United at Sea
A Sprawling Naval Exercise Incorporates African Forces
One of the world’s largest maritime exercises included Djibouti in October and November 2019, providing training for African naval and coast guard forces intent on maintaining freedom of the seas.
The naval drills occupied the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea as part of United States Central Command’s International Maritime Exercise (IMX 19), which attracted 5,000 participants from about 50 nations. IMX coincided with Cutlass Express 19.2, an exercise conducted by U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Naval Forces Africa.
The dual exercises, which drew participants from Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya and other countries, demonstrated global cooperation in maintaining freedom of navigation in some of the world’s most strategically important sea lanes, including the Bab el-Mandeb strait and the Suez Canal.
Combining the exercises made sense because the United States’ 5th and 6th Fleets operate alongside each other in the Indian Ocean.
“Maritime security cannot be conducted alone in a vacuum,” said J. Alexander Hamilton, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti. “The seas are vast, and covering this expanse requires partnership amongst all stakeholders to protect and secure these vital lifelines.”
IMX aimed to build capabilities in three main areas: removing underwater mines, intercepting criminals smuggling cargo aboard civilian vessels, and protecting harbors from enemy attacks.
Djibouti hosted Task Force West, one of three exercise groups within IMX. Participating African Sailors focused on visit, board, search and seizure drills; diving; and providing first aid to combat casualties. Task Force West’s activities stretched from the Horn of Africa to the Jordanian port of Aqaba.
Cutlass Express,with its focus on East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean, held additional drills in Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
“As we all know, crime at sea doesn’t heed any imaginary lines that we’ve drawn that separate our fleets,” said Rear Adm. Nancy Lacore, vice commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet. “They flow freely across the Indian Ocean regardless of where we put a line down.”