U.S. Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), visited Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia earlier this month to engage with key partners on the long-term stability in East Africa, oversee the multinational maritime exercise Cutlass Express and recognize U.S. service members in the region.
Townsend’s visit took place between 4 and 7 November. He first visited the Expeditionary Mobile Base USS Lewis B. Puller where he observed a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure operation as part of Cutlass Express (CE 19.2) while showing his appreciation to the exercise participants and Puller crew for their hard work in the AFRICOM area of responsibility.
“During Cutlass Express, our Sailors strengthen African and international partnerships that are absolutely critical to regional as well as U.S. national security,” said Townsend. “I saw firsthand the commitment each partner nation is making to enhance security. The level of cooperation and coordination that exists among our partners is impressive.”
CE 19.2 is linked with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s International Maritime Exercise, eliminating regional seams and increasing U.S. global capabilities and interoperability to better synchronize and rehearse for potential real-world scenarios.
“Exercises such as Cutlass Express are investments in international maritime security and sustaining global commerce,” said Townsend. “These exercises increase readiness capability and the ability of multiple nations to respond to threats and protect resources at a moment’s notice.”
The Cutlass Express series demonstrates U.S. and partner nation commitment to regional stability and maritime security, with this iteration’s participating nations including Somalia, Djibouti, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, the United States, Kenya, Canada, Georgia, Greece, Egypt, Madagascar, Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, Senegal and Comoros.
In Somalia Townsend joined U.S. Chargé de Affairs to Embassy Mogadishu, Brian Néubert, and acting U.S. Agency for International Development – Somalia Mission Director, Brian Frantz, for discussions on Somalia security developments with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo” and Somali National Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Ali Barise.
Townsend’s visit to Somalia is his second since taking command in July, using the opportunity to meet key leaders and assess the progress of the campaign in East Africa as well as progress being made against al-Shabaab, AFRICOM said.
“Al-Shabaab, and ISIS, are a threat to our African partners, to U.S. interests in East Africa as well as to the U.S. homeland. They possess the desire and intent to attack the U.S.,” Townsend said. “Due to the persistent pressure our campaign puts on al-Shabaab and ISIS, we believe they lack the actual capability to attack our homeland but we must stay vigilant and keep pressing them.”
President Farmaajo commended the strength of the partnership between Somalia and the United States stating, “Somali People are grateful for the solidarity and support of the U.S. Government in the fight against terrorism. The continued engagement of the U.S. in Somalia provides invaluable assistance to the Somali security forces, and our partnership has inflicted significant damage on terrorist groups seeking to undermine Somali progress.”
On behalf of U.S. Ambassador Don Yamamoto, Chargé Neubert, commended recent accomplishments of the Somali National Alliance to repel al-Shabaab in the Lower Shabelle region, and reiterated U.S. commitment to the people and government of Somalia to degrade terror groups.
“The Commander’s engagement with Somali leadership maintains momentum on security reforms that are critical to retaking the country from extremists,” said Chargé Neubert. “Our military partnership with Somalia is strong, and is complemented by the Embassy’s diplomatic and development efforts.”
Acting U.S. Agency for International Development – Somalia Mission Director, Brian Frantz, also commented on the importance of synchronizing defence, diplomacy and development efforts.
“Somalia’s challenges will not be resolved through military action alone,” Frantz said. “Ultimately, al-Shabaab will be rendered irrelevant when Somali children and youth are educated, Somalia’s dynamic private sector is able to create enough jobs for the country’s people and Somalis feel their leaders represent their interests; all things that USAID supports in Somalia.”
“Terrorists need to know we will pursue them relentlessly to disrupt and degrade them today and prevent their spread tomorrow,” said Townsend. “As long as terrorists threaten and try to impose their extreme beliefs on the people and their government, they will not be able to sleep peacefully.”
Townsend culminated the multi-country East Africa regional visit in Ethiopia, where he met with Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed and General Berhanu Jula, Deputy Chief of Staff & Head of the Military Operations Division of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF).
“Ethiopia plays a critical and significant leadership role in the region, and across the continent,” said Townsend. “It has taken the initiative with effective counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations. These efforts, along with their willingness to develop and enhance security capabilities, have helped create a safer region.”
Townsend highlighted Ethiopia’s initiative in hosting AFRICOM-sponsored exercise Justified Accord in 2019 and 2020. These training exercises enable regional leaders to come together around common practices and challenges related to African Union peacekeeping in Somalia.
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, accompanied Townsend during his meetings.
“As Ethiopia continues down the road of reform, its ability to bolster regional stability, while also safeguarding the Ethiopian peoples’ rights and security, will be crucial,” said Raynor. “We are pleased to partner with the ENDF as they strengthen their capability to play these important roles.”
Townsend also discussed with the U.S. Ambassador to the African Union Jessye Lapenn the U.S.’s partnership with the African Union and efforts to advance security on the continent. Lapenn observed, “the AFRICOM Commander’s visit reflects the strong U.S. commitment to working in partnership with the AU on Africa-led efforts to create a peaceful, secure, and prosperous continent through effective conflict prevention and response.”