Bolstering East African Nations’ Capacity To Counter Terrorism

We recently had the privilege to visit Nairobi, Kenya, to prepare for the third annual East Africa Joint Operations (EAJO) Capstone exercise. Funded by the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism, this training exercise highlighted the U.S. Department of State’s role in building the capacity of partner nations to address terrorist threats. Held August 12 through 15, EAJO convened Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Ugandan security forces and first responder organizations to examine capacity building measures as well as ways to increase regional cooperation to respond to evolving threats by al-Shabaab terrorists and other violent extremists. The exercise included simulations and training with East African partner organizations.

The State Department hosted the inaugural EAJO capstone exercise in Nairobi in September 2014 on the one-year anniversary of the al-Shabaab attack on the Westgate Mall, which claimed the lives of more than 70 victims and injured hundreds. The tragic events at Westgate prompted the State Department to develop this first capstone exercise, involving 108 participants from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Participants engaged in weeks of intensive training, including incident command and control, operational planning, first responder procedures, medical stabilization, and improvised explosive device countermeasures. Trainees then applied and tested these vital skills in a live, 24-hour exercise simulating an urban mass-casualty attack. 

This year’s EAJO aimed to further advance our counterterrorism partnerships in East Africa. In keeping with Secretary Kerry’s priority to promote greater coordination and information sharing between civilian law enforcement, communities, as well as military forces in the region, the exercise included senior leadership from each of these sectors in the region. 

Clad in a bomb suit, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist lays a disruptor at the base of a simulated car bomb. [Photo courtesy of Jim Baker, Cytel Group]

In addition, EAJO provided an essential opportunity to exchange information between civilian and military colleagues. Regional military leadership observed as their civilian law enforcement counterparts participated in this year’s simulation focused on training participants to counter-improvised explosive devices, improve tactical command and interagency communications, bolster the efforts of medical first responders, and enhance joint exercise planning. The inclusion of military personnel facilitated increased information exchanges about the specific roles and responsibilities of both civilian and military actors , capabilities of specialists within each force, and best practices in interagency cooperation.

This year’s capstone exercise included participants who had personally been involved in the response to terrorist attacks in the region. These individuals brought their first-hand experience to the scenarios, setting a palpable tone of seriousness and dedication to the exercise. Through this kind of training activity, the U.S. Department of State continues to assist our global partners in developing law enforcement capabilities to better prepare for, respond to, and disrupt terrorist attacks. 

President Obama has emphasized repeatedly that we need to bring strong, capable, and diverse partners to the forefront and enlist their help in collectively prioritizing our global counterterrorism efforts. Exercises like the East Africa Joint Operations Capstone Exercise help us protect America’s people and interests by strengthening bilateral and regional capabilities while promoting holistic, rule of law-based approaches to counter terrorism.

About the Authors: Meg Lavery serves as the East African Program Manager in the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism and Maureen Farrell serves as a Criminal Justice Counterterrorism Programs Coordinator in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:

A crisis response team composed of Kenyan and Ugandan police practice their approach in a simulated hostage situation. [Photo courtesy of Jim Baker, Cytel Group]
Posted by Meg Lavery and Maureen Farrell
August 17, 2016

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