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TRANSCRIPT: Exercise Africa Endeavor Kicks Off in Gabon
The militaries of 25 African nations will test their abilities to communicate with each other over the next two weeks during Exercise Africa Endeavor 2009 (AE09), which began September 29, 2009, in Gabon. <br /> <br />This exercise, facilitated by
The militaries of 25 African nations will test their abilities to communicate with each other over the next two weeks during Exercise Africa Endeavor 2009 (AE09), which began September 29, 2009, in Gabon.

This exercise, facilitated by U.S. Africa Command, allows the participating nations' militaries to test their information technology equipment to communicate with each other via e-mail, Internet and radio.

During a press conference September 25, 2009, Gabonese Navy Contre Amiral (Rear Admiral) Herve Nambo, Gabonese Africa Endeavor 09 exercise director, said: "This exercises teaches us how to communicate with each other when, for example, we participate in operations outside of the country or region. For instance, during peacekeeping operations we may have forces from ten or more countries in the area. Each nation will have its own communications equipment that may or may not be completely compatible with that of other participating nations. So, we learn, during these exercises, how to be able to talk via radio or send data and be successfully received by another country whatever the kind of equipment they may use. That is what interoperability means."

Also partipating in the press conference were U.S. Navy Commander Britt Talbert, Africa Command's AE09 exercise director and U.S. Navy Commander Sarah Dachos, Director of the Office of Security Cooperation, US Embassy Libreville. The press conference allowed the exercise directors to provide press with an overview of the combined joint communications interoperability exercise.

The press conference took place at the Okoume Palace Hotel.

Below is the transcript of the interview.

QUESTION: Why did the Unites States chose Gabon to host AFRICA ENDEAVOR 09?

CDR TALBERT: The United States did not choose the exercise location. It was a coordinated, voted-on decision by all the exercise delegation's chiefs, with the support of the Gabonese delegation, to hold the exercise in Gabon this year. We are very happy to have the exercise in Gabon. Part of the planning process is the delegation chiefs from the 25 different African nations deciding where each planning conference and each exercise is going to be.

QUESTION: In practical terms, what does communications interoperability mean?

CDR TALBERT: Specifically there are two pieces -- the voice side and the data side. That would mean one nation's equipment is able to talk to another nation's equipment in the form of an email, or any sort of communication via data or voice.

RADM NAMBO: If you'll allow me, I would like to add something to this. Each nation has different equipment. This exercises teaches us how to communicate with each other when, for example, we participate in operations outside of the country or region. For instance, during peacekeeping operations we may have forces from ten or more countries in the area. Each nation will have its own communications equipment that may or may not be completely compatible with that of other participating nations. So, we learn, during these exercises, how to be able to talk via radio or send data and be successfully received by another country whatever the kind of equipment they may use. That is what interoperability means.

QUESTION: Using Gabon as an example, we currently have troops fulfilling peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic and elsewhere. How will this exercise help them with this mission? Does this exercise add value?

RADM NAMBO: This exercise does add value. We have a Gabonese detachment in the CAR. There are also detachments from other countries, like Cameroon and Chad, also supporting this operation. What we will learn during this exercise in Libreville as well as what they learned in the previous exercise in Nigeria allows us to set up our communications and control systems to more effectively direct peacekeeping and other operations in the Central African Republic and elsewhere. What happens is that between communicators, we test equipment to ensure we can speak with militaries from other nations. But outside of the exercises and exercise planning and after participants have gone home, with what they have learned and done, they try to maintain contact with other communicators from other militaries and other nations. This is another factor in the development and another factor in the effectiveness of military forces throughout Africa.

QUESTION: Do you see mistrust between military participants from different nations?

RADM NAMBO: I think there may be concern about the ability of one nation to be able to intercept and eavesdrop on the communications of other nations. That's a question of codes and other security protocols. That's not the emphasis of this exercise.

QUESTION: So military intelligence gathering is not a concern?

RADM NAMBO: Yes, yes, of course. But I must say that these exercises are important in supporting our ability to conduct peacekeeping and other operations. When countries of the same economic community come together to support an operation with troops on the ground, they must have the same way of doing business. There cannot be mistrust. When the command structure is fully integrated with representatives from different countries in leadership positions and troops working together on the ground, there is no place for mistrust. If there is wariness in this situation, it's impossible to accomplish the assigned mission. Sure, there is the question of sovereignty and there is the responsibility to protect one's information, and a responsibility to use one's intelligence capabilities, but in the context of peacekeeping operations there is not, in my opinion, any reason to justify mistrust between partner nations.

