Tag Archives: security cooperation

Phoenix Express 14 Features More European than African Participants

This year’s annual Phoenix Express maritime security exercise has kicked off in Greece. Naval forces from Algeria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States are currently conducting the in-port portion of the exercise at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre (NMIOTC) on Souda Naval Base, near the city of Chania.

Moroccan and Libyan personnel conduct medical training with the US military at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre in Greece during Phoenix Express 14.

Moroccan and Libyan personnel conduct medical training with the US military at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre in Greece during Phoenix Express 14.

Six of the ten participants this year are European nations, if one includes Malta. The island nation is a member of the European Union, but is just over 200 miles from Libya and less than 200 miles from Tunisia. Phoenix Express’ focus on the Mediterranean Sea means that European nations regularly outnumber African participants in the exercise. There are only five African nations on the Sea compared to more than twice as many European nations.

However, European participation also highlights how important African security is to the bigger picture in the region, especially with regards to drug trafficking and illegal immigration. The continuing instability in Libya is particularly worrisome for nations in Southern Europe. France, Italy, and Greece have repeatedly sparred over how best to tackle the issue. As already mentioned, Greece is hosting the in-port phase of the exercise. The at-sea phase, scheduled to begin on May 24th, will be coordinated from a Combined Maritime Operations Center in Sigonella, Italy. France, who is currently engaged in a number of interventions in Africa, is conspicuously absent from this year’s exercise despite having participated in the past.

As usual, this year’s Phoenix Express exercise will focus on maritime interdiction operations (MIO) training. The training events in-port will include helicopter operations and safety, damage control and firefighting, deck seamanship, navigation, search and rescue (SAR), and small boat training. The underway component at sea will focus on further enhancing interoperability. Medical training will also be provided. The exercise is scheduled to wrap up on June 2nd.

Phoenix Express 14 will mark the eighth iteration of the exercise, which began in 2005 as a US European Command event run by US Naval Forces Europe (NAVFOREUR). After the creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, the exercise changed hands and is now run by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF). The commander of NAVFORAF is dual-hatted as the commander of NAVFOREUR, making the change in responsibility in this case almost entirely administrative.

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AFRICOM’s Obangame Express Exercise Starts Up in the Gulf of Guinea

This year’s Obangame Express maritime exercise, led by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF), began on April 16th in the Gulf of Guniea. This year’s exercise is taking place off the coasts of Cameroon and Nigeria. As with the other Express series exercises, Obangame Express will consist of an in-port preparatory phase, followed by an at-sea exercise to test the participants maritime security skills. This year, 31 ships from Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States will participate in the exercise. The majority of these ships will operate from the Port of Lagos. This includes the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1), which is the first of its class and on its maiden voyage.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead was in Nigeria for Obangame Express 2014.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead arrived in Nigeria to participate in Obangame Express 2014. The ship was on its maiden voyage in the region as part of the Africa Partnership Station mission.

Obangame Express 2014 will test maritime security skills such as: VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure), medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). According to the US Navy, Participants will execute tactics and techniques within scenarios that mirror real world counter-piracy and counter-illicit trafficking operations.

Obangame Express, which began in 2011, is currently one of four so-called “Express series” exercise in Africa run annually by NAVFORAF.  “Obangame” means “togetherness” in a local Cameroonian language. These exercise focus on maritime security issues around the continent and look to build on other bilateral security cooperation events between the US and African nations. Most notably, the Express series exercises are intended to support existing US Navy security cooperation efforts as part of the Africa Partnership Station program. Obangame Express is also especially concerned with the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. With the decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, more attention has been focused on the matter of piracy in West Africa.

The plans for this year’s exercise were finalized back in February. The US Navy said the objective was to mirror the positive results of the 2013 exercise, tailoring scenarios closely to real-world maritime security challenges. This year’s exercise involves almost three times as many ships from more than twice as many countries when compared to Obangame Express 2013.

Crisis Response Marines Train in Conjunction With African Lion 14

Last week, Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) conducted a training exercise in Morocco, in conjunction with the annual African Lion bilateral training exercise. On 3 April 2014, Marines from SPMAGTF-CR flew in two MV-22B Osprey aircraft from Moron Air Base in Spain to Tifnit, Morocco. On arrival, the Marines set up security for a hypothetical United States government compound to protect US citizens and property within.

Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response board an MV-22B Osprey for a training exercise in Tifnit, Morocco on 3 April 2014

Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response board an MV-22B Osprey for a training exercise in Tifnit, Morocco on 3 April 2014.

