LT DIXON: Welcome to On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theatres. In this episode, we will discuss what the U.S. Navy is doing in and around Africa, exercises with our African partners, and the great power competition that is unfolding on the continent.
LT DIXON: Admiral Foggo, great to see you again and thank you for joining us.
ADM FOGGO: Hey, Lieutenant Dixon, it's good to see you again, and thanks again for having me back on “On the Horizon.”
LT DIXON: And Admiral, it’s great to have you. I know you just got back from Africa. How was your trip?
ADM FOGGO: I had a wonderful trip to Africa which started, off the coast of Africa in Cabo Verde, a place I'd never been before. And then I proceeded to Lagos, Nigeria, where I visited, for this year's Obangame Express 2019, and the final closing ceremony.
I had an opportunity to engage with leaders from all over West Africa, and had the pleasure of speaking at the closing ceremonies for Obangame Express '19, which was hosted by my good friend from the Nigerian Navy, Nigeria's Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas.
Overall, I think the trip was a great success. The discussions were productive on military and political affairs in the region and how to improve security and stability in the Gulf of Guinea, and throughout the rest of West Africa's maritime domain.
LT DIXON: And Admiral, it’s great to hear about your trip to Africa. This morning, I want to step back a few months. We ended our January podcast with your goals for the first of the express series of exercises in 2019, Cutlass Express. Where was the exercise held and who was all involved in this exercise?
ADM FOGGO: Yes. So, we kicked off the year in January with Cutlass Express 2019. And that was a multi-national exercise carried out by maritime forces from East Africa, the West Indian Ocean nations, Europe, and the United States.
It brought together a number of maritime forces and several international organizations to improve maritime law enforcement capacity, and promote national and regional security in East Africa.
I think it was a huge success in terms of a massive maritime domain area that stretched along the East African coast, from Djibouti to the north, to Mozambique in the south, and going as far east as the island nation of the Seychelles.
Participating nations in Cutlass Express 2019 included Canada, the Comoros, Djibouti, France, India, and it was the first time that the Indians sent an Indian navy frigate.
And they're a very important navy and I appreciate the Indian CNO for indulging me on that.
We had Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Portugal, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, the Netherlands, and the United States.
LT DIXON: That is an impressive collection of partners working together toward the same goal. Can you talk about what was accomplished during the exercise?
ADM FOGGO: During the exercise, countries tested their ability to properly identify and respond to piracy, illegal trafficking, and illegal fishing. I think the countries participating were able to go through maritime operation centers, or MOCs, and share information.
Participating nations also conducted search and rescue scenarios, so that was important, to train their forces.
My conclusion of Cutlass Express is that it brought several firsts to the table. Like I said, India's participation in the exercise, and the implementation of the Indian Ocean Regional Information Sharing System, IORIS.
It's a web-based platform through the European Union Critical Maritime Routes in the Indian Ocean, CRIMARIO project. And we had a chance to test that and introduce that to the rest of the players.
The IORIS platform enables member countries to set up a collaborative working environment so that we can improve the awareness of what's happening in the maritime domain and coordinate operations when incidents happen at sea.
The platform's important because it addresses maritime security challenges such as piracy, drugs, arms trafficking, illegal fishing, and environmental damage, all the kinds of things that we're seeing on the east coast or west coast of Africa happen every day.
Like I said in my January podcast there, Lieutenant Dixon, exercises like Cutlass Express do a couple things. They increase Africa's maritime security and law enforcement ability, they increase interoperability between African nations and their partners and allies, like the United States and like the Europeans.
They also demonstrate the U.S.'s commitment to bring countries and organizations together to help African nations find solutions to African problems.
And it shows that we in the United States are really a partner of choice in Africa, because we work to help strengthen the defensive capabilities of African states in the maritime domain, and address the security threats that concern them more effectively.
And, you know what? We don't ask for anything in return, but their friendship.
LT DIXON: Well, Sir, it’s good to hear that Cutlass Express was a great success and helped strengthen our relationship with our African Partners. To our audience, I recommend you check out our January podcast, if you haven't done so already. Lots of great info about Cutlass Express and other initiatives that U.S. Naval Forces Africa is involved in.
And, Admiral, moving to our second African exercise, Obangame Express, which you just came back from, what can you tell us about it? And was there anything different about this year's exercise?
ADM FOGGO: Yeah. The second exercise of this year, and they're happening fast and furious, and we're already on our third. But the second exercise was Obangame Express.
