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Since the thwarted terrorist attack against Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, news reports detailed the possibilities of security threats from Africa.
Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa, spoke to that topic and his unit's ongoing initiatives during a Jan. 5 "DoDLive" Blogger's Roundtable.
In the past year, U.S. Army Africa has built relationships with African partner nations that will set conditions for ongoing security threats on the continent, said Garrett, speaking via teleconference from the command's headquarters in Vicenza, Italy.
"U.S. Army Africa, as the Army service component command for U.S. Africa Command, enables full-spectrum operations while conducting sustained security engagement with African land forces to promote security, stability and peace," Garrett said.
The work of U.S. Army Africa Soldiers and civilians includes small advise-and-assist teams with niche capabilities to help partner nations in a variety of mentorship programs that build African capacity in everything from security and logistics to small-unit operations and leadership development.
With some African countries in on-going turmoil, assisting partner nations to establish effective security is key to U.S. Army Africa's efforts, Garrett said. The command shares its responsibilities with a host of partners, including national and international agencies, non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and the African Union.
The command conducts sustained security engagements in Africa as part of a comprehensive approach to making the nations self-sustaining in their security, Garrett said.
"This approach is especially important when we're discussing transnational threats that can form parasitic relationships with weak or ineffective governments, insurgencies or criminal organizations," he said.
U.S. Army Africa's job, however, is not to take over security operations across the continent. Nor is it to make African land forces into U.S. Army-style military units, which might be inappropriate or counterproductive to a partner nation's needs, the general said.
The U.S. Army's role is to help strengthen the capabilities and capacity of its partners in Africa.
"Professional military education is and will be the U.S. Army's number one engagement tool in Africa," he said. "[It] gives us the biggest bang for the buck, allowing us to help build entire generations of leaders at relatively low costs."
Such education programs are "a hit," Garrett said, whether conducted in the United States during immersion programs or in classrooms in Africa. Often that means peer-to-peer environments.
"Wherever we go, our Soldiers typically teach, coach, mentor, advise and assist," he said.
No single approach is correct when facing threats on a continent as diverse as Africa, Garrett said. During interactions with African forces, learning extends to both sides of the partnership, with U.S. Soldiers often gaining a broader perspective from their African counterparts, he said.
"In the end, our partners may not choose to emulate us, but my bet is some mutual respect is in place," he said. "More importantly, we've built up some trust, the one thing that can change everything."