By Capt. Jason WelchApril 17, 2017
Military planners from the U.S., Cameroon and six other African and European nations converged here Dec. 5-7 to continue 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 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.
There are both governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations that are currently working in the Lake Chad basin area that include the International Committee for the Red Cross, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Doctors Without Borders, the World Food Program, and the United Nations Children's Fund.
"We recognize that beyond the military forces involved in this exercise we will continue to incorporate the police forces and civilian agencies that will help us in the long term to combat the impact and effect of Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin," said U.S. Army Col. Michael Zinno, senior USARAF representative.
Planners worked together to develop scenarios that would challenge participants to tackle realistic problem sets and consider how the MNJTF military forces would incorporate and coordinate with these non-military organizations and their efforts to provide security and stability to the region.
"The effort to counter Boko Haram's extremism is not a military only fight," said lead USARAF planner Bradley O'Neil. "Military has the first part, the security solution, but there are many other organizations involved in the effort."
Participants at the main planning event included officers from the militaries of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, 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 all believe that we fight against this common enemy and we want to do everything we can as a group of partners to improve our communication and cooperation in this effort," said Zinno.
Unified Focus planning efforts are led by USARAF and other partner nation armies, but the team also included both civilian and military personnel from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps as well as the Nigerian Navy, Cameroonian Air Force, and the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force.
Members of the Utah and California National Guard also supported planning efforts and will provide support personnel to the exercise itself.
There is one more major planning event prior to the execution of the tabletop exercise where planners will complete the final preparations and establish the last details to shape the tabletop exercise in April.
"We hope that we can continue to do this collectively as a group and build this partnership going forward and I look forward to working with everyone this week," said Zinno.