NAIROBI, Kenya — Air Forces Africa touched down in Kenya Monday for the latest in a series of engagements between U.S. and Kenyan forces. AFAFRICA, also known as 17th Air Force, is the air component for U.S. Africa Command.
AFAFRICA Commander Maj. Gen. Ronald R. Ladnier led the visit, which came in the wake of U.S. Africa Command Commander Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward’s visit to Nairobi Aug. 21.
The senior leader engagement was essentially a fact-finding mission, General Ladnier said. And this mission focused on a series of discussions with senior Kenyan defense officials on how AFAFRICA can assist the country’s air force in meeting long-term challenges.
“We go on these visits to listen and to learn. Kenya is a very influential nation in the region and on the continent in general, that is also a committed member of the African Union. They have been a key contributor to solving problems in the region, from piracy to the threat of terrorism, and if they want to involve us in the evolution of their air force, we are happy to partner with them,” General Ladnier said. “We want to find out how we can help.”
Meetings on the agenda included numerous Ministry of Defense and Air Force officials, including Kenyan Chief of General Staff Gen. Jeremiah Kianga, Kenyan Air Force Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Harold Tangai and Laikipia Air Base Commander Col. Francis Agolla. AFAFRICA’s Command Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Steffen also met with Sergeant Major of the Kenyan Air Force Katana Khalif to discuss professionalizing the NCO corps.
The meetings were facilitated by the Kenya-U.S. Liaison Office and included a thorough discussion of topics related to improving the capabilities and equipment of the Kenyan Air Force, said Maj. Sergio Porres, KUSLO action officer.
“They discussed ways the Kenyan Air Force and Kenyan defense officials intend to move forward on continuing with modernization of their Air Force and also the development of their NCO corps,” Major Porres said. “We are constantly working, on the DOD side, to make sure the U.S. is doing all it can to assist Kenya in this effort. This is concentrated on helping the Kenyan forces to secure their borders and to increase the professionalism of their military. To have Air Forces Africa come in and engage is not only welcome, but essential to this process.”
A key point of discussion was training, said Colonel Agolla. His base, responsible for fighter operations, air defense and air interdiction, continues to be the center of the evolving F-5 program.
“The cooperation and the support we have received from the U.S. Air Force since we started operating the F-5 in 1978 is significant,” he said. “We owe our expertise in operating this aircraft to the training we received in the U.S. And we find it appropriate that this collaboration be continued so that we can be supported in the continued operation of the F-5.”
Working with U.S. Africa Command is not only a continuation of work that has gone on for decades, but since the command stood up, more attention is being focused on the continent, he said.
“More focus and more visibility for the USAF in Africa,” Colonel Agolla said. “From the time Africa Command started, we’ve seen more visibility, more interest and more focus on their part in developing further this cooperation and support.”
AFAFRICA has been conducting SLEs since the command stood up in October 2008. Each one has resulted in a set of tasks for the 17th Air Force staff back at Ramstein, said Maj. Tom Shane, from AFAFRICA’s A5 directorate.
“We will take the input that General Ladnier has received and begin researching in earnest how we can assist the Kenyans in their various initiatives,” Major Shane said. “This is what our engagement programs, including our SLEs and the many theater security cooperation events we conduct, are all about.”
This process of listening and responding is what AFAFRICA is all about, General Ladnier said.
“This is what we mean when we use terms like partnership and capacity building,” the general said. “When we are invited to participate in discussions like this, we find out ways we can work together with a country to pursue common interests. These interested are centered on stability and security. When a country increases its capabilities toward these ends, it has increased its capacity to serve its people – to positively impact their quality of life.
“So we will be taking an in-depth look at how we can address some of the goals expressed by our Kenyan counterparts, and we will be working hard to deliver for them,” the general said.