That one takes place in West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, which is an important area with a lot of maritime traffic, particularly merchant traffic in terms of minerals and petroleum distribution networks.
This year, the Nigerian Navy hosted the exercise, the second time in five years for them. Obangame Express is on its ninth iteration. And based on the results this year, I think the tenth is going to be fantastic, because the ninth was the biggest and the best we've ever had. Let me give you some statistics.
There were 33 nations from Africa, Europe, and North America that participated. We had 2,500 personnel on the land, in the littoral, or at sea. Ninety-five ships of varying sizes, so some big, like the Nigerian Coast Guard Cutter Thunder, some small, like RHIBS in various Coast Guards of the Gulf of Guinea maritime nations.
Twelve aircraft conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and sharing a common operating picture.
And we executed 85 serials. These are small exercises within the broader exercise, that build in a crawl-walk-run kind of scenario, where we start slow and move up to graduate-level exercises. And I'll tell you about some of those graduate-level exercises in a minute.
We connected the five zones of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct utilizing seven national military coordination centers but, more importantly, 19 maritime operations centers. And I don't think I've ever seen that many involved in Obangame Express.
I think we've had great success since we started Obangame in 2010, and the Africa Partnership Station back in 2010. And if you compare the difference between then and now, in 2019, Lieutenant Dixon, it's like night and day.
LT DIXON: Now, Sir, speaking of 2010, can you take us back there in more detail so that our audience understands the great strides our African partners have made over the years?
ADM FOGGO: Back in 2010, there were not a lot of ships, there were not a lot of facilities, there were not a lot of Maritime Operations Centers. There were in the fledgling stages. And we didn't have the Yaoundé Code of Conduct either. We suffered then, in 2010, something that we all agreed upon. It was sea blindness, where globally 90 percent of our commerce passes.
Today, in 2019, West African nations have a series of facilities and radar to enable them to coordinate and collaborate across maritime borders, and work to combat this sea blindness.
Like I said, we have Yaounde Code of Conduct, which means that when a friendly vessel gets underway to challenge illegal activity in the maritime domain, that friendly vessel has a network, a network of friends. It's able to share information with other countries having contiguous maritime borders.
Take, for example, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, and Ghana. They can all compare data by utilizing their Maritime Operations Centers to help each other out in combatting illicit activity in their territorial waters, or their economic zones.
So, there's still a little bit of fog out there. But it's no longer blindness. We've made a lot of progress. And as the countries of the Gulf of Guinea get more practice working together, they get better at collaboration and the less severe this fog bank would come.
We'll get a chance to practice again next year. And as impressive as the stats I just listed above are, the exercise had some other significant firsts.
LT DIXON: And, Sir, on that note, what were some of those significant firsts?
ADM FOGGO: For example, this was the first year that a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis, participated in the exercise. And it marked the first time since 2012 that we've had a Coast Guard cutter in the Gulf of Guinea.
My hat's off to Admiral Schultz, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, for persevering in this and getting us the Thetis. And it was really a force multiplier for us in Obangame Express '19.
This is the first time that the Cote d'Ivoirian Navy brought drug-detecting dogs to the exercise. And, it's interesting, because they exercised them during a search of simulated, suspected narcotics on a vessel that was trafficking and smuggling narcotics.
The dogs ultimately found the contraband that was hidden on board. And so, in my humble opinion, as I said at the closing ceremonies, they were the penultimate sea dogs of Obangame Express 2019.
Finally, members of the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service, these are the commandos, the SEALs of the Nigerian Navy, the guys that took back the motor vessel Maximus that I talked about in previous podcasts. They conducted a vertical assault on a warship, simulating a hostile vessel.
So, the team did what is most difficult in boarding procedures, a hostile vessel boarding, search and seizure from the air. And they got on board, it was a compliant vessel and they secured it.
The Nigerian Navy also opened up its maritime domain awareness training center. This will be a training hub for West African navies, so it's the first year for that training center.
The center will increase the frequency at which training can occur, cut down of costs to African maritime nations, so very generous on the part of the Nigerians.
And they won't necessarily have to send their personnel to Europe or North America for training. So, that is an African solution to an African problem.
LT DIXON: And Sir, if I could, what were the highlights from Obangame?
ADM FOGGO: It's also important to highlight that Obangame Express is successful because of much of the hard work that takes place during other engagements throughout the year. I'll give you three.
