Senegalese sailors board the amphibious dock landing ship
USS Fort McHenryNov. 6 as part of the Africa Partnership
Station. The ship is scheduled to bring international training
teams to Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon and Sao Tome
and Principe, support more than 20 humanitarian assistance
projects, and host information exchanges and training during its seven-month deployment.
“The expectation under AFRICOM is that there is
going to be a very aggressive effort to deal with maritime
issues, because at the end of the day it’s an issue of empowering [African] security forces,” said Riva Levinson, managing director of KRL International, a Washington government affairs consulting group. Levinson represents Liberia
in Washington, one of the countries open to hosting the
United States as part of AFRICOM.
“If you go to these individual countries and ask
them if they want technical assistance, a lot of them are
focused on maritime security,” Levinson said.
Many of the international efforts to promote good governance, economic development, stability and security in
African nations have been affected by the corrosive effects
of illegal activities at sea. For example, Mozambique and
Tanzania typically lose more than $1 billion a year to illegal fishing, reef destruction and species depletion.
As a result of continuous dialog with African partners
during the past few years, the Navy has upped its focus
on West and Central Africa, increasing its presence from
just a few weeks in 2004 to continuous presence this
year. African nations requested help to develop capacity
to provide for their own safety and security.
“For two years, we have been on a voyage of discovery and building trust with our African partners,”
Winnefeld said. The deployment of the APS is “the culmination of that discovery.”
In November, the Navy deployed the USS Fort
McHenry, an amphibious dock landing ship, followed by
the HSV- 2 Swift, a high-speed vessel, to the oil-rich Gulf
of Guinea for seven months. APS is part of the Navy’s
Global Fleet Station initiative designed to provide a platform with the capacity and persistent presence to support regional training and collaboration.
Embarked on Fort McHenry and Swift are training
teams from various Navy, Marine Corps and Coast
Guard commands, as well as staff from several European
military commands, including France, Britain, Spain,
Germany and Portugal. Also aboard are representatives
from the U.S. Agency for International Development,
State Department, the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration and nongovernment organizations, such as Project Hope.
The two ships are expected to make repeated visits to
Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon and Sao
Tome and Principe, while engagement opportunities
with other countries are also being explored. The effort
is principally aimed at building trust and sustaining
partnerships among African, European and U.S. partners from regional to national levels.
“It’s a Noah’s Ark of tremendous capability,” Winnefeld said, though adding that the Navy will only do what
the various African countries are asking it to do.
The maritime security needs of African nations come
in four categories, he said. They need to develop a cadre
of maritime professionals, as well as the supporting
infrastructure. They also have to learn how to establish
a domain awareness to understand what is happening
inside their territorial waters, and the enforcement
capability to go after illegal actors.
“We are trying to make sure African leaders understand why we are interested in Africa. … We are not
about building bases out there, we are trying to do our
part in trying to help a very challenging part of the
world help themselves,” Winnefeld said.
Regardless of the footprint determined for AFRICOM,
the United States will need a place from which to operate, likely a “floating platform,” Winnefeld said.
“Because of the tyranny of distance, you cannot be
onshore,” he said.
Meanwhile, APS will be an enduring effort,
“It is an incremental process to bring this kind of
capacity to the African partners,” he said, adding that
the Navy is in talks with European partners to see if
they are willing to take on the effort on a rotational
basis. “We do not care if it has a U.S. face or not.”
Just as the Navy has intensified its focus on Africa in
the past couple of years, the Marine Corps also has had a
heavy engagement on the continent, conducting at least
two major military training exercises a year. A Marine
Corps Forces Africa, with about 120 personnel, will be
stood up as soon as AFRICOM sets full swing next fall.
“Marines have an evolving understanding of the
roles they would play in Africa,” said Winnefeld.
Meanwhile Marine Forces Europe will continue its
exercises on the continent, said spokesman Gunnery
Sgt. Donald Preston. ■