2023 West Africa Logistics Conference: Gathering senior logisticians to address regional security challenges

By Col. Uduak Udoaka and Lt. Col. Kymberley G. JuradoNovember 6, 2023

Unified for Stability: West Africa Logistics Conference Concludes Successfully
Leaders and delegates from across West Africa and representatives from the United States Africa Command gather for a group photo, marking the successful completion of the pivotal 2023 West Africa Logistics Conference aimed at bolstering regional security and military cooperation. (Photo Credit: Takisha Miller) VIEW ORIGINAL
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The 2023 West Africa Logistics Conference, co-hosted by the Chief of Defense of the Armed Forces of Côte d’Ivoire and United States Africa Command, convened in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, Sept. 19-20, to address West African security challenges through logistics cooperation.

Rear Admiral George Bresnihan, Director of Logistics at U.S. Africa Command, welcomed logistics leaders representing 12 African nations, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union.

“We’re here to share our collective insights and discuss challenges and potential solutions to the herculean task of sustaining and maintaining a military through peacetime and crisis,” said Bresnihan. “I’m very excited to hear from our African partners and learn how we can strengthen our partnerships through logistics.”

The specter of terrorism, transnational crime, humanitarian crises and the effects of climate change were at the forefront of vigorous discussions on regional security challenges.

U.S. Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire Jessica Davis Ba, speaking in the country’s official language of French, stressed, “It is through our shared experiences that we can emphasize the importance of continued dialogue, cooperation and mutual understanding as we move forward in our joint efforts to maintain the security and stability of our countries and our world.”

The Ambassador identified military logistics as a pillar of strategic power and reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to our African partners in their pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity. She also highlighted the United States’ 10-year partnership plan aimed at addressing the root causes of violent extremism.

The initiative, she stated, “emphasizes the importance of a proactive approach in building trust between communities and security forces. It is essential, more than ever, to improve interoperability and coordination [in order to] to strengthen our armed forces and work together to address the myriad security challenges we face.”

In the keynote speech, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Ms. Chidi Blyden echoed the Ambassador. “In Africa, synchronized operations, coordination and interoperability are key to readiness when addressing a multitude of threats in the region such as humanitarian and climate disasters, threats from violent extremist organizations and even cyber criminality.”

Blyden further highlighted that Department of Defense events like the West Africa Logistics Conference, annual exercises, noncommissioned officer training and rotational engagements with state partnership programs advance military strategic logistics in Africa.

Dr. Joel Amegboh, from the African Center for Security Studies, provided a regional overview and scene-setter outlining emerging threats confronting West African militaries. Attendees critically analyzed real-time threats of violent extremist organizations engaging in terrorist activity, drug trafficking, organized crime and poor governance in the region within the frame of three reoccurring themes: interoperability and equipment compatibility; logistics strategy, support concept development, and doctrine; and resourcing readiness.

Interoperability and Equipment Compatibility

Conference participants viewed interoperability between regional forces as a critical component to countering emerging threats. In the current operating environment, equipment, parts, supplies and diversity of language pose challenges to logistics support among militaries in the region. Partners shared real examples of how those challenges presented obstacles to interoperability and collaboratively agreed that joint exercises were an effective way to verify and validate capabilities and gaps.

Examples shared brought to light how varying equipment from international donors arriving with inadequate levels of resupply and repair parts can greatly affect interoperability. Additionally, the variety of official languages spoken in the region invariably poses challenges to information sharing and communicating in the battle-space. Attendees agreed that a common operating language and compatible equipment have the potential to significantly enhance interoperability and shared logistics practices in the region.

Logistics Strategy, Support Concept Development, and Doctrine

Multinational operations demand ready forces from contributing nations. Participants agreed that readiness is a national priority within their respective countries, but preparedness for peacekeeping operations can sometimes be misaligned with the readiness demands of counter-terrorism or disaster response efforts. This perceived gap drove discussions on the need to harmonize efforts starting with aligned doctrines, strategies and concepts of support.

Partners acknowledged the benefits of U.S. support, highlighting logistics institutional capacity building, lauded national and regional centers of excellence, and encouraged potential for increased instruction on logistics concept development at professional military education establishments across the region.

Resourcing Readiness

West African partners described the need for a culture of accountability in defense procurement and in a limited resource environment, sharing mechanisms, mutual logistics agreements and common-sense resource strategies as critical to sustaining operational readiness. At the core of addressing readiness, is the needed investment in human capital recruitment and retention. Members also discussed the efficacy of local manufacturers as organic sources of supply, acknowledging that the reliance on donor equipment implies a lack of absorptive capacity to sustain a variety of donor equipment using local sources. Dependence on donors also requires supplying more than just major end items, but the spare parts to sustain them. This problem set intersects with barriers to interoperability.

For example, partners outlined how although U.S. security cooperation programs are affordable options to defense equipment and a force enabler, there is a need for faster delivery of equipment and parts. More efficient access to partner or regional markets by U.S. industries is vital to resourcing and readiness.

The reality of donor nation processes and slow delivery windows generated ideas among participants centered on regional training support centers and repair depot concepts that enable forces to conduct counter-terrorism training while sustaining forces and equipment employed in multinational operations. There was interest among African partners in utilizing a logistics hub for crisis response in the Gulf of Guinea.

There was also a consensus that in crisis response, forces need to be prepared to collaborate with commercial and non-governmental organizations and integrate quickly with other teams on the ground. The expectation of militaries to be highly organized, responsive and easily mobilized in the event of natural and man-made disasters requires forces to be prepared as first responders.

At the beginning of the conference, the Director of Cabinet for the Ministry of Defense of Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Jean Paul Malan, enthusiastically shared his hopes that from the West Africa Logistics Conference would emerge “viable logistical solutions that effectively contribute to meeting the challenge of peace and security in our sub-region.” By the conclusion of the conference, participants achieved a shared understanding of regional military logistics challenges, best practices and opportunities for increased collaboration.

To continue momentum, Bresnihan stated, “During this event, we heard insights from our African partners and gained a greater understanding of methods to strengthen regional collaboration. In the upcoming months, we look forward to continuing to fortify logistics efforts in the region.”