We recently had the Combined Maritime Force Component Commanders' course in Naples, we partnered with AFRICOM. Naval Forces in Africa, under my command, ran the program for a week, and we brought in the Naval War College to do the scenarios and some of the seminars.
I participated in the Gulf of Guinea Conference in Paris. I was invited by Admiral Prazuck. All the African nations came and it gave us an opportunity to talk about maritime security in the gulf and also preps for Obangame Express and the participants, many of the European nations who were there.
Finally, the African naval leaders present at the International Sea Powers Symposium in September of 2018, which was sponsored by CNO John Richardson, was a huge success in bringing those countries together.
We talked about details of planning for this year, Cutlass, Phoenix, and Obangame Express, and also our deployment later this summer of the expeditionary patrol frigate down to the Gulf of Guinea.
Over all I think that Obangame Express in 2019 hit the ball out of the part. And I look forward to the 10th anniversary next year.
LT DIXON: Sir, its sounds like ninth iteration of Obangame was a great success, and before we move on to our next topic, it is my understanding you met someone on the USCGC Thetis during Obangame, can you share with us, this story?
ADM FOGGO: When I went on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, Thetis, I was met by a very enthusiastic group of Coast Guard sailors and chief petty officers and officers in that small contingent that runs that ship.
And one of the people I met as I came across the brow was an ensign named Panashe Isaiah Mutombo. And I looked at Ensign Mutombo and I said, "Hey, where you from, Ensign Mutombo?"
And he said, "New York City, sir."
And I go, "Mutombo. Is that an African name? And where are you originally from?"
And he said, "Well, sir, I'm from Harare, Zimbabwe."
I was like, "No kidding. Hey, tell me your story."
And he goes, "Well, short and sweet, my dad decided that he wanted to move from Zimbabwe to the United States, and see if he could make it there. So, he got up and went to New York City, when I was six years old. And he made enough money to come back and pick up the family and relocated the family to New York City."
So, I was really taken by that. Ensign Mutombo and I had something in common. Like him, I'm not a native-born American. I'm a naturalized citizen. And we are both living the American dream. And I went to the United States Naval Academy, he went to the United States Coast Guard Academy. Last year, he graduated in May of 2018, and now he's driving the Coast Guard Cutter Thetis all around the Gulf of Guinea.
And I asked him, "Hey, when was the last time you were back to Africa?"
And he goes, "Sir, we left 10 years ago, and this is my first time back." I thought that was really cool. And I took him with me, and we actually did a media interview with Associated Press and their network in Nigeria, and he was able to tell his story.
His story represents a common bond that we share with the people of Africa. And I'm really proud to have met him and I think he has a very bright future in the United States Coast Guard.
LT DIXON: Sir, backing up a little bit, on your way to Obangame, you stopped to meet with civilian and military leaders in Cabo Verde. What was discussed, and what can you expect moving forward in our relationship with Cabo Verde?
ADM FOGGO: Yes, that was a really interesting trip. And General Waldhauser had encouraged me to go to Cabo Verde because that is an island nation that is really punching above its weight class in terms of maritime domain and awareness in maritime security.
The bottom line is Cabo Verde is an archipelago of islands, with a land mass, if you put them all together, the size of the state of Rhode Island. But if you want to cross from Praia, the capital, to the island of Sao Vicente, which is where the Coast Guard Cutter Thetis had visited the week before, it's like driving across the state of Texas on the ocean.
And it's a very unforgiving environment. You're in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, subject to all the effects of weather and sea.
And so, that was not lost on me, in that they have a very small Coast Guard there. And I spent time with Captain Pedro Santana, who joined me in the trip to Lagos for the execution and closing ceremonies of Obangame Express. And Cabo Verde would like our help.
They recently put down a vessel that visited their ports that had some suspected illegal activities reported. And when they inspected the vessel, they found close to nine and a half tons or cocaine in the bilge.
And they were able to seize that and seize the vessel, and also there's a determination being made in their judicial system right now as to the disposition of the crew. But that was a huge drug bust.
And it just shows that they're very serious, and that their system works, both their security systems for defense of their waters, and also their judicial system, as they go through a trial process in court.
I was really glad I was able to align my visit to Cabo Verde and then follow on with the trip to Lagos. This year I learned when I was there that Cabo Verde celebrates 200 years of bilateral relations with the United States.
It's a significant milestone, and the Cabo Verdeans are very proud of that, and they told me that while I was there. And they're having a big celebration this year.
