Kansas Guard to do security duty in Africa

TOPEKA — More than 560 Kansas Army National Guard soldiers have been assigned to security duty next year in the Horn of Africa, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The soldiers, who account for more than 10 percent of the state's National Guard troops, are scheduled to deploy after April, said spokeswoman Sharon Watson. Following training, they will spend about nine months in the small nation of Djibouti, returning in April 2011.

Watson described the Kansas unit's deployment as "a peacekeeping mission" and said "a small contingent" of Kansas soldiers had been there in the past.

Djibouti is near Somalia and Ethiopia, across the Gulf of Aden from the nation of Yemen. The soldiers going there are members of a combined infantry and armored battalion based in Kansas City, Kan.

"This is a very large deployment," Watson said. "We have done a deployment of this size before to Iraq, but not to Africa."

The U.S., European Union members and other nations are fighting piracy off the eastern coast of Africa. The U.S. and its allies also have concerns that al-Qaida is turning Somalia into a staging area for operations in the region.

Also, the United States is part of an international effort to stabilize Somalia's government, which is facing a rebellion by Islamic militants. The nation has been without a functioning government and army for nearly two decades.

About 600 of the Kansas Army Guard's 5,400 soldiers are now deployed overseas, the majority of them in Egypt. About 20 are currently in Iraq. But about 300 soldiers are expected to go to Iraq late in 2010 and an additional 300 in 2011, Watson said.

Late in 2004, the Army Guard had about 1,700 soldiers deployed, its largest contingent overseas, mostly in Iraq.

The Kansas Air National Guard has about 2,200 members, and about 100 are deployed in Afghanistan.