It was about advancing friendship, partnership and building trust. That is according to Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commander, U.S. Army Africa upon the close of the African Land Forces Summit, or ALFS, in Dakar, Senegal.
The summit, held from Feb. 9-12, brought together land force commanders from 36 African nations. The summit was co-hosted by U.S. Army Africa and the Senegalese Armed Forces on behalf of Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, U.S. Army Chief of Staff. The last ALFS took place three years prior, in Kampala, Uganda.
“This is a beginning. This is a conversation and this narrative is just beginning,” said Williams.
Part of that conversation was generated in closed-door meetings between commanders. Speakers from the U.S. and African partner militaries addressed topics such as African security challenges, peace support operations and institutional adaptation during plenary sessions with all the commanders. Commanders then split into three smaller groups, behind closed doors, to discuss the subject at hand.
The closed door approach helped leaders to speak freely during the sessions.
“ALFS is a good opportunity for USARAF and the African partners to discuss, to exchange, about security and about how to train our units,” said Brig. Gen. Cheikh Gueye, chief of Senegal Army Staff. “It is a good opportunity also to build trust,” he said. “Without trust you can’t achieve anything.”
For some of the land force commanders ALFS was an opportunity expand their reach and build relationships beyond what they normally would.
“I was already in contact with those from my region, from [Southern African Development Community] region, but today I have met others from other regions,” said Maj. Gen. Gotsileene Morake, chief of land forces Botswana. “From West Africa, from the Horn of Africa and from North Africa, we have been able to share experiences across a broad range of issues, African issues, which are actually very topical today.”
African land force commanders also visited a training center near Thies, Senegal. There they observed a live fire range with ground troops assaulting a position, and an armored vehicle range where Senegalese Armed Forces soldiers fired 90 millimeter guns from reconnaissance vehicles. Officers also visited École Nationale Des Officiers d’Active, an officer training school in Thies.
During a press conference at the end of the event Williams talked of the importance of ALFS and how that range played into future opportunities. Williams said he will look at taking the best from the U.S. Army training centers, the best from the Senegalese training center and combine them to work together. He said that was a short term benefit to having ALFS.
“The real benefits of this conference will be realized over time, again and again,” Williams added.
Geuye agreed with that assessment.
“Military interoperability is essential in conducting military operations or military missions,” Geuye said. “But if you have most African armies together you cannot develop, but initiate the first step toward interoperability.”
While the conference covered training, building institutions and live fire ranges, the real benefit, according to Maj. Gen. Ignacio Maulana, Malawi ground force commander, was working with his fellow commanders.
“The most important of all is that understanding, that, I think, we are all looking for peace,” Maulana said. “And, I think, all the ideas we have been able to share as a people responsible for security in our various nations should be able to assist.”