On May 17 2013, Malawi and the United States (USA) concluded the Epic Guardian 13, which is a series of joint multi-sectoral training exercises aimed at strengthening security cooperation, emergency and crisis readiness. More than 700 military and law enforcement personnel from the two countries participated in the three-week exercise. In this interview with our News Analyst BRIGHT SONANI, US Ambassador Jeanine Jackson explains the details of the training exercises.
Q: What was the training exercise about?
A: Epic Guardian 13 is a type of exercise that is conducted every year somewhere in the world. It is essentially a counter terrorism exercise that tests the same skills at many other places. Essentially, it is a crisis management exercise. It was the first time that this type of exercise was held in Africa and it was actually the largest in Africa this year.
The purpose of these exercises is to strengthen the region, strengthen security forces in a country, in the region and on the continent. Sadc benefited because Malawi in general is now better ready to respond to any crisis. By the way, Malawi did invite some of its neighbours to observe part of the exercise training—the countries included Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. That’s the Sadc part. The African Union (AU) as you know also has the Peace and Security Commission and is very involved in peace operations and conflict mitigation throughout Africa.
Q: Why was Malawi chosen for the exercise?
Malawi was chosen for a number of reasons. First of all, president Barak Obama’s strategy for sub-Saharan Africa includes a peace and security component and strengthening democratic institutions component and based on the USA view that Malawi is a very good partner. Malawi was also chosen because we have a long standing history of security cooperation with the Malawi Defence Forces
MDF) as well as the Malawi Police Service (MPS). We knew that Malawi was looking for additional training in tactical skills and crisis preparedness. So, that fitted nicely as well. In addition to all those general reasons, we agreed more than a year ago that Malawi will be the location.
Q: This is some sort of military training, but we saw other sectors such as the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) being involved; why?
The training was meant to train and exercise for crisis response. No government can tackle a crisis and have just the military or the police be the response. We, in the USA government, have a slogan we call “the whole government approach” and we use that in our daily actions. We want to make sure that every agency, every component of the government is working together. It doesn’t matter whether it is a crisis response or a programme or a budget or just about anything, is a whole of government approach. So, this was meant to help the USA Government and Government of Malawi to have the training exercise as a whole of government. In fact, about 12 to 14 Malawian agencies or organisations participated with about 50 people at the crisis emergency task force which was some sort of the heart or the control of the exercise. So, it was meant to be that way.
Q: How different is this training from the African Contingency Training Assistance (Acota)?
First of all, Acota is a training programme while this was training and exercising. That is the difference. Acota is specifically for peacekeeping. This training exercise had two preliminary phases and then three phases within the exercise. The first part of the preliminary phase was just planning and it took over a year to plan the exercise. That involved Government of Malawi; primarily the MDF and the USA Government, primarily the Military Planning; who would participate, what the scenario would be, what would be the components of the exercise, how other people would be supported, which components of the Government of Malawi and of the Government of the USA would be participating. So, this involved a lot of people collaborating to bring about the exercise of this complexity and length which was about 17 days.
In fact, at the beginning of the exercise, there was a significant amount of training and we really invested heavily in the training. Among other things we did police investigation skills, immigration, there was a lot of tactical and maritime skills with the Army and the MDF Marines. There was also training for the crisis and emergency task force which was out at the Air Wing. They were trained in how to organise themselves, how to respond, how to conduct certain things, and how to collaborate to savour a crisis. That was the preliminary training.
We also trained government spokespersons and did some media training as well; media training to report on military activities. We also brought in a medical
team for the exercise, but there were here as a contingency that probably something happened that they will be needed, but they did not just wait for something to happen, they went to Kamuzu Central Hospital where they did about 40 surgeries and also did some training, that was part of the training exercise as well.
Then we at the Embassy did crisis management too. So those were the two preliminary phases which you could see were actually longer than the seventeen days.
Q: How much has the whole training exercise cost from the beginning up to its conclusion?
That will be a very difficult figure to come up with because it was a very, very complex operation with lots of different pieces. The exercise itself was in three phases and this really applied to just about anything that really happens.
The first part applied to the scenario introduced to a series of crises. So the USA Embassy, the visiting USA Government military organizations and the Government of Malawi basically. The first thing was to establish a task force on operations. We did that and the Government of Malawi established what we call the crisis in emergency task force and we had an operation centre at the embassy as did the Government of Malawi, the African Command (Africom) headquarters and Washington.
This was really the first step in responding to a crisis.
Q: Since the training kicked off there has been speculation that the exercise is to do with the ongoing border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania over Lake Malawi, what do you say on that?
Planning for this exercise started well over a year ago and at that time there was no boundary dispute. The boundary dispute was raised within the last 12 months. The planning of the exercise was well ahead of that, so there is no relationship to the lake dispute. One of the things, we know is that Malawi needs capacity to deal with illegal immigration, whether is on the water border or the land border, cross border trafficking in persons and perhaps trafficking in other things. This exercise was also to address some of Malawi’s pressing security needs.