Military planners from the U.S., Cameroon and seven other African and European nations met here Feb. 6-9 to finish the planning and preparation 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 Commission's Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) together to practice joint planning and coordination through a series of vignettes.
The planning event began with recognition of the recent loss of Cameroonian Brig. Gen. Jacob Kodji and three other officers in a helicopter crash.
"This exercise that we're planning is a counterterrorism exercise and on the 22nd of January Brig. Gen. Kodji and three of his comrades were killed on the battlefield in the fight against terrorism," said Cameroonian Maj. Gen. Saly Mohamadou, Commander of the 2nd Military Region and senior host for the planning event.
"I know that some of you in the audience know Gen. Kodji. I would like to take a moment of silence in his memory and his teammates that were killed," Saly said during the opening ceremony for the planning event.
Saly also reminded everyone that the purpose of UF17 was to enable participants to counter the violence of extremist organizations like those operating in the Lake Chad Basin area.
"I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate Cameroon's dedication to counterterrorism.," Saly said. "We would like to represent everyone's fight against terrorism in this exercise."
"We salute everyone's efforts in counterterrorism, including the United States," said Saly. "It's a multinational effort led by the United States to fight terrorism, especially against Boko Haram."
In addition to members of the U.S. and Cameroonian military, planners also represented Benin, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Italy.
"All of the nations involved in the MNJTF are integral in this fight. Your efforts are appreciated by our population. All of the efforts from all the nations represented here today show the determination of all the countries against terrorism and against violence. It's this synergy that created the MNJTF," said Saly.
"It is because of these efforts from the MNJTF and all these nations that U.S. Africa Command got involved and decided to create Unified Focus 2017," said Saly.
"This tabletop exercise was created by AFRICOM to specifically focus on the Lake Chad Basin region," said Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore, U.S. Army Africa deputy commanding general and Army Reserve Engagement Cell chief. "The exercise will provide realistic training scenarios to a group of military personnel as well as civilian personnel from Cameroon, Chad, Benin, Nigeria and Niger."
Moore also congratulated the Cameroonian's national soccer team after its weekend victory in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
"I'd like to congratulate Cameroon's Indomitable Lions in their victory last night. U.S. Army Africa's motto is 'Lions Lead' and the Lions definitely led last night," said Moore.
USARAF was tasked by AFRICOM to lead the planning and execution of UF17 to enhance partner nations' capabilities in the Lake Chad Basin area to support the MNJTF.
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. Each of the vignettes requires participants to consider civilian concerns and interagency coordination.
"This exercise is incredibly important for the prosperity, the security and cooperation of our nations. That includes the organizations that are participating as well: Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units, United States Agency for International Development, all our non-governmental organization partners, U.S. State Department," Moore said.
Final planning event attendees also included representatives from the Center for Civilians in Conflict, the Africa Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Moore.
"The objective is to reinforce the coordination between all nations for a positive result. The coordination between nations and between MNJTF sectors is a very important factor in its success," said Saly.
Planners representing the various military and civilian organizations provided final inputs to the vignettes throughout the week. Then they chose one of the scenarios and broke into multinational and interagency work groups to discuss the vignette just as the exercise participants will in April.
Results from these discussions allowed planners to put the finishing details into the scenarios and identify any issues prior to the exercise.
"I'm very excited that we were able to finalize our plans for the exercise this week," said Maj. Aaron Smith, U.S. Embassy Yaounde office of security cooperation.
"It's together that we can ensure a lasting peace for the region. As Ambassador Hoza likes to say 'we march on together,'" said Smith.
"Your mission is noble. It's for this reason that I challenge you to be creative. Your first planning conference started everything off, and this time you finalized the exercise plan," said Saly.
"I would urge you to remember how important what you're doing this week is. Your assisting efforts are helping fight terrorism in the region," said Saly.
"Long live international cooperation and long live Cameroon."