JOHANNESBURG – For 11 years, land forces chiefs in Africa and the U.S. Army have met annually at the African Land Forces Summit, a four-day event where the group discusses security threats on the continent and how these joint forces can tackle the threats together.
Since then, the security landscape has changed significantly, and so have the ways that the militaries have tried to keep up with threats, said Major General Andrew M. Rohling, commander of the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force in Africa.
The theme of the first summit, held in Washington in 2010, was “Building and Maintaining Strong Relationships.” This year, the event went virtual and was held in one day, Wednesday, with more than 40 countries represented.
“Maintaining Security in a Degraded Environment” was this year’s theme, Rohling told journalists via teleconference from Vicenza, Italy. “We discussed military pandemic responses, the effects of the pandemic on operations and its effects on training and exercises,” he said.
Rohling said he was looking forward to “trading with our counterparts through exercises in security cooperation activities in the near future.”
“In fact in June, the United States Army Southern European Task Force, Africa … will work alongside our partners in North Africa during African Lion 21, an exercise we had to cancel last year, to be held in Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia. This will increase our interoperability with our counterparts and strengthen relationships,” Rohling said.
The inability to get actual boots on the ground because of pandemic restrictions has transformed the way these important partnerships work, Rohling said, but not necessarily for the worse.
“One of the things that came out as a good lesson that we learned of the pandemic is how to conduct virtual activities,” he said. “Virtual training is one, virtual engagements for sure, and virtual collaboration being another. … What we’ve been able to do over the course of the pandemic is decentralize that activity and to a point where what used to be side-by-side mission planning is now being done on collaborative tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.”
And that is where he left it for this year, in the virtual realm, as the African continent and the world try to regain stability after an extremely destabilizing year.