Maritime forces from East Africa, West Indian Ocean nations, Europe and the United States as well as several international organizations, completed the seventh iteration of the annual multinational maritime exercise Cutlass Express, Feb. 7, 2018.
This year's exercise also included participation from the Somali Maritime Police, marking the first time in nearly 30 years that Somalia has participated in a security event outside of its borders.
The State Minister for the Ministry of Internal Security, Mohamed Moalin Hassan, spoke of the significance of Somalia’s participation during the opening ceremony held in Djibouti on Jan. 31, 2018.
“In a way, our participation here in Cutlass Express is a recognition of how far Somalia has developed over the past few years,” said Hassan. “But this must also be balanced by the equal recognition of how far we are yet to grow before our own rights and security architecture is fully recovered.”
Somalia’s participation in Cutlass Express also signifies its efforts to achieve the shared goals of the exercise, which are to increase capacity to assess and improve combined maritime law enforcement, promote national and regional security and contribute to security force assistance (SFA) efforts throughout the East Africa region.
“Having Somalia be part of this is absolutely phenomenal,” said Rear Adm. Shawn E. Duane, vice commander, U.S. 6th Fleet. “It’s the first time they’ve been able to participate outside their borders in a multinational exercise…it shows a lot of progress and that’s the kind of success that Cutlass Express fosters.”
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Turkish military members in Djibouti provided Somali participants hands-on training for visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) missions in addition to pier-side and at-sea boarding of vessels.
“We have learned these techniques in classes in Somalia, so Cutlass Express gives us the opportunity to learn tactical application from our partners,” said Somali Military Police Capt. Abdulkadir Muktar. “Applying what we have learned will help us improve our goal of maritime security.”
U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Enforcement Specialist First Class Shane Goudswaard, an instructor who assisted with the VBSS drills and at-sea boarding practical exercise, was impressed with the Somali participants.
"The Somalis did great at taking all the information that we exchanged this week and really putting it together and making it all mesh into one final boarding,” said Goudswaard. “I was really impressed with how quick they were able to pick it up and apply it to a practical exercise.”
With Cutlass Express 2018 successfully completed, Somalia has already made plans to return next year so that partnerships and skills can continue to grow.
“I have instructed the Somali regiments to learn and to perform to the best of their abilities in ways so that you might invite them again next year,” said Hassan. “We will look forward to further opportunities where we will be able to work together in the future.”
Cutlass Express is one of three Africa-focused regional Express series exercises sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. The exercise falls under Africa Partnership Station, the umbrella program for the Express series of exercises and other capacity-building initiatives throughout Africa.