By Capt. Jason WelchJune 13, 2017
"This is the price to pay and the work to be done if we want to protect our family, our nation, our Africa, and the world."
Maj. Gen. Baba Souley, chief of land forces for Cameroon, urged participants of the inaugural exercise Unified Focus 2017 to take their lessons learned back home and share with their organizations.
UF 17 was a weeklong tabletop exercise held at the Douala Naval Base, April 24-28, that brought 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.
"Unified Focus is a U.S. Africa Command initiative which aims to reinforce and optimize the coordination of national, regional and international efforts in the fight against terrorism," said Souley.
Military and civilian representatives came from multiple nations to contribute to the discussions and working groups and discuss coordinated efforts in support of the effort against Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa in the Lake Chad Basin region.
"Coordination remains an important determining factor of our success in the war against terrorism," said Souley.
U.S. Army Col. Michael Zinno, U.S. Army Africa G9 director, was the lead U.S. Army Africa officer at the planning events that created and shaped the final exercise.
"Unified Focus is a narrow regional exercise, designed to bring together the countries involved in the Multinational Joint Task Force that is fighting Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin," said Zinno.
"It brought together those countries, those participants, to discuss ways in which they can improve the communication and collaboration amongst the nations and amongst the troops that are actually conducting operations in the Lake Chad Basin area," said Zinno.
"For five days the representatives of the Multinational Joint Task Force, the defense security forces of member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin, the principle humanitarian organizations already in the lake chad region, all together worked to find ways to coordinate their actions on the ground during joint operations," said Souley.
UF 17 civilian participants represented both governmental and non-governmental organizations including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the U.S. Department of State for Stability Operations, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Center for Civilians in Conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross, U.S. Institute of Peace, the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units, and the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute from the U.S. Army War College.
"We intentionally brought together members of the MNJTF as well as members from the national forces of each country to give different perspectives, as well as some civilian agencies and non-governmental organizations," said Zinno. "The design really was to put different perspectives around the table and discuss a topic related to either the current or future operations in the Lake Chad Basin."
"Each group was a mix of all those different perspectives and I think that generated a fair amount of discussion based on the different perspectives in each working group," said Zinno.
Working groups consisted of a mix between MNJTF officers, U.S. and European military officers, and civilian advisors and mentors.
"If everyone sat around the table and had the same opinion and viewpoint then there wouldn't be much discussion and no new ideas would be generated," said Zinno. "But there were enough differing views on how to approach a problem set that facilitated a greater understanding across the groups."
The vignettes used to shape group discussions ranged from information sharing between military and humanitarian organizations, to combatting improvised explosive devices and countering extremist narratives from violent extremist groups.
"The vignettes that were discussed during the exercise were based on real cases," said Souley.
Each working group was presented with the same vignette, a problem or situation based on actual MNJTF operations. They had a specified amount of time to share information, discuss solutions, form a consensus and present their plan to the entire exercise audience.
Each working group consists of a member from each MNJTF sector, representing Chad, Cameroon, Benin, Nigeria and Niger. There are also several civilian advisors from the different interagency partners and a U.S. Army observer/controller to facilitate discussions. Each participant has a unique perspective on the region and a different method of solving each problem set.
"There's an old African tradition: when the lion becomes a man-eater, all of the villages within range of that man-eater set aside their differences and hunt the lion," said the Honorable Michael Hoza, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon.
"I am happy to be here today to say you have hunted well," said Hoza.
While Unified Focus 2017 is the first exercise of its namesake, U.S. Army Africa has hosted annual exercises and security cooperation events in Cameroon since its inception in 2008.
"Our militaries have been coming together to train and conduct exercises and we continue to grow and improve together," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore, U.S. Army Africa deputy commander.
"Through events like Unified Focus we will continue to expand our partnerships and our ability to work together toward a common goal," said Moore.
That common goal at Unified Focus 2017 was the counter-violent extremist organization effort in the Lake Chad Basin.
"Violent extremism is a virus that left unchecked will enter each of our homes," said Hoza.
"You are winning the war and you are bringing in international partners, NGOs, and civilian authorities to win the peace," said Hoza. "Together we will win the future."
Moore also praised the exercise participants for their efforts throughout the week.
"Unified Focus has demonstrated how the MNJTF partners work together, and how they can work with other non-military organizations, to defeat the violent extremism of Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa, and bring security and stability to the region," said Moore.
"Africa matters, and this exercise proves it," said Moore.