Senior military intelligence officials from East Africa, Europe, the U.S., Canada, and representatives from the African Union Mission to Somalia met during the annual East Africa Directors of Military Intelligence Conference here April 3-4.
The conference, hosted by the AFRICOM Intelligence Directorate (J2), is aimed at developing military intelligence relationships, addressing common regional challenges, and defining a shared way forward to address the most pressing issues.
“The importance of these conferences is building trust across [partnering nations],” said Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, U.S. Africa Command director of intelligence. “This is a chance to bring together intelligence professionals, often with decades of background and experience, to address the most challenging problems we face today.”
East Africa is a highly complex, dynamic environment in which threats rapidly evolve and change. Intelligence sharing and collaboration between partner nations is important to confronting these threats, she said.
“Our adversaries are adaptive and exploit the seams in intelligence,” Berg added. “Intelligence sharing allows for nuanced integration of intelligence and perspectives across multiple regional stakeholders to provide a much more comprehensive and detailed picture.”
That allows partners to identify and hone in on key areas affecting the region, she continued.
“Critical issues in East Africa—countering violent extremist organization such as al-Shabaab or ISIS-Somalia, interdicting illicit trafficking, tracking foreign fighter movement or ensuring maritime security–all require a comprehensive, integrated intelligence picture,” she said.
This year, 34 representatives from 10 African partner nations attended the conference. For those nations, including Djibouti, regional cooperation is important.
Col. Moustapha Ali Handouleh, military advisor to the Djiboutian presidency, said his main goal was improving information sharing with regional partners.
“We discussed how we are going to eliminate barriers that prevent us from sharing and what we need to establish to easily share,” he added. “We’re expecting [positive] takeaways from these meetings so we can prevent future obstacles from occurring.”
During the conference, guest speakers and attendees discussed intelligence support to peacekeeping operations as well as integrative approaches and mechanics to intelligence sharing.
One of the guest speakers was Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Kari A. Bingen who emphasized the importance of building and strengthening relationships toward a common goal.
“If we are not aligned on the problems we are trying to solve and the outcomes we want to generate, than it makes any potential solutions that much harder to achieve,” she said. “[U.S.] foreign partnerships remain one of our highest priorities and our African partnerships are critically important to our collective security. We share your vision for a secure, stable African continent.”
Throughout the two-day conference, not only did attendees discuss ways to improve intelligence gathering and sharing, but they spent time getting to know each other and the unique problems each of them face while working to form lasting relationships.
“This conference is a critical forum for establishing new and building upon existing relationships as military intelligence professionals,” said Air Force Maj. Thomas A. Smith, AFRICOM J2 regional desk officer and event organizer. “It is also important to bring together the DMIs from across the region to collaborate on security issues that cross domains, state boundaries, and regional affiliations which affect us all.”
The AFRICOM J2 holds similar events for Lake Chad Basin and North and West Africa military intelligence directors.