LT DIXON: And Sir, I am curious, on that point, how many Cabo Verdean’s live in the U.S?
ADM FOGGO: Believe it or not, there's half a million Cabo Verdean ex-pats in the United States, primarily in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And I asked the question, "Why Rhode Island and Massachusetts?"
And they said, "Well, this is a whaling community of the 1800s." So as the whaling ships came in, and they signed on members of different countries and communities, came out and worked at sea, many Cabo Verdeans who lived on an island, and, you know, lived through the fishing economy got on board.
And they ended up in the United States and they settled in the United States. So, that half a million people who are the diaspora of Cabo Verde in the U.S., they're all descendants of the whaling trade.
You know what's interesting about that is, half a million Cabo Verdeans and lineage in the United States. And on those islands in Cabo Verde, there's a half a million people. So, the population equals the population that exists in the United States.
And I think that's very important to our connective tissue in our relationship.
LT DIXON: That is an amazing connection between the U.S. and Cabo Verde. For our next topic, I wanted to ask about a rescue at sea performed by U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis. What can you tell us about this rescue at sea?
ADM FOGGO: Yes, Lieutenant Dixon, this is the kind of stuff I just love. And you know, it sounds like something that came right out of a Hollywood script, but a real-life situation with a happy ending, and I think it’s a pretty cool story, so I’ll tell you.
On March 14th, the day before the start of Obangame Express, the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis was sailing in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Sierra Leone. They were about 32 nautical miles at sea, so outside territorial waters, inside the economic zone.
And while they're sailing along, there was a young 21-year-old seaman who was manning the bridge wing as lookout. And she noticed something at about four nautical miles, or 8,000 yards. But she saw this very small 6.7 meter fishing vessel adrift with two people who appeared to be in distress. She notified the bridge, and they turned to and they came alongside.
It turns out these two fishermen had been lost at sea for three days. They had run out of food, water, and fuel. And they were starting to drink sea water because they were desperate. And they had a few rotted fish on board, but they weren't fit for human consumption.
You know, when you drink sea water, you become delirious, disoriented, and then you die. So, these guys were close to the end.
Thetis gave these two men gas and Gatorade. And they powered down that Gatorade. They powered up their engine, which still worked, and Thetis accompanied them, and returned them to shore.
When the Sierra Leonean Coast Guard came out and took them back into port, they let everybody know that two or three days earlier they'd been declared dead, lost at sea. So, this is an unbelievable story.
LT DIXON: And sir, when you went down to Nigeria and went aboard the Thetis, what did you tell the crew and what was your conversation with them?
ADM FOGGO: And, you know, I like people and I like stories like that, so I asked the crew. I said, "Hey, did you get to know these guys? What were their names?"
And a chief warrant officer, actually, told me, she was, "Oh, we asked their names, and you won't believe it, sir. One guy said, 'I'm Charlie,' and the other guy said, 'I'm Pizza.'"
And I go, "What? You've got to be kidding me."
She goes, "No. Charlie and Pizza. He's been known as Pizza all of his life," which, you know, living here in Naples, which is, you know, the fountainhead of the invention of pizza, I thought was kind of funny.
So, bottom line is Charlie and Pizza owe their lives to a vigilant watch stander on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis. And the Thetis is doing what we do as Americans all over the world, guaranteeing safety of life at sea. So, I think it's a great story. And I'm really happy to share it with you.
LT DIXON: Wow, what an incredible story about this rescue at sea of two folks from Sierra Leon. Admiral, we've already talked about two of the three African series exercises, I would like to get your thoughts in Phoenix Express.
ADM FOGGO: Yeah, our third and final Express series exercise, Lieutenant Dixon, off the African coast is Phoenix Express in North Africa. So, it's primarily focused on maritime domain awareness and security in the Maghreb area of North Africa.
This is the 15th iteration this year. It involves 14 countries from North Africa, southern Europe and the United States. Phoenix Express strengthens the relationships between our participating navies and builds interoperability, and enhances our ability to conduct combined tactical and operational efficiency.
Since we started, the aim of Phoenix Express has been to promote national and regional security, informed planning and operations, and improve military capabilities, again sharing information through maritime operations centers along the north coast of Africa.
As far as Phoenix Express goes, it's the longest-running event of the Express series of exercises. Obangame celebrated its ninth year. Next year is 10, and this is the 15th iteration of Phoenix Express. And I'm very proud to say that.