The training event is yet another instance where the capabilities of SPMAGTF-CR have been highlighted as of late. The unit was created last spring in the wake of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012. Since then, the Marines have forward deployed to Djibouti and Uganda to be able to respond to the crisis in South Sudan. More recently, Marines from SPMAGTF-CR have deployed to Romania to reinforce US units in that region. Officially that deployment has nothing to do with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

African Lion, which ended last Saturday, is also an important annual bilateral training exercise with Morocco, which has a long history of cooperation with the US, dating back to the American Revolution. African Lion dates back at least to the 1990s, at which time it was a biennial exercise sponsored by US European Command (EUCOM) and conducted by the Southern European Task Force (SETAF). US Marine Corps Forces, Europe (MARFOREUR) subsequently took over the exercise in the 2000s.

With the creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, EUCOM relinquished responsibility for the exercise. Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MARFORAF) also took over the actual conduct of the event. The annual exercise also involves members from other US military services, such as the Army and the Air Force, and is observed by numerous foreign partners.

This year, approximately 150 soldiers of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces, 350 U.S. servicemembers participated in the African Lion exercise.  The focus of African Lion 14 was on interoperability with military-to-military engagements in stability operations, rapid response to contingencies, a multinational observer program with 13 different countries, non-lethal weapons and peace enforcement, live-fire and weapons familiarization training, humanitarian and disaster-relief response. Other nations observing the exercise included: Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Tunisia, Turkey, Spain, Senegal, and the United Kingdom.

Annual Aerial Delivery Exercise Begins in Cameroon

Last week, Exercise Central Accord 2014, US Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) annual aerial delivery exercise, led by US Army Africa (USARAF), began recently in Cameroon. According to AFRICOM, the exercise brings together US Army personnel with African militaries to help them improve their air drop capabilities to deliver both military materials and humanitarian aid. Training on aeromedical evacuation is also part of this year’s exercise.

Representatives from the militaries of Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, Nigeria, Chad and the United States participate in the opening ceremony for Central Accord 2014 in Cameroon on 11 March 2014.

Representatives from the militaries of Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, Nigeria, Chad and the United States participate in the opening ceremony for Central Accord 2014 in Cameroon on 11 March 2014.

More than 1,000 military and civilian personnel will participate in this year’s Central Accord exercise. Participants in the exercise come from Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Netherlands, Nigeria,  and the US. The exercise will involve four days of academic training, a combined jump, and five days of situational training.  The last phase will be conducted in Koutaba, Cameroon. The country’s 102 Air Force Base the capital in Douala will also be used. The exercise will end on March 21st.

Cameroon is a good choice for this year’s exercise, given its proximity to a number of regional crises. Cameroon had served as a staging point for France’s intervention into Central African Republic, Operation Sangaris, which began last year. France, however, says it will focus on Cote d’Ivoire as its primary entry point and logistics hub in the region for future operations.

This exercise was started by US European Command (EUCOM) in 1996, at which time it was called Atlas Drop. AFRICOM took over the exercise in 2008, and renamed it Atlas Accord in 2012. This put it in line with AFRICOM’s other “Accord series” exercises, which focus on training African ground forces. This year, the exercise was renamed again to Central Accord, further streamlining its name with the Accord series. Other annual exercises in the series include Eastern Accord, Northern Accord, Southern Accord, and Western Accord.

In other exercise related news, this year’s Saharan Express maritime exercise came to a close on Friday. Saharan Express 2014 was marked by a gradual transfer of responsibilities for planning, conducting the exercise, and providing logistical support from the US Navy to the navies and coast guards of the West Africa participants.

AFRICOM’s Annual Exercise Schedule Continues with Saharan Express

The annual Saharan Express maritime exercise, led by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF), began on March 6th with an opening ceremony in Dakar, Senegal. This year’s exercise will take place in two areas near the coasts of Cabo Verde and Senegal. There exercise will consist of a port preparatory phase and then ships will go to sea to test various maritime security skills. This year, 11 ships from Cape Verde, France, Liberia, Morocco, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The majority of these ships will operate from the Port of Dakar for the exercise.

Participants of Exercise Saharan Express 2014 gather during a pre-sail conference in Dakar, Senegal, at the commencement of the exercise on 6 March 2014.

Participants of Exercise Saharan Express 2014 gather during a pre-sail conference in Dakar, Senegal, at the commencement of the exercise on 6 March 2014.

Saharan Express 2014 will test maritime security skills such as: VBSS (visist, board, search and seizure), medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). The exercise is designed to help regional navies deal with real world security concerns like piracy, illicit trafficking operations, and illegal fishing.

Saharan Express, which began in 2011, is currently one of four so-called “Express series” exercise in Africa run annually by NAVFORAF.  These exercise focus on maritime security issues around the continent and look to build on other bilateral security cooperation events between the US and African nations. Most notably, the Express series exercises are intended to support existing US Navy security cooperation efforts as part of the Africa Partnership Station program.

