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West African military logistics put to the test

Jun 26, 2009

By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa

KAYA, Burkina Faso - When a Senegalese military unit convoyed nearly 3,000 kilometers from coastal West Africa to a multi-national exercise June 2009 in Burkina Faso, a senior U.S. Army Africa logistics expert took note.

Such a long overland journey was difficult at best, considering the Senegalese soldiers accomplished the deployment without any breakdowns or mishaps, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Randy Austin.

"It's pretty amazing they could do that, and then be ready for training upon their arrival. Even their morale was high after that long drive," Austin said. "It shows they are prepared in maintenance, and certainly have some serious determination."

Austin, 52, of Adrian, Michigan, served as an observer during JIGUI 2009, a logistical exercise carried out by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) Standby Force in mid-June in Burkina Faso's Kaya Province, a remote region roughly 60 miles northeast of the country's capital, Ouagadougou.

The ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) is comprised of police, military and civilian organizations that can be called upon during a regional crisis to promote stability through peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance. These on-call forces come from pre-determined units within several partner West African nations.

The ESF brigade is one of five regional standby units that fall under the African Standby Force, an African Union force headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Each brigade is centered on an African regional economic community.

In June 2008, ECOWAS troops tested the capabilities of their task force headquarters during a weeklong JIGUI exercise held in Bamako, Mali. In the Bambara language of Mali, the word "jigui" means "hope."

This year, the peacekeeping exercise focused on logistical capabilities. Nearly 1,300 troops took part, to include observers from several international partner nations. The exercise goal was to challenge members of a logistics battalion in their ability to support the ESF in peace support operations - how they deploy, their ability to communicate, and the interoperability between partnering nations' forces.

First, the various units deployed to Burkina Faso on June 7, some coming from as far west as The Gambia and as far east as Nigeria. The week-long evaluation began June 9, as logistics soldiers worked to sustain ESF units during simulated peacekeeping operations. On June 12, senior ECOWAS leaders attended a training presentation and parade. The exercise ended June 14, when African logisticians oversaw the redeployment of troops and equipment to their home stations.

"What's clear is that the ESF logistics and maintenance soldiers have enhanced their ability to support a task force in the field. Some of the logistical units were working together for the first time," Austin said. "The more they work together, the better prepared they will become, should they be called upon for peacekeeping duties."

U.S. Army Africa, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army component of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

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