Courtesy Story Special Operations Command Africa
Cotonou, Benin — Special Operations Command Africa forces partnered with the Benin Armed Forces during the inaugural Civil Affairs Joint Combined Exchange Training that concluded July 20, 2023, in Cotonou, Benin. The U.S. Army’s 91st Civil Affairs Battalion collaborated with their Beninese partners to conduct this JCET and a separate Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) engagement that immediately followed.
This CA JCET also represents the first CA element to be commanded by a female team lead, Capt. Stephanie DeRiso. History has demonstrated that expanding women’s presence in civil and military affairs results in greater sustaining peace over time.
“Civil affairs is uniquely qualified…to work on that civil-military relationship and build those dynamics in a positive way for the local governments, the militaries,” said DeRiso. “All these entities have to come together and essentially be able to listen to the people. We are uniquely capable of providing that liaison capability.”
The CA JCET focused on the key areas of civil engagement, civil reconnaissance, civil knowledge integration, and tactical combat casualty care. Civil affairs serves a critical role in our partnership development as military and tactical prowess alone are insufficient to effectively counter malign activity. Implementing a whole-of-government, civic engagement approach is essential to directly address the root causes of instability within a community.
“The Beninese are a strong and capable partner who face head on persistent threats from from [violent extremist organizations] and criminal networks in the North,” said Lt. Col. Ian McConnell, commander of the Special Operations Task Force for North and West Africa. “It’s civil-military engagements like the kind we have witnessed here that play such an important role in actually securing progress and creating space for social and government reach across Benin.”
In a separate engagement directly following the CA JCET, U.S. CA forces collaborated with Benin to host a MEDCAP in Cana, Benin. During this event, U.S. and Benin forces treated over 500 patients on a wide array of conditions to include malaria, bacterial and parasitic infections, wound care, and viral illnesses. The team also provided diagnostic care for underlying conditions to the surrounding community.
“By offering this basic medical care to the local population, we strive to deepen the ties between the local community and the Armed Forces of Benin,” said U.S. Ambassador to Benin Brian Shukan. “It is a gesture that reflects our unwavering commitment to fostering trust, bridging gaps, and solidifying the bond between the military and the citizens it pledges to defend and protect.
JCETs are unique to special operations forces as they enable partnerships allowing for an exchange of knowledge and training. JCETs serve to enhance U.S. relationships with partner nations by fostering and maintaining critical military-to-military connections and boosting joint and allied mission readiness and interoperability.
U.S. forces conducted four previous non-CA special operations JCETs in the last two years with the Beninese and participated in past Flintlock exercises, including 2023’s iteration with multiple African partner and allied forces. This recent JCET and MEDCAP serve to continually expand the growing partnership with Benin in future security cooperation engagements.