The US also continually assists with training personnel for the operation of regional MOCs, and otherwise improving their capabilities.  For instance, NAVFORAF hosted a workshop on the operation of regional MOCs in Cameroon for members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) last year. In 2013, the US also supplied Tanzania with a new VHF communication system, specifically for the country’s People’s Defense Force Naval Command and Maritime Police Force.

African Security Cooperation Updates

It has already been noted here that this year’s iteration of the annual Flintlock exercise is underway in Niger. The exercise began this year on February 19th, and is scheduled to end this Sunday, March 9th. The significance of Niger as this year’s host has already been mentioned.

A member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment instructs members of Niger's 22nd Battalion during Exercise Flintlock 2014.

A member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment instructs members of Niger’s 22nd Battalion during Exercise Flintlock 2014.

An official US Africa Command (AFRICOM) piece on the exercise that appeared on their website yesterday has some additional items worth noting. The first is highlighting the aerial resupply portion of the training. AFRICOM, and US European Command (EUCOM) before them, have both spent considerable effort in developing this capability for African forces. AFRICOM run an annual exercise, Atlas Accord, specifically focused on this capability. Atlas Accord replaced a previous annual exercise, Atlas Drop, in 2012. EUCOM had started Atlas Drop in 1996.

The belief is that aerial resupply may be the answer to the problem of conducting sustained operations for many African nations. Most African militaries lack a robust logistics arrangement, meaning that their forces are limited in how far away from their base they can operate and for how long. This is especially true of many militaries in Africa’s Sahel region, which has historically been referred to by the US government as an “ungoverned space.” Aerial resupply can also help in the rapid distribution of humanitarian assistance following natural disasters or in other times of need, such as during droughts.

By integrating this component into Flintlock, it frees up resources to host Atlas Accord elsewhere on the continent. In 2012, Atlas Accord was held in Mali, where the annual Flintlock exercise was to be held, but was canceled. Last year’s Atlas Accord exercise was held in Nigeria.

Its also worth noting the international participants in this year’s Flintlock exercise. While the African nations participating in the exercise change relatively little from year to year, the US has been inviting more nations from outside Africa to participate in recent years. From the AFRICOM news piece, we can see that Spanish and Canadian special operations forces are participating this year. Both of these nations also participated in the 2011 Flintlock exercise.

In other news, the North Dakota National Guard announced that it was expanding in its participation in the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP). Since 1993, State National Guards in the United States have formed bilateral relationships with foreign militaries as part of the SPP. Training exchanges are intended to benefit both sides and provide a continuity of relationship that might not necessarily be found in other arrangements. North Dakota’s National Guard has an existing history with Africa, beginning its first SPP partnership in 2004 with Ghana. The North Dakota Guard will not also be a partner with the armed forces of Togo and Benin. State Guards now partner with ten countries in the AFRICOM area of responsibility.

Marines Start New Rotation of SPMAGTF-Africa

On January 8th, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment arrived in Italy to assume their role as the latest rotation of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Africa (SPMAGTF-Africa).  SPMAGTF-Africa is a security cooperation element assigned to US Marine Corps Forces, Africa (MARFORAF).  It works with US partners in Africa and regional organizations to help develop security force capabilities and otherwise help those entities counter various threats on the continent.  Developing professional security forces is also seen by the US military as a means to promoting good governance and national development.

A KC-130T Hercules carrying Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 takes off from NAS Sigonella on route to a security cooperation engagement in Burundi on February 16, 2013.

A KC-130T Hercules carrying Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 takes off from NAS Sigonella on route to a security cooperation engagement in Burundi on February 16, 2013.

SPMAGTF-Africa was originally established in the summer of 2011 from numerous Marine Corps Forces Reserve units, and eventually came to consist of almost two hundred personnel.  Forward deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy, where the unit remains stationed today, the task force had the ability to self-deploy with two assigned KC-130T aircraft.  These aircraft also gave the task force a limited crisis response capability.

Initially known as SPMAGTF-12, because the planned first deployment would come in 2012, the unit subsequently deployed Theater Security Cooperation Teams to numerous Africa nations that year to help assist in the development of those countries’ security forces.  In total, two groups of reserve Marines rotated through the unit in 2012.  This was followed by two more in 2013.  In 2013, members of SPMAGTF-Africa were called upon to support the airlift of Burundian Army personnel to Central African Republic in support of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) there.  The Marines were already in Burundi helping to train military logistics elements in that country before being called upon to help with Operation Echo Casemate.

This new SPMAGTF-Africa rotation for the task force is notable in that it is the first to involve active component Marines.  All previous rotations had been made up of reserve component Marines.  As the US draws down in Afghanistan, Marine Corps units are more free for assignment to rotational task forces like SPMAGTF-Africa, SPMAGTF-Crisis Response, and the rotational element now deployed to Australia.  SPMAGTF-Africa provided the model for these new task forces and will continue to play an important part in ongoing US military engagement with partners in Africa.