Approximately 1,000 participants took part in a three-week long capacity building event to empower partner nation governments to improve their capability to deal with crises that could arise, from violent extremist threats to major natural disasters.
Exercise EPIC GUARDIAN took place in April and May 2013 across three separate countries—Djibouti, Malawi and Seychelles.
A watermark of the exercise was that it represented the first time the Malawian government employed a Crisis Inter-Agency Task Force (CIATF) in the planning process for a major crisis.
“The CIATF is an interagency task force used to take the national command authorities directives and requirements and give them to tactical level forces, units and agencies,” said Lt. Col. Herb Skinner, Joint Expeditionary Control Group-Forward. “The CIATF is an operational level organization, and they resource the tactical level units and synchronize efforts within the government.”
This is what is commonly referred to as the “whole-of-government” approach to finding solutions to seemingly extraordinarily complex problems.
Skinner also said that the ‘whole-of-government’ approach to solving crises means using all departments, ministries and agencies of government to solve problems together; with each performing its function and synchronizing efforts to minimize wasted effort.
Multiple Malawian government agencies were involved throughout the exercise, to include the Ministry of Defense, Paratroop Battalion, National Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Interior and Public Safety, and Malawi police services and airport security service, working side by side with their military counterparts.
“It gives me great pleasure to …mark the successful conclusion of Epic Guardian 2013, a joint training exercise promoting a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to good governance, security, and crisis response,” said Nicole Thompson, U.S. State Department Public Affairs Officer. “I would like to extend a special word of gratitude to the Government of Malawi for hosting this joint exercise and to General Henry Odillo, Commanding General of the Malawi Defense Force, for hosting our U.S. Military and civilian personnel. The gracious hospitality and professionalism of all members of the Malawian government ensured a successful exercise.”
The Epic Guardian exercise was engineered to work with the Malawi Defense Force—as well as other Malawian government agencies—to help them establish an efficient way to operate a CIATF, providing them with a greater capacity to coordinate local and regional responses to a broad range of security and humanitarian crises.
Though Epic Guardian is not the first example of military cooperation between Malawi and the United Sates, Thompson did elaborate on the scope and significance of the event.
“[Epic Guardian 2013] is the largest and most complex exercise that we have ever undertaken. Years of planning, coordination and cooperation between the Malawi and U.S. Governments were required to carry out an endeavor of this scale,” said Thompson. “Now, at its conclusion, I can say without equivocation that the friendship between the United States and Malawi is stronger, our government civilian and military forces more capable, and our ability to respond to crises and protect our citizens is more integrated than ever before.”
Prior to Epic Guardian, there was no framework within the Malawi government to synchronize and integrate civil and military assets for a coordinated response; which is why developing a Malawi internal crisis response structure was a priority for the exercise, which included CIATF and a MDF/MOI Counter Terror Task Force.
Brig. Gen. Peter Andrew Namathanga, commanding officer of the Malawi Defence Force Air Wing, explained why the CIATF is necessary.
“If something happens to the country, it is not only the military that is going to be responsible, to respond to that. The crisis that have come before, they do not always deal with the military,” said General Namathanga. “Today when you talk about national security, it is a broad subject, you are talking about basically human security, and human security covers so many areas. Disasters can come that result from rains and floods and the like; this is not necessarily a military operation. There will be different agencies that would lead the response, and we are saying the ‘whole-of-government approach’ embraces all different departments.”
The CIATF doesn’t have the liberty to summon different departments, so those decisions would come from the Malawi office of the President’s cabinet, and depending on the nature of the crisis, they decide who the lead agency will be, said General Namathanga.
The main exercise was preceded by pre-exercise training between U.S. Special Operations Forces and Malawi Defense Forces, which included skills such as marksmanship, small unit tactics, close quarters battle, combat medicine, and mission planning; essential skills during the various missions throughout the exercise.
At the end of the day, Skinner said that the exercise was very successful, with everything accomplished in a relatively short period of time and over great distances.
“Let me commend the government of the United States of America, for their invaluable contributions that led to the success of this training exercise, it is indeed through such joint training exercises that we can make the world a safer place to be,” said General Namathanga “There were challenges and a lot of lessons were learned as different agencies merged their various skills to resolve the crisis at hand.”