Africa Partnership Station to Boost Maritime Security

By John J. Kruzel

A multinational crew aboard USS Fort McHenry is cruising port to port in the Gulf of Guinea off Africa’s west coast, training African volunteers to bolster regional security. Roughly halfway through a seven-month mission, the Africa Partnership Station is a U.S.-led response to requests by African nations for military-to-military or civilian-military maritime training, said Navy Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, U.S. Africa Command’s deputy commander for military operations. AFRICOM is set to become fully functional Oct. 1.

“The concept of the Africa Partnership Station emanates from requests from the Africans themselves to be in a position where they could in fact have established the situational awareness and control over their maritime environment, which they recognized they did not have,” the admiral said during an interview at the Pentagon.

Moeller said the members of the training team — which comprises U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and interagency members, plus European allies — are working to increase the professional capabilities and capacity of their African counterparts.

“We’re very much interested in working with our African partners on those security matters that are of most concern to them, and how we can work more closely with them in response to their desires, their needs that they themselves have identified,” he said.

The admiral said maritime threats to the African continent include piracy, oil smuggling and human trafficking, among others. According to a fact sheet published by Navy Office of Information, 62 piracy attacks were reported in African waters in 2006, illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta is a $3 million-per-day industry, and 60-percent of human trafficking occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Recognizing (these threats) themselves, the Africans have requested that we provide this kind of assistance,” Moeller noted.

To date, APS operators have trained more than 600 African sailors from nine countries in various subjects, including leadership, logistics, navigation, small boat handling, port security and martial arts, according to the Navy fact sheet.

In addition to military-to-military training, APS last month donated 15 pallets of food to AIDS patients and orphans in Cameroon. In concert with partners in Ghana, the APS crew used USS Fort McHenry’s landing craft to deliver materials to ports at Tema and Sekondi.

The APS visit, designed to support and strengthen regional capabilities in West and Central Africa, is one in a series of activities aimed at building comprehensive maritime security on the African continent. APS is inspired by the belief that effective maritime safety and security will contribute to development, economic prosperity, and security ashore, Moeller said.

“Allowing (African participants) essentially to police and have control over (the maritime) environment leads directly and contributes directly to assure the ability of those countries to develop economically in a very stable way,” he said, “because there’s a direct relationship between a secure maritime environment and a secure and stable terrestrial environment.”

The admiral said that by responding to specific African requests for assistance, and aligning itself with broad international and U.S. objectives, APS’s charter reflects the overarching Africa Command mission.

“I think the Africa Partnership Station precisely epitomizes the kind of activities that AFRICOM will be doing with our African partners in the future,” he said. “It is all about building the capacity of our African partners to be able to attend to their own security needs.”

Home to a large section of the world’s population, Africa is a continent of increasingly important strategic interests, Moeller said. It also is the site of humanitarian need, with regard to widespread instances of HIV, AIDS and malaria, and holds natural resources that haven’t found their way to the global market, he added.

The Defense Department currently divides responsibility for Africa among three combatant commands: European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command. AFRICOM is a three-pronged defense, diplomatic and economic effort designed to enable U.S. government elements to work in concert with African partners without bureaucratic divisions created by the shared command structure.

The admiral said AFRICOM will begin to assume responsibilities from EUCOM over the coming months. As Oct. 1 approaches, AFRICOM will begin assuming PACOM and CENTCOM responsibilities.

Moeller said the transition from three combatant commands to one is “a work in progress.” Members of the commands involved have held planning conferences over last several months to work through the details of how missions, activities, programs and exercises will be shifted into AFRICOM’s purview.

Unlike other commands, AFRICOM will be staffed by a large number of State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development members, including a deputy commander of civilian-military operations.

Moeller said Africa Command was conceived by President Bush and the Pentagon as a way to maintain a sole focus on the interests of African partners. The consolidation allows for more responsiveness and effectiveness. Additionally, it recognizes the growing strategic importance in “full spectrum” of strategic issues.

“In rolling all that up into one command,” Moeller said, “part of our focus was to think through how we could best support other parts of the U.S. government agencies that conduct activities with our African partners across the continent.”