African Union Stands Up Peace Support Operations Center

African and partner nation military representatives assembled at the African Union (AU) here to launch operations at the newly established Peace Support Operations Centre (PSOC). Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) provided assistance in creating the center and worked with the local staff to help begin actual PSOC operations this month.

Officials put the new operations center through exercise paces in conjunction with African Endeavor 2011 (AE11), a multi-national command, control, communications and computer Information system interoperability exercise hosted by U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM). "This exercise isn't specifically for the PSOC, but it does coincide with the center maturing and the beginning of manning and fulltime operations," said U.S. Navy Commander Rick Mercadante, an engagements planner with CJTF-HOA.

AE11 planners created an earthquake scenario in a fictitious country to exercise communications processes and equipment, according to Mercadante. "The goal of the PSOC is to provide the head of Peace Security Operations Division (PSOD) with full situational awareness of any pertinent activity in Africa," he said. "This exercise allows the AU to assess the PSOC's ability to provide the required capabilities, so the timing is perfect giving them a chance to test drive the new organization."

According to Ghana Armed Forces Lt. Col. Joseph Aphour, an AU PSOD operations officer and officer in charge of the PSOC, the center seeks to coordinate the dissemination of information between five geographic AU regions. "This exercise has been very exciting and we're learning lots of new techniques about how to better manage the flow of information to and from all regions across the entire continent," he said.

CJTF-HOA was asked in 2009 to assist with the creation of the PSOC. "Our involvement is mainly to advise and assist, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Cirillo, a CJTF-HOA civil-military operations planner. "We've all been impressed with the motivation and initiative the AU staff members are putting forth. They're very serious about this being a top-notch facility and they clearly have the talent to launch and sustain operations here," he added.

"This project was the brainchild of PSOD Head, Mr. Sivuyile Bam who is also very excited about the future evolution of the center," Aphour said, adding that long range plans call for expansion of the center's scope and responsibilities. "We see this center and our partnership with AFRICOM growing and becoming more important," he said.

According to AFRICOM project manager Arthur Kelly, the center requires the development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) in order to support the PSOD. "The CJTF-HOA and AFRICOM staffs are sharing some ideas that will help develop workable SOPs," Kelly said. "The SOPs will help the PSOC deal with a wide range of situations ranging from humanitarian crisis to natural disasters."

Mercandate said the exercise scenario allows validation of draft SOPs which is key to moving forward. "We're going through the checklists and actions to see if our SOPs are ready for final approval and use in the PSOC," he said.

The African Union was formally established in 2002 and is committed to, "driving the African integration and development process in close collaboration with African Union Member States, the Regional Economic Communities and African citizens," according to their mission statement.

The Peace and Security Division (PSOD) of AU supports the promotion of peace, security and stability on the African continent through conflict prevention, management and resolution, and combating terrorism. The PSOC itself is housed under the PSOD.

"It was important to also monitor real world events and activities during the exercise," Cirillo said. "There are 15 PSOD/UN missions on the African continent, so the information flow is fast," he added. Seven of the missions are being conducted with military advisors, five are liaison missions and three involve the deployment of 40,000 military personnel.

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