QUESTION: What is the role of the United States in these exercises? How can cooperation with the U.S. promote the positive development of security capabilities for Africa?

RADM NAMBO: I must say that the arrival of U.S. Africa Command, called AFRICOM, is a very good thing. Before AFRICOM, there were several organizations that managed the cooperation, both civil and military, both bilaterally and multilaterally, with our different African nations. And since the establishment of AFRICOM, AFRICOM accepted the responsibility for management all the different kinds of military cooperation between the U.S. and the different African nations. So, since the creation of AFRICOM, there are different kinds of exercises and training initiatives that have been modernized and placed under central control by AFRICOM. There are better channels of communication.

And speaking of exercises like this one, what do they really do for us? They bring us, first, the ability to bring together different African nations in the same theater of operations and to work together. They help the U.S. to be able to better speak to and work with African nations, above all in the area of peacekeeping operations. Several different initiatives were put into place by the United States to help in this area such as the ACOTA program which is an education and training program for military personnel to prepare them for peacekeeping operations. AFRICAN ENDEAVOR is a complimentary initiative that supports the ACOTA program in that it gives different nations supporting peacekeeping operations the ability to communicate with each other. Since the different nations do not all have the same communications systems, and equipment, it is essential that nations develop the means to be able to communicate through this barrier. That is the goal of this exercise.

During the planning conferences each country gives the technical characteristics of its equipment. Then, at the exercise site, we test the interoperability between the different equipment. I will end by saying that interoperability is not only a question of technology. It's also demonstrated by this initiative that unites military personnel from nearly 30 nations and two international organizations. This is the first time that this kind exercise takes place in a French speaking nation even though most of the participating nations are English speaking. It's the first time this exercise has been held in a French-speaking nation; it' the first time this exercise is held in a central African nation. Gabon was chosen by the different heads of delegation. I forwarded the request to the minister of defense who gained approval from the highest level of government. And despite the sad events of this summer, Gabon has honored its commitments and the exercise will begin Monday (28 September 2009).

CDR TALBERT: Just to further expound on Admiral Nambo's comments, Africa Command enables the U.S. to have a group of people who are dedicated solely to Africa. It makes it easier and more organized for us to focus on Africa. And, as Admiral Nambo said, AFRICA Endeavor is a part of this where Africa Command can focus solely on an exercise with Africans and can concentrate on an exercise or cooperation solely with Gabon in this case.

CDR DACHOS: I just wanted to add one thing to what Admiral Nambo and Commander Talbert said. With Africa Command we have not, for the most part, increase our interaction with our African partners. We've just insured that we're more focused when in our dealings with our African partners and placed a greater priority on these interactions. Before Africa Command existed, our focus was divided when working with the African continent.

RADM NAMBO: I just wanted to say one more thing about interoperability. The principle of interoperability does not limit itself exclusively to the equipment or the way we work. Interoperability is equally the ability to be together, to work together. To learn how other countries do things. Africa is made up of many different communities, many different cultures, so learning how to work with others is important. I think it's important to highlight this because when people know each other we are able to form a community, a community of communicators. A community of transmitters. A community of people who share a passion that of communications. When you know each other, you work better together and you can even prevent or limit conflict. Often conflict begins with a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. If you are called upon to conduct a military operation, when you know that people on the other side have gone to the same schools and participated in the same exercises, you'll do what you can to convince your superiors that conflict is not the solution. This is an important fact that helps avoid crisis. This, too, is interoperability.

QUESTION: In practical terms, how do you truly develop interoperability? Surely it takes more than a single exercise.

RADM NAMBO: When discussing interoperability, we must also think of it in the context of the African Union. In 2010 we will test the readiness of AU standby force for central Africa. We have, for example, a major exercise that will take place in Angola next year that will involve a certain number of countries. It is not enough to say that this single exercise will provide a permanent level of interoperability.

