The commander of U.S. Africa Command closed one of the largest joint exercises ever conducted on the African continent at Thebephatshwa Air Base in Botswana yesterday, praising the Botswanan military as a capable partner and an important and positive influence throughout southern Africa.
US Army General Carter F. Ham closed Exercise Southern Accord 12, a joint, three-week exercise that included about 700 U.S. soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors and an equal number of their Botswana Defence Force counterparts.
The purpose of the exercise, the first of seven iterations of Southern Accord to be hosted by Botswana, is to train both militaries in peace keeping operations in Sub-Saharan Africa. An ambitious training schedule covered the gamut, from tactical and peacekeeper training to humanitarian road building and medical outreach missions, the US military said.
“Over the past few weeks, American and Botswanan forces together have done a tremendous amount of training, and they have provided needed assistance to many people here in the country of Botswana,” Ham said.
Though the engineers built roads and ponds during the exercise, he said, “the most important thing they built…was trust.”
That, he told a formation of U.S. and Botswanan troops assembled for the ceremony, helped to deepen an already-strong professional relationship between the two militaries. “It is the friendship, the partnership, the cooperation, the trust that has been built that will endure,” he said.
Ham, on his first trip to Botswana since taking command of U.S. Africa Command about a year and a half ago, said the visit reinforced his appreciation for the Botswana Defence Force’s capabilities. “From my observation, the Botswana Defence Force is one of the most professional military organizations that I have encountered,” he said.
Major General Placig Segokgo, deputy commander of the Botswana Defence Force, said the exercise offered his troops a chance to showcase that professionalism. “It provides an opportunity for us to benchmark ourselves against the very best,” he said. “And it provides an opportunity for us to show ourselves to our American counterparts.”
Achieving the ambitious objectives of Southern Accord with flying colours only enhanced that capability, and well as that of the U.S. participants, Ham said.
“I know that the U.S. military personnel depart Botswana better trained than when they arrived,” he said. “And I am confident also that the Botswana Defence Force is better trained at the conclusion of this exercise.”
Earlier in the day, Ham got a chance to see that proficiency firsthand during a live-fire field training exercise that culminated three weeks of intensive training exchanges. The scenario included a Botswanan-led air assault onto a landing zone, with Botswanan and U.S. forces moving onto an objective to take out elements of a notional enemy force. “This is a complete integration of U.S. and BDF soldiers,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Bill Gray, the joint task force operations officer, told Carter during the pre-mission briefing.
Among lessons reinforced during the exercise is the importance of strong junior- and mid-level officers, noncommissioned officers and warrant officers who serve as models and mentors for younger troops, Ham told reporters before the ceremony.
“We need to empower them, we need to train them, we need to help them become [the best] leaders they can possibly be, because they are the leaders at the tip of the spear,” he said.
“Whether it is a combat operation or humanitarian assistance, it is most often a lieutenant or a sergeant or a staff sergeant or a corporal who is leading those soldiers,” Ham said. “And the more investment we can make in training those junior leaders, the better off we will all be.”
Ham recognized the strong leadership skills both militaries exhibited as they took on the challenges presented to them. “You have all, Botswanans and Americans, demonstrated during this exercise that you are prepared to take on a variety of challenging missions,” he said, most importantly, their own national defence.
The nature of Southern Accord, with its mix of joint, combined operations that included interagency and nongovernmental aspects, reflects the type of operations the two countries are likely to conduct, Ham noted. “So the more opportunities we have to rehearse the practice those scenarios in a training exercise such as Southern Accord, the better off we will all be,” he said.
This has far-reaching impact in the region, Ham told the assembly. “The Botswana Defence Force is, indeed, an important partner for the United States that provides a very positive influence throughout the Southern African region,” he said.