It builds camaraderie between all of our navies, and throughout my career I've seen first-hand the enduring relationships we've formed between mariners of our friends in Africa, East Coast, West Coast, North Coast, and allied and partner navies from North America and from Europe.
And I think through this enhanced cooperation in maritime domain awareness and information sharing, we can all get after the problems that affect all of us, stability in the maritime domain, illicit trafficking, criminal activity, and piracy.
And I'm very happy that we're able to execute Phoenix Express again this year, and I look forward to next year.
LT DIXON: Well, sir, I look forward to hearing about how Phoenix Express went. It sounds like we are making great strides towards helping our African partners in reaching and improving their awareness of the maritime domain. What do you see is the biggest threat to African countries becoming self-reliant and prosperous?
ADM FOGGO: Well, Lieutenant Dixon, over the next decade, Africa will be shaped by the increasing presence of external actors. Nothing new here, but what is different is the potential outcome of the end-game.
I've often said or cited statistics that look out to the future. And if you look at the population of Africa, right now, 2019, it's about 1.3 billion people.
By 2050, there will be 2.5 billion people on the continent of Africa. There will be more people in Africa than there are in China. Sixty percent of that 2.5 billion people will be under the age of 24. Think about that.
So, there's a huge population there that need to be educated, they need to be given the opportunity to go to school and to find a job and to have a family and to be prosperous.
They want the same thing that you and I want in life. And so, I see it as an opportunity for us to assist our African friends and partners in doing so.
The biggest issue is, in my opinion, economic takeover of vital resources and ports, which is primarily done by countries seeking to enrich themselves, and occurs at the cost of the local population of those maritime nations in Africa. And specifically, I'm talking about China and Russia.
Where we are not present, China and Russia will fill in the gaps, and their objectives are not our objectives. Naval Forces Africa and the U.S. government work to help our African partners by working, through achieving shared goals, and by developing cooperative relationships.
We don't want anything in return, except their friendship. We train with our partners to solve African challenges through solutions that they have developed themselves.
China has tripled its loans to Africa since 2012, making Beijing a major debtholder for multiple African nations. Additionally, I'd like to add that China is only second to Russia in arms sales to Africa.
This is very concerning, especially since we, the United States, are bringing in resources and financial assistance to help Africa solve African problems, and build themselves up peacefully. We hope that our actions will create a peaceful, secure, and stable continent, which is good for the world.
LT DIXON: Admiral, we talked about past and future in regards to Africa, but what about today? What does Africa need today for their own security, to solve African challenges with African solution?
ADM FOGGO: Later this year, Naval Forces Africa will deploy a ship to the Gulf of Guinea on what I call, a maintenance deployment. The ship will be one of our expeditionary patrol frigates. And its crew will help several Gulf of Guinea nations maintain and repair their aging ships.
Today, basic wear and tear prevents many African nations from getting their ships underway to conduct operations that will protect their coasts and territorial waters.
Maintenance was one of the big issues that our African counterparts noted during our recent engagements in Paris at the Gulf of Guinea Conference, and in December, 2018, at the CFMCC course that I sponsored here in Naples.
So, sending a ship to the Gulf of Guinea comes from those discussions in those two conferences. The expeditionary patrol frigate deployment will demonstrate NAVAF's commitment to our African and maritime partners.
And this is an effort that you won't hear Russia or China getting involved in.
Now, as the Coast Guard Cutter Thetis operations in the Gulf of Guinea over the next few months, it's highly likely they will encounter illegal fishermen from varying nations in their countries' territorial waters.
We look forward to working with our African partners for the betterment of the African nations and their people.
As tensions increase across the continent and the competition continues for resources, the future of Africa will have a direct effect on both African national security and our national security, abroad and at home.
I tell all my friends that come from the continental United States or Washington that we ignore Africa at our own peril.
So, I am personally committed to regional stability and maritime security in this vital region of the world, by working with our African partners and friends.
Again, Lieutenant Dixon, the only thing we ask from our African partners is their friendship. We train with them to solve African challenges through solutions developed primarily by African nations. And the bottom line is a stronger Africa equals a better world for everyone.
LT DIXON: Admiral Foggo, as always, thank you for your time.
ADM FOGGO: Thank you, Lieutenant Dixon. I look forward to next time.
LT DIXON: “We hope you have enjoyed this episode of “On the Horizon; Navigating the European and African Theaters.” Please share the Podcast with your friends and family. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.
Join us next time to hear more about what the U.S. Navy is doing throughout Europe and Africa. Until next time, thank you.