The U.S. Africa Strategy and the Defense Department’s Strategy for Africa provide a framework for engagement with African nations to help them create a “self-reliant, stable, and prosperous continent.” In alignment with these strategies, U.S. Naval Forces Africa, or NAVAF, postures our forces in strategic locations to improve maritime security and helps our African partner navies and coast guards to improve their own abilities to identify and deal with threats.
First and foremost, our goal is to work with African maritime nations to enable African solutions to African problems. Our African partners have created their own structures and organizations to help improve maritime security in coastal regions such as the Gulf of Guinea, Mediterranean Sea, and western Indian Ocean. Both U.S. strategies highlight the need to provide mentorship and training, and we’re proud to support our partners in these efforts.
So NAVAF, along with our Euro-Atlantic partners, organize and facilitate exercises, engagements, training, and operations designed to increase partner capabilities and interoperability — always and only at our African partners’ request, and with no quid pro quo or strings attached. Our efforts help these African nations to improve their capabilities to protect vital maritime shipping lanes that enable global trade, combat the piracy and illicit maritime activity that undermine stability and prosperity, enhance maritime domain awareness, and safeguard maritime resources for future generations.
And we employ limited resources – such as ships and personnel – in innovative ways to achieve effective solutions. Last December, we brought more than 40 African, European, and North and South American flag officers to Naples, Italy, to talk about maritime challenges that African nations face. That was followed immediately by an inaugural roundtable where African and European maritime-security leaders discussed specific ways to cooperate. The ideas that emerged are being implemented and their progress tracked for discussion at a 2020 gathering.
For example, African leaders brought up a need for small-boat repairs to help keep their navy and coast guard ships on patrol. At NAVAF, we knew we could help. In July and August, we deployed USNS Carson City — one of an unusual and relatively recent class of logistics ships called expeditionary fast transports — to the Gulf of Guinea. Under the auspices of Africa Partnership Station, a program that aims to build relationships crucial to solving maritime challenges, the enthusiastic and innovative crew helped maintain small boats, engaged with maritime law enforcement agencies, and performed medical and community relations outreach in Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cabo Verde.
Multinational exercises have also proven a highly efficient and effective way of helping build maritime-security capacity. Some are relatively small, like April’s exercise with Portugal, Brazil, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Portugal is transferring ownership and control of a ship, NRP Zaire, to the São Tomé and Príncipe Coast Guard; the exercise will help the West African nation put its new vessel to effective use.
Others are far larger, in scope, participation, and impact. About a decade ago, coastal African countries lacked the technology, processes, and agreements to track or share information about maritime threats and crises. In response, NAVAF launched an annual series of three exercises to help regional partners improve their individual capabilities, build interoperability, and create a framework for cooperation. These exercises — Obangame Express in the Gulf of Guinea, Phoenix Express in the Mediterranean Sea, and Cutlass Express in the western Indian Ocean — all take place in waters that support high levels of merchant shipping traffic and major fishing zones, which many African states rely on for economic prosperity and nutritional contributions. Over the years, these Express exercises have built cooperation between African, European, North and South American, and Indian Ocean allies and partners. All have learned from each other, drawing on their lessons to improve planning and operations — and execution of national strategy.
We are seeing significant results. In May, Togo’s Navy intervened and captured pirates that were attempting to hijack a tanker at anchor in Togo’s territorial waters. The ship was stopped about 25 nautical miles from port and diverted back to the anchorage. It was a great success; the ship’s crew of seven was released without any injuries and the eight pirates were handed over to investigating authorities. Another example is the maritime interdiction operation executed from July 28 to Aug. 3 by the Cabo Verde Coast Guard and Judiciary Police and international partners, a collaborative effort that seized 2,256 kg of cocaine from Brazilian vessel Perpetuo Socorro de Abeate II as the vessel transited from Brazil to the West Africa coast. And the Togo Navy and Cabo Verde Coast Guard are among many the regional forces that have made good progress throughout the past decade.
The training opportunities provided through these multilateral exercises and the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ship deployments are offered by no other global navy. Moreover, they show the United States’ commitment to long-term engagement, training, and cooperation in the maritime domain, and to helping African nations create the conditions that lead to a prosperous, self-reliant future.