ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Being prepared to respond to natural disasters, crises, and contingency operations require extensive logistical planning and support, which is why the African Union hosted the Africa Logistics Forum - 2017, in conjunction with U.S Africa Command, at Plenary Hall, AU Compound, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 25-27.
The event brought together military leaders and logistical experts from 37 nations from across Africa, Europe, and Asia. Also present were representatives from U.S. State Department, AU, European Union, NATO World Food Program, and Regional Economic Communities—Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Communities of African States (ECAS), and North African Regional Capacity (NARC)
“The Africa Logistics Forum is a great opportunity to bring together logistics leaders from across the African continent to develop the plans and policies for increased logistics capabilities to support peace support operations,” said Alex D’Agostino, a representative from the Defense Governance and Management Team, Center for Civil-Military Relations, in Washington, D.C.
The main focus of the forum was the operationalization of the Continental Logistics Base (CLB) and the Regional Logistics Depots (RLD), according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark Camerer, Director of Logistics/J4, AFRICOM.
Developed by the AU, the CLB in Douala, Cameroon, and the RLDs are logistical activities located in strategic areas on the African continent. The locations were created to respond to crises in their respective regions. The RLDs provide immediate logistical support, with additional support from the CLB as needed.
"Developing this capability will support the AU's ability to rapidly deploy the African Standby Force in response to the range of crises across the African continent," Camerer said.
Accountability and maintenance were amongst sub-topics in regards to establishing and maintaining effective strategic logistical locations.
“The special role of logistics is recognized by even the most battle-hardened infantry commanders--leaders by their nature,” said AFRICOM commander, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, during his opening remarks.
"Establishing clarity on the types and amounts of AU equipment and supplies to be stored in the CLB and each RLD, ensuring the physical infrastructure to store and maintain those stocks, and agreeing upon processes to maintain accountability of assets across the network and inventories in specific locations for all AU equipment, with the implementation of systems and tools to accomplish that degree of inventory control will be critical to the success of the logistical concept," said D'Agostino.
"The progress of the CLB/RLD concept has been good, and now we must focus on establishing and implementing functional processes to operationalize the concept," said D'Agostino.
This goal requires overcoming challenges in order to facilitate the enhancement and maturing of the CLB and the RLDs, according to Capt. Joseph Russel, military deputy-J4, AFRICOM.
“During the discussions we want everyone to express their perspectives, possible challenges that may arise, and ideas of how to overcome those challenges," Russell said. “We’re trying to help everyone to understand the harmonization of the CLB and RDLs."
The objective is to have the CLB operational by the end of this year and the RLDs are currently in various stages of completion, according to Russell.
Attendees of the forum discussed and shared experiences from lessons learned from past.
Lt. Col. Oula Pierre Coulibary, a logistical officer with the Burkina Faso Army, recalled a time when logistics were a challenge for Burkina Faso land forces.
"We were being attacked by a terrorist group," said Coulibary. "We were having difficulties getting bullets and supplies to our soldiers. This is why it’s important to discuss these matters together.”
Guest speaker Lt. Gen. (Ret) Ken Keen, former commander of the Joint Task Force-Haiti during Operation Unified Response, was invited to speak about his perspective on large-scale logistical challenges during crises.
“This forum goes to heart of what (AU and AFRICOM) are trying to do and is a great venue for providing the opportunity for senior logistics leaders, from many nations, to enhance relationships with each other. So, when crises arise, they can respond and support each other as seamlessly as possible,’’ Keen said. "This forum helps them to think about, the critical capabilities they need have in place to be as prepared as possible, from a strategic operational level.”
Each African country provides unique means for overall successfulness of the strategic logistical locations, according to Col. Eric Renaut, military staff logistics branch, for the European Union.
"It's good to have synergy between the AU and the regional economic communities in regards to logistics," said Renaut.
"This forum is good because it helps us understand how to cooperate with each other better," said Col. Tatsuo Nagai, deputy director, operational logistics, Japan Self-Defense Force in Somalia. “We must continue to grow and get better."
U.S. Africa Command continues its mission of working with African partners to build defense capacity in order to promote regional security, stability, and prosperity, working towards a safe, stable, and prosperous Africa.