Two weeks of successful multinational training during exercise Obangame Express 2019 (OE19) concluded with a closing ceremony and press conference in Lagos, Nigeria, on 22 March.
The ceremony featured guest speaker Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, and commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. Representatives from each of OE19’s 33 participating countries were also in attendance.
During his remarks, Foggo emphasized that maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea is a source of prosperity in the region.
“We brought 33 countries together, [including] 95 ships, 12 high-performance aircraft, 19 maritime operations centers, [all] tied together in Obangame Express, and seven national military command centers for over 80 scenarios and exercises in the last two weeks,” said Foggo.
OE19 participants arrived in Nigeria to begin pre-exercise training on 10 March. Following an opening ceremony on 14 March, the participating countries divided into seven zones of operation and began working together on exercise scenarios developed around current maritime challenges in the Gulf of Guinea including illegal fishing, drug trafficking, and piracy.
“The majority of the region’s economic activities rely on the safe and lawful use of West African coastal waters, which is why Obangame Express is such an important exercise,” said Capt. Eric Conzen, commodore of U.S. Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and exercise director for OE19. “That skillful participation reinforces the fact that maritime security is a collective effort.”
More than 220 U.S. military personnel participated in OE19, including the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis (WMEC 910). Specifically, United States forces conducted training in visit, board, search and seizure, maritime interdiction operations, legal, and surface warfare.
OE19 also featured a senior leadership symposium (SLS), which was attended by several chiefs of navy from participating countries. The SLS covered topics of concern in the Gulf of Guinea as well as open discussion on how to best tackle those challenges as a unified regional force. Many discussions focused on time and speed of action when implementing changes to standard operating procedures, specifically when working with regional partners.
“I think it’s clear that there’s an appetite to increase the speed at which many of these issues are tackled,” said Rear Adm. Nancy Lacore, director of Maritime Partnership Program at U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet and vice commander, U.S. 6th Fleet. “Understandably, these leaders want results.”
Lacore said that many speakers at the SLS echoed her caution.
“There were several presenters who illustrated that this is a long-term project,” said Lacore. “There are several examples of other nations tackling their respective issues, but it took years, even decades, to accomplish. These West African nations are at the beginning of the process, and they want to get the ball rolling. It just takes time.”
Obangame Express is one of three annual U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa facilitated regional exercises and is part of a comprehensive strategy by U.S. 6th Fleet and U.S. Africa Command to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners to address maritime security concerns.
The participating countries were Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).