Djibouti Navy Hosts Exercise Cutlass Express, East African Maritime Interdiction Exercise

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (Nov 7,2012) - Ugandan marines board the Djiboutian patrol boat La Dague as part of an anti-piracy scenario during Cutlass Express 2012-2 Nov. 7, 2012 in the Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti. CE12 is a U.S. Africa Command-sponsored exercise focusing on addressing common maritime issues through information sharing and coordinated operations among East African navies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sergeant Donald R. Allen) CJTF-HOA Photo CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (Nov 7,2012) - Ugandan marines board the Djiboutian patrol boat La Dague as part of an anti-piracy scenario during Cutlass Express 2012-2 Nov. 7, 2012 in the Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti. CE12 is a U.S. Africa Command-sponsored exercise focusing on addressing common maritime issues through information sharing and coordinated operations among East African navies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sergeant Donald R. Allen)

The Djibouti Navy welcomed seven other East Africa countries' naval forces to Djibouti City, Djibouti, to participate in the second annual Cutlass Express exercise held Nov. 1 to 8, 2012.

"We are very happy to see these people coming to Djibouti," said Djibouti Navy Lieutenant Ali Elmi, an operations officer. "We're very glad to host this exercise. It is a good opportunity to improve our capacity and capabilities."

The maritime interdiction exercise included sailors from Djibouti, Burundi, Comoros, Kenya, Seychelles, Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda. Workshops were also held in Mauritius and Tanzania with their respective naval forces.

"By hosting this portion of the exercise in Djibouti… the Djibouti Navy is proving the concept that East Africa countries can work together," said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Cmdr. Dustin Smiley, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa liaison officer to the Djibouti Navy. "Just as the commander of the Djibouti Navy said, 'if people have the will then you have the capability.' All of these countries are proving that they have the will and capability. They wanted to participate, so it happened."

The exercise focused on combating illegal fishing, illicit trafficking and piracy.

"These are threats that exist in this region," Smiley said. "As these countries join as one cooperative effort in East Africa, they're able to minimize the possibilities of organizations that look to disrupt the stability within this region.

"Counter piracy and trafficking have direct human impact," Smiley added. "They are definite issues that these countries - that were part of the planning - have identified as important to East African nations."

To improve information sharing and for the purpose of the exercise, an East Africa Standby Force boarding team - made of naval forces from Djibouti, Burundi, Comoros, Kenya, Seychelles, Sudan and Rwanda - was created. Their mission was simple.

"When you're doing maritime interdiction operations essentially you would suspect or detect a threat out at sea," Smiley said. "If the criminals or pirates really are what you suspect, you have to be able to stop them … [by] getting people aboard that vessel. What's impressive is that these countries went from never having met each other to performing together and working together."

Throughout the exercise the Djibouti Navy's largest sea-going vessel, La Dague - French for "the dagger" - became the enemy force's simulated target vessel. The enemy was played by U.S. sailors and Royal Netherlands Marines who also worked together with the East African participants prior to the exercise.

"We gave them some guidance. We gave them the basics," said Martin, a Royal Netherlands Marines maritime special operations forces trainer. "The first week we provided some basic elements of maritime interdiction. From then on we gave them some scenarios like basic combat skills."

Participants from the U.S. Navy's Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command also assisted with the information sharing systems in the operations center. Within this center, Djibouti Navy Sailors maintained communications with their boarding teams as well as operations centers in Tanzania and Mauritius.

For the future, Elmi's hope is for the exercise to evolve.

"We improve [this exercise] year after year," Elmi said. "This year is better than last year's. We hope next year's will be better still. We say thank you to all who helped and came to participate in this exercise. It allows us to know each other. We conducted several trainings together with the U.S. and our relationship becomes stronger day after day, year after year."

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