Friday, September 22, 2023
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US announces $80 million military equipment gift to Zambia

The United States has committed to gift Zambia approximately $80 million in enhanced military equipment. This is a “grant to Zambia that will supply four Bell 412EP helicopters to the Zambia Air Force with three years of service, parts, and training for the helicopters.”

The donation was announced on the first day of the 2023 Africa Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference (2023 ASEL), by US Marine Corps General, Michael Langley, who serves as the 6th Commander of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). “The United States Government will be providing four new high-performance Bell helicopters to the Zambian Defence Force. These helicopters will enable Zambia to continue to support UN peacekeeping missions throughout Africa and strengthen Zambia’s commitment to regional security,” said Mr Langley at the meeting co-hosted by Zambia and AFRICOM from 10-13 September.

In a special briefing held on Tuesday, Mr Langley emphasized that he was honoured to be “in the Republic of Zambia for the fifth AFRICOM Senior Enlisted Leader Conference, and the first one held on the continent of Africa.” AFRICOM’s Public Affairs Office characterized him as “prioritizing face-to-face engagement to build our relationships and support partners in Africa.” He was a key speaker at the 2023 ASEL Conference whose theme was “Empower, Delegate, Trust.”

Reflecting on the importance of this year’s conference theme, Mr Langley said “If you look at officers that lead militaries, we use our right-hand advisors, that senior military, that senior enlisted. Empower, delegate, and trust is what we will continuously [do]—these are the best practices that we extend to our staff noncommissioned officers.”

He elaborated saying, “I want to reiterate that a strong empowered noncommissioned officer corps is truly the backbone of any military. I learned this firsthand growing up, as my father proudly served as a senior enlisted leader in the United States Air Force. I learned from him and then learned from every noncommissioned officer that I work with.”

He said the conference is a place “where we listen to each other, we share best practices, and we continue to strengthen our relationships and mutual understanding.”

Discussions were held on the challenges both the US and African countries need to overcome. The conference also explored “our opportunities,” said AFRICOM Command Senior Enlisted Leader Sergeant Major, Michael Woods, who accompanied Mr Langley on his visit to Lusaka.

“That includes everything from crisis response, rule of law, protecting natural resources, and ways to mitigate the many factors that cause instability,” added Mr Woods.

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He outlined the work of AFRICOM and the US and what they have achieved as a direct result of dialogue with African states. He said AFRICOM’s “working with senior non-commissioned officers from African militaries. Now, professional and empowered enlisted leaders strengthen our partner-led, US-supported operations. Now, this conference is another example of our efforts to coordinate and cooperate with our African partners.”

More than 125 defence leaders took part from 27 African countries in the military-to-military engagement in which AFRICOM Public Affairs Office placed special emphasis on Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, and Senegal. At the meeting’s first launch in 2017, the conference had kicked off with 37 per cent participation of African countries. This was followed in subsequent years by an increase in growth, in terms of the size of African country participation – more and more countries made the decision to attend the AFRICOM conference, year after year. This further increased their engagement to the extent that, even the planned meeting agendas, reflected explicit agenda items which had been specifically requested by African countries.

At the 2023 ASEL defence meeting, “We’ve had large group discussions and have also done more focused breakout sessions where smaller groups can have in-depth discussions about what works, what doesn’t work, and how we can better support each other to train the next generation of competent and committed enlisted leaders,” Mr Woods said.

General Langley with Zambia Defence Minister (a)
General Langley with Zambia Defence Minister 

AFRICOM’s Commander Langley said that he called for transparency at the conference.

“I’ll tell you that this year, 27 African partners participated in the conference, which is 50 per cent of the 53 countries in our area of operations. We built our agenda based on feedback and the request of our [African] partner countries. And we aim to be responsive partners, especially focused on course development for the new sergeant major academies and non-commissioned officer professional military development institutions and programmes,” said Mr Woods emphasizing that they have the full support of Mr Langley. “He allowed us to plan and execute these conferences. He said they heard Langley “loud and clear” that “Bottom line is enlisted leadership is a game changer, and when General Langley says it, people hear him.”

Additionally, Mr Langley said, “I’ll just add to that and sum it up with the three words which just happen to be the theme of your conference. When I look at the staff NCO or the NCO corps being the backbone of our service militaries, it’s about leaders, officer leadership empowering staff NCOs, delegating tasks to staff NCOs and expectations, and extending trust. So that sums everything up, so you guys picked the right theme this year to share our ideas and best practices with our African partners.”

In summarizing a general overview of AFRICOM’s achievements, Mr Langley said “At the 10,000-foot view, yes, there’s a number of activities that we do, but it’s along the theme as I stipulated. Our African partners, they have their prescribed national goals. There are 53 countries with my AOR and all of them have different goals and sets, but those that we extend out to and work in partnership to address their challenges and also be able to leverage opportunities. There are a number of things that are in sync with our national security interests from the United States. So, building strategic partnerships with our African partners is also at the forefront of our planning and working together and building partnership and capacity, and is institutionalized in their militaries, and then also in the realm of deterring threats. A number of opportunities that build capacity, whether it be through exercises, joint combined exchange training, or security force assistance, are a number of ways that we achieve these activities of working collectively together to reach our common goals based on our common values.”

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At the 2023 Africa Senior Enlisted Conference, “We’ve had really deep robust conversations, discussions about hard leadership choices and the importance of ethical leadership, mentoring and delegation strategies that make better military leaders. This is just one of the military conferences that focused on specific topics, like the maritime domain, land forces, air forces, and intelligence sharing. Each conference increases our mutual understanding and improves our relationships,” said Mr Woods.

On “long-lasting relationships, I want to highlight that we also have members from the US State Partnership Program, who are paired with African nations that participated in this conference and often attend our other military conferences. These state partnerships in Africa are as old, or older than, USAFRICOM,” elaborated Mr Woods. He cited one example: “The Michigan State Partnership Program has partnered with the Liberian armed forces” to enhance and help develop various military skills.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based White House Correspondent, and media commentator with expertise in US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe

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