ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Nearly 100 participants from eight nations and seven international organizations gathered for the U.S. Army Africa-led exercise Justified Accord 17 at the Peace Support Training Center in Addis Ababa March 20-24, 2017.

"We look forward to working with you - learning with you and from you," said Brig. Gen. Jon Jensen, USARAF deputy commander, during his opening ceremony speech.

According to Jensen, the Justified Accord exercise is a continuation of the previous Eastern Accord exercise series, which originated with the 1998 exercise series Natural Fire.

"Like Natural Fire and Eastern Accord, Justified Accord is an annual combined joint exercise focused on bringing together U.S. and African partners, Western allies and international organizations to promote interoperability through collaboration of peacekeeping operations in the East Africa region." Jensen said.

The new name brought with it new faces, while familiar faces from the exercise's nearly 20-year run were also present.

Participants gathered to increase interoperability through academic classes and discussion-based practical exercises focused on a collective ability to establish and maintain peace in East Africa.

During the weeklong exercise, participants discussed peacekeeping operations and worked together through structured vignettes with practical applications tailored to the African Union-led peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

"AMISOM has strategic importance to all of us," Jensen said.

AMISOM is an active regional peacekeeping mission set up by the African Union's Peace and Security Council with the approval of the United Nations. According to the AMISOM official website, the organization's mission is to provide support to the Federal Government of Somalia in its efforts to stabilize the country, facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid, and create necessary conditions for the reconstruction and sustainable development of Somalia.

Jensen said that those participating in the exercise understand the complexities associated with AMISOM. He added that they also understand the exercise cannot by itself address every complexity.

"But... What we can do," Jensen said, "is identify and examine issues, enhance information sharing and cooperation on security issues, and further enhance the multilateral relationships that exist."

To do this, exercise planners retained some of the traditional key peacekeeping themes from previous exercises, such as international humanitarian law, protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, because many of the participating nations have mutually vested interests in these topics.

Jensen asked the exercise participants to bring their best, challence assumptions made and take this time to develop new friendships.

Developing new friendships and fostering existing relationships has been one of USARAF's key underlined messages when supporting its African partner nations.

Exercises such as JA17 offer an array of benefits. Participating nations have an opportunity to work together and discuss the possibility of combined deployments, which could have a direct effect on security strengths throughout the East Africa region.

"This exercise gave our people experience in Africa," said Van der Ploeg, the Royal Netherlands Army land operations command chief of intelligence. "The exercise is important because it allows us to get to know each other before going on missions."

By the end of the exercise, participants used every opportunity to converse, get to know each other and build friendships.

United Kingdom Lt. Col. Guy Levene, a British advisor to the Ethiopian National Defence Force, said when participants get together in this fashion, "they understand each other a little bit better, which makes regional conflict a little less possible."