In the case of AFRICA ENDEAVOR, this is a highly technical exercise. Technologies evolve. That's why this exercise needs to occur regularly so as keep pace with technological advances. Our equipment should evolve as well. That's why it's important to hold this exercise annually. AFRICOM gives us the means to conduct this exercise and it's a continuing process. One exercise will not result in perfect interoperability. Rather it's a long process where we can progressively obtain a level of interoperability after a certain time but it's something that must be maintained and continually improved. Today's communicators are not necessarily the communicators of tomorrow. It is people who operate the equipment and these people change. Thus, after what we do in Gabon over the next two weeks must be followed by similar work in other countries.

QUESTION: What is the United States' interest in conducting this exercise?

CDR TALBERT: The U.S. interest in AFRICA ENDEAVOR can be applied to other things as well. In general, increasing the security capacities of our African partners; in this case, it's in the realm of communications. As the Admiral mentioned, we're building a community of communicators where it's not just technology in communication, but a spirit of relationships and interaction across different cultures and different languages. In this case, it is Gabon that's hosting the exercise and this rotates. So the overarching goal is, and the reason for our involvement is, to increase the security capacity of the participating nations and not just in one exercise, but it's a process. With each exercise, the interoperability is increased.

RADM NAMBO: I would also like to add that this exercise has the support of the African Union. The African Union regularly sends a representative to each planning conference and each exercise. So it is under the auspices of the African Union, and the AU has established a certain number of goals and other objectives. We welcome the assistance from the United States in helping us create a communications architecture for all of Africa that will be used for the standby brigades.

QUESTION: How does the Gabonese civilian population feel about the exercise?

RADM NAMBO: This is, above all, an exercise that is aimed at the military. However, what can Gabon in general and Libreville specifically expect from this exercise? In a country like ours, outside of major meetings or conferences, it's rare for us to host so many people from so many different countries. And in this case, what's important is not the number of people, but the number of different nations represented. Having representatives from almost 30 countries visit is, from a diplomatic perspective, very important. Culturally, we will present our country from the perspective of tourism and economics. To host, lodge, feed, and transport 200-300 visitors requires a lot of support and effort. So even, from an economic perspective, it's important for Gabon. I repeat, our country benefits both economically and culturally from this exercise.

It also allows us to highlight our country, diplomatically as well. When we talk, among heads of delegation during the different conferences and exercises, there are many countries that would like to host this exercise. However, when they realize the material and financial requirements, they begin to have doubts. They say, "I think we'll wait two or three years."

I cannot say how much an exercise like this costs AFRICOM. I can't even really say what it has cost Gabon because of all the different requirements. But there are important benefits for our country -- diplomatic, economic and military.

QUESTION: How much has this exercise cost the United States?

CDR TALBERT: We're still setting up for the exercise and, to be honest, I don't have an exact figure. It has required a lot of time and effort, especially on the part of the Gabonese. They've made some very significant contributions, and, obviously, we wouldn't have done the exercise without the support of the Gabonese.

QUESTION: Gabon has other partners like China and France in the area of defense. What advantages does the partnership with the U.S. bring that the others do not?

RADM NAMBO: Our defense relations with other partners are very broad. I think that Gabon has opted for cooperation with the U.S. based on many considerations. During my time as former director of personnel and international cooperation, I participated with the former minister of defense in a number of meetings with the United States and with other countries. His credo was training, training, training. That a military must be well-trained to be operational. The United States offers us opportunities, both bi-lateral and multi-lateral, for training. AFRICOM offers us many opportunities including training and educations programs. These contributions are not negligible.

It's true that working with different partners diversifies our training. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, France, who was our traditional partner, had to provide more assistance to her European neighbors. This resulted in fewer opportunities for us. However, we growing requirements so we had diversify our partners. So today, in addition to the U.S., we train in China and other countries, European, African and American. I would surprise you if I gave you a list of every country that offers us training opportunities for our personnel. Even if these countries don't speak French, we find solutions through language training. For example, in the U.S. there's a language school. Here in Libreville, there is also a language school that helps our personnel obtain a functional level of English to be able to take classes in the United States. There's an overview of our cooperation with the United States, above all in the area of training and education. Earlier I mentioned ACOTA. Other examples include pilot training for our aircraft and helicopter pilots, training for headquarters staff and service schools. We are asking for more and more and they have opened their doors to help.

This does not mean that European countries like France no longer provide training opportunities. Just an example--in my current position at Navy Headquarters, I have personnel participating in training courses in Belgium and other European countries. Though the volume has decreased, European countries still provide some training opportunities.

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