Last week, Nigerien Air Base 201 officially began flight operations. The achievement is the culmination of a multi-year U.S. Air Force civil engineering project designed to support our West African partners. This location will help support African-led, international-assisted operations in West Africa. While this project is highly visible, it is just one example in the multitude of ways U.S. Africa Command contributes to the African continent every day as a partner to help bring about opportunity and progress.
On Friday, Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in as president of Botswana. He promised to transform Botswana’s economy, reflecting potential for additional U.S. partnership. On Oct. 23, Botswana conducted what was hailed as an “orderly, peaceful, and transparent election process consistent with international best practices.”
On the same day, President Kais Saied was sworn in as the newest Tunisian President, following the country’s second presidential elections since its 2011 revolution. These two countries serve as beacons of hope on the African continent as these thriving democracies set an example of what right looks like and reflect a promising future.
Our United States Africa Command’s mission statement begins with the words “USAFRICOM, with partners,” clearly focusing our command on a partner-centric strategic approach, in line with our governing documents. Since its inception in 2007, USAFRICOM was created to be a different-type of combatant command focused on growing and ensuring thriving partnerships. We have 53 African partner countries we have the privilege to serve with every day.
I recently provided opening remarks at our annual Requirements Synchronization Working Group, where we gather our diplomacy, development, and defense (3D) enterprise. Together we develop our security force assistance program and set priorities for the following fiscal year. My comments focused on “Power in Partnership: A Year in the life of USAFRICOM.” The venue provided an opportunity to highlight how we worked together over the previous year to accomplish significant effects on behalf of the nation through security force assistance (SFA) programs, engagements, exercises, operations and activities to mature the African theater.
A few examples highlight how USAFRICOM approaches our valued partnership with our African partners. We seek to advance three strategic themes: Partner for success; compete to win; and keep pressure on violent extremists networks.
On the Security Force Assistance side of the ledger, USAFRICOM stewarded 51 programs to help build partner capability with 20 African partner countries. We also trained 567 African partners in U.S. military schools through our International Military Education and Training (IMET), an impressive 29 percent of the global IMET total.
On the engagement front, USAFRICOM conducted 135 theater engagements in 45 African countries. This included supporting first class events like our annual Africa Endeavor Communications Forum, plus the Africa Land Forces Summit, Air Chiefs Symposium, and Sea Power Symposium led by our Army, Air Force, and Navy components, respectively.
Each year we host a series of comprehensive exercises in Africa, and 2019 was no different. Through our African Lion, Flintlock, Express series and Accord series exercises we effectively joined forces with 44 African countries and 43 international partners to impact over 13,000 personnel. These regional exercises allow us to work shoulder-to shoulder with our African and international partners to advance our two highest priority lines of effort in our USAFRICOM campaign plan: Strengthening partner networks and enhancing partner capability, which completely align with our 2018 National Defense Strategy.
Each day, we actively conduct various operations in Africa. On the humanitarian front, when Cyclone Idai devastated our Mozambique friends, USAFRICOM supported relief efforts conducting 128 humanitarian relief flights delivering over 800 tons of life-saving supplies. Additionally, this year we conducted 684 Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) events in 48 African countries. These general-purpose force TSC events can range from a couple of personnel to over 50, and extend from a few days to multiple weeks. Likewise, Joint Combined Exchanges of Training (JCETs) provide opportunities for additional episodic engagement with our partners … in FY19, our special operators conducted 17 JCETs in 10 countries.
To help us mature the African theater from a logistics perspective, we commenced operating the West African Logistics Network on March 1 to help sustain operations in West Africa. This network provides an opportunity for all our patterns to benefit from a common network flexible to meet sustainment needs for any partner country.
Back to Botswana and Tunisia. I had the opportunity to visit both countries this year. In June, I joined our Army component in Gaborone, Botswana, for the annual Africa Land Forces Summit, which brought together leaders from 41 countries with the objective and conference theme of “Strengthening Partner Networks.” The Botswanan Defense Force did a masterful job hosting this capstone event as their expertise, pride and professionalism shone brightly.
A month later, on July 27, I had the great honor of being part of the U.S. delegation to attend the state funeral for late Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi to honor the memory of this beloved leader who oversaw Tunisia’s transition to democracy as the first democratically elected president of Tunisia. As I listened to heads of state from around the world pay their respects, it was clear President Essebsi made a tremendous impact on his country, and in fact the world.
Two weeks later, our combatant commander, Gen. Stephen Townsend took his first trip to the USAFRICOM area of responsibility after taking command on July 26. His first stop was Djibouti … a small country, but a strategically important partner. He was warmly welcomed by the Djiboutian Minister of Defense Hassan Omar Mohamed Bourhan, and the Djiboutian Chief of Staff and General of the Army General de Corps Zakaria Chiekh Ibrahim. They outlined the many years of cooperation between Djibouti and the United States, to include hosting the only enduring military base on the African continent as they welcomed the first U.S. military members ashore in 2002.
Investment in partnerships sets the foundation for future opportunity for the U.S., as well as our partners. Our continued involvement delivers promise and the prospective ability to expand into areas such as economic development and increased trade. We capture this enduring partnership
In the words that close our mission statement, “to advance U.S. National interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.” These words are essentially our “why” statement getting to the heart of why USAFRICOM exits. As the African continent forges ahead to a bright future filled with tremendous opportunities, it is a blessing to serve alongside our partners!
Lt. Gen. Jim Vechery is deputy commander of U.S. Africa Command.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.