VICENZA, Italy - More than 120 U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) Soldiers and civilians participated in a Trans-Sahel Region Conference March 14-16 in Vicenza, Italy.

The USARAF-sponsored conference featured nearly a dozen presenters including two former U.S. ambassadors and several renowned academics from colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

The trans-Sahel region is an area in North Africa that includes Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and the far northern tip of Cameroon, ending at Ndjamena just inside the western border of Chad.

During the three-day conference several topics such as unique political, economic, social and cultural challenges currently taking place in the trans-Sahel region were presented.

Col. Randall Carlson of the USARAF training office said the conference offered several takeaway benefits.

"This conference has given us a deeper look at the trans-Sahel region of Africa and has provided a tremendous amount of information on the economic, cultural and social interaction that takes place in the trans-Sahel, in particular in how these subjects relate to our interests in that area," Carlson said.

For Carlson, a session explaining the evolution of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was of particular interest.

"One of the highlights of the conference for me was a presentation on Algeria and in particular the evolution of AQIM, a branch of Al-Qaeda in North Africa," Carlson said. "It was an informative presentation and they did a great job on explaining AQIM origins."

Retired Col. Bob Tomasovic, program director for the Leader Development and Education for Sustainable Peace, is responsible for creating the agenda for the conference based on guidelines set by Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg, commander of U.S. Army Africa.

"LDESP began more than 10 years ago [with a] core philosophy that if leadership has a better frame of reference about the area in which they are working, they'll be more effective as leaders in those areas of operations," Tomasovic said.