DOUALA, Cameroon – Military planners from the U.S., Cameroon and six other African and European nations converged here Oct. 11-14 to begin the initial planning for the inaugural U.S. Army Africa-led exercise Unified Focus 2017, scheduled to take place in April.
UF17 is a 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.
This is the first Unified Focus exercise and will be hosted by the defense forces of Cameroon. The vignettes planned for the tabletop exercise focus on the counter Boko Haram operations of the MNJTF with an additional focus on regional security and stability.
“With the information that we get from this exercise and all that we learn from one another we’re going to be able to take the fight to Boko Haram,” said Cameroonian Maj. Gen. Saly Mohamadou, the commander of the 2nd Military Region and senior host for the planning event.
“You can see that the region is still in a troubling way with the terrorist threat and there are issues that we’ve seen in the news recently. But with what we are doing here we are going to be able to address those issues in the fight against Boko Haram,” said Saly.
U.S. Army Col. Michael Zinno, senior representative from USARAF, spoke to the planners about the purpose of UF17.
“As the exercise title represents, this Africa Command sponsored exercise strives to work closely between the combined forces of Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Benin. Our goal is to exercise our ability to coordinate operations to counter regional terrorism and violent extremist organizations such as Boko Haram,” said Zinno.
Participants at the initial planning event included officers from the militaries of Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria as well as representatives from the militaries of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the U.S. The planning team reflected the multinational nature of the current MNJTF operations.
“We strive to enhance information sharing, improve coordination, and strengthen the ability of our partner nations to command and control their forces. These enhancements will improve the security situation while military and police forces operate under civil authority and respect for the law,” said Zinno.
One of the major focuses of UF17 is to practice cross-organizational and multinational cooperation, something participants at the planning event experienced first hand.
“The coming together of all the experts of Nigeria, Benin, Niger to this conference is evident of their dedication to getting rid of the threats in the Lake Chad Basin area,” said Ludovic Etienne Ngwba, Secretary General in the Littoral Governor’s Office, Cameroon.
“The efforts of the United States are in conjunction with all the partner nations from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The goal is aimed at improved coordination in order to get rid of the threat you see affecting the area,” said Ngwba.
Although Unified Focus planning efforts are led by USARAF and other partner nation armies, the team also included both civilian and military personnel from the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps as well as the Nigerian Navy, Cameroonian Air Force, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force.
The joint and combined nature of the planning team was an instrumental step in preparing for the multinational and multidimensional aspect of the final exercise. Planners also faced the challenge of creating a brand new exercise with a real world objective.
“Your duty is very noble so we ask you on behalf of the director of our defense to be creative in your efforts," said Ngwba. "We ask you to think outside the box because old thoughts lead to poor results. We call once again your attention to the importance of your efforts here and that there is an enemy that is unrelenting.”
There are two more major planning events prior to the execution of the tabletop exercise. At each event planners will continue to refine the vignettes to present the most challenging and realistic scenario to participants, and to ensure that the exercise logistics are in place to prevent any distractions.
“I am convinced that this conference that we are holding in Douala is going to be very profitable for my country and for all the participants here and in the region. With all of the experts gathered here, those associated with the Lake Chad Basin area and with the support of the United States this will help us provide security for everyone in the region,” said Ngwba.
The planning event concluded with closing comments and a review of the exercise plan that was created throughout the week.
“This event has taken shape and it’s going to lead into a good exercise. I’m sure what you take from this seminar is going to assist you to immediately be able to get the ball rolling on the next event,” said Saly.
“I’m excited that the things we’re going to learn in these events will allow the people who take part in the missions to be very capable in their efforts,” said Saly.
Zinno also provided closing comments and thanked both the Cameroonian forces for hosting, and the exercise planners for their efforts throughout the week to create an effective tabletop exercise.
“Based on the success of this exercise," said Zinno, "we hope the training received by our partner nations will help them to rapidly defeat the menace of Boko Haram.”