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The 13 officers from the Program on Applied Security Studies and visiting faculty from the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies pose for a group photo after their visit to AFRICOM Oct. 29. (U.S. Africa Command photo)

STUTTGART – A delegation of 13 military officers from nine African nations visited the U.S. Africa Command headquarters here Oct. 29. as part of their participation in the Program on Applied Security Studies, the flagship course offered at the George C. Marshall Center for Strategic Studies in Garmisch, Germany.

While at the AFRICOM, they heard from personnel about the command’s history, structure, missions, and how it can assist their nations.

“I have come to learn how AFRICOM works,” said Maj. Deo Akiiki Asiimwe, head of strategic communications, Uganda People’s Defence Force. “I have learned that there are opportunities with AFRICOM that we can utilize as African countries and I have managed to get direct contacts with those who matter in the different areas and I can link up with them after this visit.”

In addition to educating the African officers about AFRICOM, the visit was mutually beneficial, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. U. Ita Udoaka, logistics faculty at the Marshall Center.

“It provided the command an opportunity to hear from the Africans themselves,” he said. “All 13 participants are military officers in their respective countries and they provided poignant insights on counter-terrorism and security sector reform efforts and the effects, both positive and negative, those have on the ground.”

During the visit, the officers heard from Amb. Donald Koran, AFRICOM’s acting deputy commander for civil-military engagement, about one of the command’s major areas of focus, defense institution building.

“Defense institution building is a very high priority for the command,” he said. “It’s beyond weapons training. It’s procurement, it’s personnel management, it’s financial management, and it’s about improving knowledge and learning strategic, sustainable planning. It’s about going back to how an individual is recruited, trained, and resourced to a job.”

All of these things, he said, are part of defense institution building and part of the command’s support to African partner nations.
 
“Defense institution building is to do things that allow your military to sustain knowledge that can allow for long term success,” Koran said. “Our long term goal is for you to need us less and less.”

Asiimwe agrees that defense institution building has a lot of benefits since it’s not always possible to have American ‘boots on the ground.’

“I appreciate the idea that what we need is developing capabilities of African countries and capabilities of African militaries,” he said. “Giving capacity to African countries, to African soldiers, to African leaders is very important and I’m so happy that is a main focus of AFRICOM.”

The African officers are part of a larger PASS class which includes more than 100 participants representing 47 countries from around the world. During the seven-week program, participants analyze the contemporary security environment, including current and emerging threats such as terrorism and transnational organized crime, and strategies to mitigate these challenges, said Dr. Carolyn Haggis, deputy course director at the Marshall Center’s College of International and Security Studies.

“I took a course during the PASS program on transnational organized crime,” said Nigerian Maj. Ismaila Abdullahi, company commander, presidential brigade, Guards Military Police. “Nigeria happens to be impacted by trafficking of narcotics so if I can learn a few things about that, I can go back to my country and say, based on what I’ve learned, ‘I think we can solve this issue in a particular way.’”

The PASS program last visited AFRICOM in 2013 and it’s something that Haggis hopes can become a routine part of the program since the topics covered during the course and the visit to AFRICOM fit so well together, she said.

“This visit afforded participants the change to dialogue with AFRICOM staff about ongoing security challenges in Africa and how well international support and assistance to African nations, including from AFRICOM is working,” she said. “The visit also helped educate PASS participants about the many ways AFRICOM can, and does, assist their nations.”

Sometimes this assistance isn’t always obvious.

“I have been told that two of the public information officer trainings I underwent while I was with the African Union were supported by AFRICOM,” said Asiimwe. “So I can say I have not worked directly with AFRICOM but I have already benefitted from the command and I hope to benefit more.”

Haggis said she hopes the visit provided an insight into AFRICOM and it’s something the officers can take back with them.

“Before coming, I’ve only read what AFRICOM does on the Internet so coming here and getting the briefings is a worthwhile experience and I can’t get that anywhere else,” Abdullahi said.