Forty African land force chiefs represented their countries at the sixth African Land Forces Summit (ALFS) in Abuja, Nigeria, between 16 and 19 April. Co-hosted by the Nigerian Army and U.S. Army Africa, ALFS is a weeklong seminar designed to bring together land force chiefs from nations across Africa to discuss and develop cooperative solutions and improve transregional security and stability.
“It’s been fascinating working with these professionals (as they) open up about their ideas for combatting terrorism, violent extremist organizations, building security and stability across the continent,” said Lt. Gen. T.Y. Buratai, the Nigerian chief of army staff and the summit’s Nigerian host. “I am confident that this summit has generated new partnerships and relationships that will help us reach our long-term objective for a more prosperous Africa.”
All four days were packed with activities designed to prompt conversation between the participating countries’ influential leaders. Monday, April 16, opened up with a ceremony welcoming the chiefs and encouraging each one to speak up about their host country’s challenges and the lessons they’ve learned combating violent extremist organizations. In the afternoon, the delegates broke into smaller groups for a more intimate and non-attributable discussion.
“Some say the most productive part of ALFS happens during the coffee breaks,” said Lt. Col. Hector Montemayor, the ALFS lead planner for U.S. Army Africa. “The breaks give them a chance to talk frankly and develop closer relationships. That’s what ALFS is about; it’s about introducing these powerful leaders now, so they can work together as a team to solve critical issues facing the continent.”
“You don’t want to be exchanging business cards at the scene of a crisis,” said Brig. Gen. William Prendergast, the U.S. Army Africa deputy commanding general. “If you wait to develop partnerships at the scene, you’re too late. If these leaders need to quickly fly in and support a humanitarian crisis or contingency operation, it’ll be easier if they are shaking hands with a familiar face.”
On the second day, the whole summit loaded into buses and moved an hour south to the Nigerian Army’s 176th Guards Battalion’s headquarters to witness a military demonstration of the Nigerian Army’s capabilities.
The demonstration featured a raid and hostage-rescue scenario. The Nigerian Army brought in helicopters, pyrotechnics, controlled explosions, motorcycles, fast-repelling special forces and smoke grenades. “The demonstration was spectacular, an awesome display of the Nigerian Army’s military might,” Montemayor said.
On the following day, delegates spent the morning focusing in on the different elements it takes combat violent extremists and boost regional security. The chiefs discussed logistics, civilians on the battlefield, and why incorporating human rights into a national defense plan is critical for long-term success.
In the afternoon, the delegates moved to the Nigerian Army Resource Center, a military museum full of old military relics and stories of past battles fought by the Nigerian Army. Later, they moved to Abuja’s international conference center to get a taste of Nigerian culture with a showcase of traditional Nigerian dancing and cuisine.
“What a tremendous week it has been here in Abuja, Nigeria,” said U.S. Army Africa Acting Commanding General Brig. Gen. Eugene LeBoeuf. “Our wonderful co-hosts, Nigeria, provided an outstanding venue and hospitality in their beautiful nation.”
The concluding day of the summit gave the chiefs a final opportunity to convey their challenges and to set an agenda for future dialog, Africom said. In the afternoon, the Nigerian TV stations broadcast the closing ceremony live across the country. Buratai and LeBoeuf wrapped up the summit by talking to international journalists who dialed in to the South African Regional Media Hub.
“The African Land Summit emphasizes community strength,” Buratai said during the media hubs. “We need to unify all our forces on the ground, as well as all the necessary governments, to be put in place to ensure that we get the right political support and we get the right direction, including the soft-power approach, which includes deradicalization.” Botswana is scheduled to host the African Land Forces Summit in 2019.