Largest African Communications Exercise Concludes in The Gambia

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The Gambian Army band played their national anthem followed by the U.S. national anthem on the parade grounds in Banjul, July 21, 2011, bringing to a close the largest communications and interoperability exercise on the African continent.

Gambian Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy, along with General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command; Brigadier General Robert Ferrell, U.S. Africa Command’s director of C4 Systems; U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia Pamela White; and U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Todd Hannah inspected the troops at the start of the closing ceremony for the fifth annual Africa Endeavor (AE) exercise.

Africa Endeavor is an annual U.S. Africa Command-sponsored, multilateral communications exercise, focusing on both technical and human interoperability and information exchange. This year, 35 African nations, five European countries, the United States, and four international organizations participated.

Brigadier General Robert Ferrell, director of U.S. Africa Command’s J-6 Directorate, said, “Our intent from AFRICOM is to help our African partners help themselves increase peace and stability on the continent and we see AE2011 as that step in the right direction.”

During the two-week long exercise, participants attended workshops, classes and other venues to develop common messaging formats to support humanitarian assistance efforts, disaster relief, and peacekeeping missions. This year’s exercise was structured by region. Each region simulated the standup of a regional African standby force in response to a natural disaster.

The exercise scenario centered around an earthquake in a fictitious African country named Carana. Each participating nation worked tirelessly to overcome language and cultural barriers through animated discussions and demonstrations, arriving at a consensus for messaging standards and protocols. Where previous exercises concentrated more on the communications hardware and delivery mechanisms, AE11 emphasized the content.

Another milestone that AE11 achieved was incorporating two remote sites into the exercise and establishing long-distance, high-frequency radio communications from Banjul to the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria and the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Although it took a few attempts, the signal came in loud and clear on July 15.

Looking down the road three to five years from now, Ferrell said that he’d like to add another domain to include a maritime and eventually an air component. Currently, AE is primarily a land-based exercise.

General Carter Ham, U.S. AFRICOM commander, addressed participants, stating, “What this year’s AE has done is open people’s eyes to the possibilities that exist in Africa. The way in which so many nations and so many regional organizations came together to cooperate with this year’s exercise presents great opportunities that next year’s exercise can be more challenging, more demanding and more rigorous and they’re ready for that. So it’s a great confidence builder.”

In an interview with the Pentagon Channel’s Gail McCabe prior to the ceremony, Ham discussed the importance of holding extensive communications and interoperability exercises with many international participants who share concerns about global terrorism.
“The same violent extremists that threaten Americans threaten Africans as well. People forget that when Al Shabab attacked the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, it was Tanzanians who were killed for the most part. That’s who paid the price. It’s Africans who are being killed and their leaders know that,” said Ham.

African nations participating in AE 2011 included Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia.

The first AE was held in Pretoria, South Africa in 2006. Subsequent exercises took place in Abuja, Nigeria in 2008, Libreville, Gabon in 2009, and Accra, Ghana in 2010.