DOUALA NAVAL BASE, Cameroon - A military brass band and formations of Cameroonian Armed Forces troops welcomed multinational participants and signaled the opening of the inaugural exercise Unified Focus, April 24.
UF 17 is a weeklong tabletop exercise that brings the military partners of the Lake Chad Basin area’s Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) together to practice joint planning and coordination through a series of scripted vignettes.
“Unified Focus 17 is a brand new exercise,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore, U.S. Army Africa deputy commander.
“Our focus this week is to bring the members of the Multinational Joint Task Force together with non-military organizations and discuss ways to counter the violence and instability caused by Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa in the Lake Chad Basin,” said Moore.
“This year almost 100 participants from a total of 10 nations have gathered together,” said Moore.
Military participants came from Cameroon, Chad, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and nonmilitary participants that included representatives from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Center for Civilians in Conflict, among others.
“This exercise is the culmination of a year’s worth of work by a dedicated team including three multinational conferences in preparation for the final event,” said U.S. Army Maj. Aaron Smith, from the U.S. Embassy Yaoundé office of security cooperation.
Planning events held throughout the past year brought together both military and civilian planners from partner nations to contribute to the development and the successful start of UF 17.
Throughout the week, participants, organized into multinational working groups, will confront a series of vignettes that present real world scenarios in which the MNJTF would be asked to act. Participants will have to work together, bridging language and cultural barriers, to develop workable solutions that would allow the MNJTF to work with multinational military and non-governmental organizations.
The scenarios all revolve around instability and violence caused by Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa in the Lake Chad Basin.
“It’s a continuation of the dedication of U.S. Army Africa of U.S. Africa Command, our partner nations in the Lake Chad Basin, our European partners, as well as the NGOs and their commitment to this cause,” said Smith.
That cause is the multinational effort against the violent extremist organizations in the Lake Chad Basin including Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa, said Moore.
“Exercise Unified Focus is an AFRICOM exercise fully reinforcing and optimizing the coordination of national and regional efforts for the best results in the fight against terrorism,” said Cameroonian Maj. Gen. Saly Mohamadou, Commander of the 2nd Military Region of Cameroon.
“Interoperability is an important factor in the success of our shared war against terrorism,” said Saly.
Interoperability between the MNJTF partners and their ability to work with nongovernment organizations was key throughout the planning events and will play a large role throughout the week of UF 17.
“We will learn together and discuss methods of providing security to a civilian population while communicating, coordinating, and collaborating with nongovernmental organizations,” said Moore.
“We will look for ways to leverage the capabilities of the MNJTF to support partner militaries and nongovernmental organizations to contain Boko Haram and re-establish state authority in the areas affected in the Lake Chad Basin,” said Moore.
While there are many participants from outside the Lake Chad Basin area, the nations of the MNJTF are the main objective for UF 17 discussions.
“The participation in this exercise of the delegations from Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and also from the MNJTF, demonstrates the determination of all the members of the Lake Chad Basin nations to fight against terrorism and all forms of violence,” said Saly.
“It’s this same synergy that drove the establishment of the MNJTF,” said Saly.
“Exercise Unified Focus is truly a culmination, a continuation, and also a beginning,” said Smith.
“It’s the beginning of the exercise Unified Focus series. It’s a beginning of us working together on this specific problem set to take and help refine our collective interoperability, our ability to march forward as one against this menace that threatens our collective security,” said Smith.
“And we hope that in the years that follow this exercise will continue to grow and conform itself to the needs of the nations of the Lake Chad Basin,” said Smith.
“As the Ambassador Michael Hoza likes to say, ‘We are together in this fight.’”