted personnel and junior officers who actually fight the fight.

    An interesting history of how that’s changed over time. In WWII, officers weren’t eligible at all. That changed fro Vietnam and, toward the end of the war, the Air Force worked very hard to expand the benefits to include places like Thailand, where there was no danger at all. Still, the officer benefit was capped at $500. A lot of money for 1968—but that number was still in place during DESERT STORM, so it was a modest benefit, indeed, for officers. Currently, the officer exclusion is limited to the most senior enlisted salary.

    I agree that we should manage it better so that it more accurately captures risk. For example, personnel stationed in the Philippines in support of operations in Afghanistan are eligible. That’s absurd.

    Just given the sheer numbers involved, though, I don’t think senior officers are getting anything like “most” of the benefit.




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  9. JohnMcC says:

    Keeping up with this thread has been a little memory-lane trip. I had a deduction that paid for a brand-new MG-B that I picked up in NYC after DERUS.




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  10. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Just given the sheer numbers involved, though, I don’t think senior officers are getting anything like “most” of the benefit.

    Sorry, you’re wrong. A colleague of mine did the study for OSD. The vast majority of CTE benefits go to officers who were never actually at any risk of being in ‘combat’. It’s a combination of how very much more senior officers make than enlisted personnel, and how much more likely enlisted personnel are to be in harm’s way.




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  11. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: I’d be interested in seeing the study. It’s true that very senior officers are comparatively unlikely to be in harm’s way and that they make a lot more money than enlisted members. But there are a whole lot more of the latter than the former, so it would seem to offset the pay disparity. And the tax exemption is capped at the top enlisted salary.




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  12. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’d be interested in seeing the study.

    I’ll check to see if there are any distribution restrictions.




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