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US Military Renews Efforts on Both Sides of Africa

The U.S. Navy has begun its annual deployment to West Africa, working with countries in the region to improve security. At the same time, the U.S.-led international task force in Djibouti, in East Africa, got a new commander with a similar mission.

A U.S. Navy ship arrived in Dakar this week, starting the second Africa Partnership Station mission.

"Africa Partnership Station is a mission on helping to develop maritime security and safety capacity and capability in West and Central Africa," says Captain Cindy Thebaud, mission commander, speaking from the waters off Dakar, Senegal.

Thebaud says her crew will focus on building the professionalism of the navies of West African countries, helping them develop systems to keep track of what is happening in their waters and respond to emergencies, and working on maritime infrastructure projects. The captain says the project will include training on boat maintenance, search and rescue skills, port security, weather forecasting, leadership development and how to monitor fishing grounds.

And she says there is also a broader strategy at work.

"The strategic message is that maritime security is a partnership endeavor. All of the countries that we engage with talk about the fact that the challenges are similar throughout the region, and they're challenges that no one country can surmount and overcome alone," Thebaud said. "The Partnership -- in working together collaboratively to figure out how to best employ the resources that are available, how to develop low-cost resources that can be brought to bear in helping to overcome some of the challenges in the region -- is a collaborative effort. And it takes a multi-national partnership."

Captain Thebaud's ship, the USS Nashville, is also hosting 27 African officers from 10 countries for extended training.

This year's Africa Partnership Mission will visit Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon during the coming weeks. But the captain says U.S. military exchanges in the region continue throughout the year.

Captain Thebaud is one of a relatively small number of women at her fairly senior rank in operational roles in the U.S. Navy. And she says it is still relatively unusual to find a woman in charge of such a mission.

"It is unusual only because the number of women we have in the (Navy) surface (Warfare) community at the captain level is still fairly small," she says. "That is one of the questions I asked of people who had been in this job previously, actually. And they said, 'you should not expect gender to be an issue.' And to be quite honest, I have not found it to be."

While Captain Thebaud is starting her mission in West Africa, another U.S. Navy officer took command Thursday across the continent at the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa in Djibouti. In an interview during his pre-deployment training, Admiral Anthony Kurta told VOA his mission is similar to the West Africa effort.

"In all that we do, the goal is to enhance the ability of each one of our African partners to provide for their own security," Kurta says.

Admiral Kurta says several months of training for his new command presented him, and his 55-member staff, with a variety of scenarios designed to prepare them to react to potential events in East Africa.

"The scenarios take us into all of the countries in the region and the type of situations that are thrown at us are those that the staffs have faced over the years," he said. "They're security capacity building events; there's response to humanitarian assistance and disasters; there's response to deteriorating security conditions in certain countries, and the possible evacuation of American citizens in other countries."

The Djibouti base also supports some U.S. military activities related to the war on terror, but Admiral Kurta says the focus is on preventing conflicts and helping African militaries prepare to deal with their own problems when they arise.