LILONGWE, MALAWI —
The U.S. Army is training southern African soldiers involved in peacekeeping missions and disaster relief operations.
Nearly 200 military personnel from seven countries are taking part in the Southern Accord — an annual two-week training that kicked off Tuesday in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe.
Brigadier General Jon Jensen, deputy commanding officer for U.S. Army Africa, told reporters in Lilongwe that for the first time, this year's training includes how to effectively respond to natural disasters.
Brigadier General Jon Jensen, deputy commanding officer for U.S. Army Africa, speaks during the opening of military training exercise in Lilongwe, Malawi, Aug. 2, 2016. (L. Masina/VOA)
"We have brought some U.S. military personnel that have extensive experience in disaster response, [situations such as] hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding to help look at all contingencies and possibilities of response here in Malawi," he said.
Malawi has for the past two years experienced severe flooding. Last year, nearly 200 people were killed, and thousands of hectares of crops were washed away.
The United States has gradually increased military training and assistance for African governments as part of efforts to keep the continent stable.
The Southern Accord training typically focuses on peacekeeping and relief operations.
Malawi currently has about 850 troops deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission there. The U.N. troops are sometimes called upon to battle militias or rebel groups in Congo's eastern provinces.
"We are not doing just traditional peacekeeping, we are actually doing the fighting,” said Lieutenant General Griffin Supuni, chief of Malawi's army. “And to fight in terrain like the DRC, to effectively operate in the DRC, you don't just wake up one day, take your uniform and rifle and you march in the jungles of DRC. You have to train."
This year's field training will include shooting exercises and parachuting.