Stuttgart — Eleven African defense attaches expanded their knowledge of U.S. Africa Command and its key programs and objectives during a familiarization visit to the command's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, June 21-22, 2012.
The visit aimed to build relationships with the defense attaches, all of whom were accredited to Germany, and provided an opportunity to address and mitigate misconceptions about the command through briefings, dialogues, and question and answer sessions.
"This is the first step to building a long, lasting relationship with all of you," said Major General Charles Hooper, J-5 Director, U.S. Africa Command. "We understand that in some cases, there are challenges to overcome. We at AFRICOM are ready to work with our African partners to create an environment where there's security, health and safety of people ... this is an intent of the U.S., and AFRICOM ... developing a relationship of equal partners, working together toward a common goal of safe and secure environment, economic development and safety of citizens."
The group was hosted by the multinational cooperation office of AFRICOM's J-5 (Strategy, Plans, and Programs) directorate. The countries represented included Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"This visit is a first step in building and enhancing relationships with these African officers posted to our host country," said Bradford Sellers, organizer of the visit. "By inviting the DATTs here from Berlin, we can leverage their nearby location and knowledge of Western and NATO military practice to augment our engagement efforts in Africa. Engagement with military professionals from the continent is challenging. Travel time is long and expensive, and can be snarled by complex visa regulations between Africa, the United States and Germany. Reaching out to African officers already in Germany is a natural step to building closer ties with their home countries. We hope this visit leads to a continuing dialogue and better relationships with these partners."
Some of the briefings highlighted the command's activities in Africa and areas of current and future cooperation.
Topics discussed included security cooperation programs, such as the State Partnership Program, Global Peace Operations Initiative, and Counterterrorism Fellowship Training Program. Other issues discussed were transnational crime, border tension, piracy and illicit trafficking of arms and people. While listening to the briefing about AFRICOM's engagement in East Africa, the attaches were curious about efforts in that region.
In response to one of their questions, Colonel Albert Zakaib, AFRICOM J5 East Region Division Chief, said there has been some evidence of progress in Somalia and other parts of the East. "We have seen some progress; Mogadishu is al Qaeda-free right now," Zakaib said. "LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) is now mostly in a survival mode. And we have also noticed reduced activities in areas of piracy."
The roundtable discussion gave the attaches an opportunity to talk with AFRICOM staff and ask questions, which helped to clear up their prior misconceptions about the command.
"DATTs are our link to their government leaders," said Eric Wills, AFRICOM. "We are asking them to talk with their leadership, to be a liaison to initiate discussions leading to decisions to work with the United States via AFRICOM."
Nigerian Major General John M. Ogidi, defense advisor working out of the United Kingdom, said he felt enlightened about the command's intentions. "We were given an insight to the role of AFRICOM," said Ogidi. "Basically, the United States of America's interest is actually to create a safe environment in Africa where socio-economic development could be advanced."
He said the briefings were very elaborate, and the West Africa slide-brief showed more cooperation between the West and United States, which is an indication of the level of development in the west. "From our understanding, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is better established than other areas," Ogidi said. "This sends a signal that other sub regions also need to come together and work out an established system that will enable AFRICOM to come in and assist easily."
Ogidi emphasized the importance of collaboration between the African Union and the United States in resolving issues. "I believe that at the strategic level, the American government and the African Union must come to terms on what programs will work in Africa in order to secure the environment of Africa," he added.
He compared the relationship between Africa and the command with stages of courtship and marriage in an African culture. Describing the current stage as a courtship, he said the two parties are still trying to work together and understand each other. "There must be courtship, and while courting, it takes time to understand each other," Ogidi said. "And we must be able to understand each other in order for our relationship to be enhanced."
After the discussion session, the attaches concluded that the day was beneficial and that it gave them a better understanding of AFRICOM's mission.
"Thank you for initiating this meeting with us and hosting us," said Zimbabwe Colonel Alinos Nhamoinesu. "The truth is, we'll go back with a better understanding of how AFRICOM works. Your staff has worked hard to answer our questions. Thank you for your hospitality in taking care of us."