WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A group of 78 senior African military leaders from more than two dozen countries visited the Pentagon today on the opening of the inaugural African Land Forces Summit, a five-day conference to advance security, stability and peace on the continent.

Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr., director of the U.S Army staff, told the African leaders their decision to attend the summit will help their American military counterparts better understand the challenges African military leaders face.

"You give us a wonderful perspective. We can learn what matters to people across the continent, from Senegal to Sierra Leone," Huntoon said.

He added that relationships they build at the summit with fellow African leaders and members of the American military will prove invaluable when they return to their home countries.
"There will be a time of conflict and your ability to call or email someone you have spent time with in the past will make a huge difference," Huntoon said.

The summit is being organized by U.S. Army Africa.

Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander, U.S. Army Africa, greeted the African leaders before they toured the Pentagon. He promised the summit will include thought-provoking discussions addressing national defense, civil-military cooperation, international peacekeeping operations and violent extremism.

The summit theme is "Adapting Land Forces to 21st Century Security Challenges."

The African leaders' two-hour Pentagon tour featured Army exhibits as well as a stop at the memorial inside the building to the 184 people killed when a hijacked jetliner crashed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001.

One African leader said he was emotionally moved by the visit to the memorial.

"The attack on 9/11 wasn't just an attack on your nation, it was an attack on the civilized world," said Maj. Gen. Alfred Claude Nelson-Williams of Sierra Leone.

Most of the African leaders attending the summit had been to the United States at least once before, often for training with American forces.

Lt. Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala of Uganda graduated from the U.S. Army War College in 2000.

"It was one of the best experiences of my career," he said. "It is very good to be back."