By: Mpho Shelile

Cutlass Express 2024 an initiative sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, is an annual, large-scale, multinational maritime exercise designed to assess and improve combined maritime law enforcement capacity, promote national and regional security in East Africa, and increase interoperability between the U.S, East African nations, Western Indian Ocean nations, and other international Partners. The event was held at Avani Maseru,   Wednesday the 6th.

Exercise Cutlass Express aims to strengthen the relationship between Africa and USA while enhancing maritime security in Africa’s coastal waters, to improve regional cooperation in support of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, maritime domain awareness, increase tactical proficiency of participating nations to counter illicit trafficking and maritime smuggling, promote information sharing and overall cooperation among participating nations, enhance maritime security and sustain freedom of navigation and global commerce in this vital region.

This exercise provides an opportunity for participating navies to improve communication, both ship to shore and between maritime operation centers (MOCSs), through realistic training scenarios that build interoperability and enhance the maritime security environment. These efforts support a more secure, safe, and economically prosperous, maritime environment. The evolution of this exercise is intended to demonstrate how much they have grown as a team. 

The U.S Ambassador Maria Brewer indicated that she was honored to be standing in for the United Embassy Lesotho to help anchor this year’s Cutlass Express Final Planning Event in their shared commitment in international cooperation and security support. Stating that it was a privilege to welcome representatives from Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, the United Kingdom, Georgia, Tunisia, Senegal and of course, our gracious host, Lesotho. The holding of this planning event in Lesotho is historic.”

She emphasized that this initiative underscores Lesotho’s dedication to ensuring the security and well-being of its citizens as well as the country’s commitment to regional security, cooperation, and upholding the rules-based order. “We appreciate the support of Lesotho Defense Force Commander Lt General Mojalefa Letsoela. Let me also extend my gratitude to U.S. Naval Forces Africa for organizing this conference, with a special thanks to the military planners here at this event for the hard work they invested in putting this event together,” she said.

Adding that Lesotho’s dedication and expertise are crucial in shaping the success of Cutlass Express, reinforcing the bonds of cooperation, and strengthening collective maritime capabilities. “As you exchange ideas during this conference of collaboration and planning, let us embody the spirit of unity that transcends borders. I often use the Sesotho proverb, (Kopano ke matla), which means “Unity is Power”, and together we can achieve greater heights in ensuring the security and prosperity of our respective nations and the entire region.”

In conclusion, she wished all attendees fruitful discussions and successful planning sessions over the next few days. May the outcomes of this conference contribute significantly to the maritime security objectives they collectively seek to achieve.

On behalf of Chief of Defense Staff, Brigadier General Posa Stemere stated that even though Lesotho is a landlocked country they always work hard as Lesotho Defense Force in ensuring the safety and well-being of Basotho, adding that they have the best support from the United States of America, and they appreciate their gesture. He ensured the visitor that even though Lesotho is small, they are very good at hospitality. “We feel honored to have been a selected country to host this meeting, we hope to go a long way and enhance the relationship the two countries share.”

Captain Simon Hwang, the exercise director for Cutlass Express, Cutlass Express 2024 indicated that this exercise allows participating Navies to improve communication between ship-to-shore and maritime operation centers (MOCSs) through realistic training scenarios that build interoperability and enhance the maritime security environment.

He further stated that these efforts support a more secure, safe, and economically prosperous maritime environment. Ensuring the free flow of commerce in critical sea lines of communication and the vast expanse of this maritime environment is vital to the economic stability of this region and beyond. “Well over half of the economic activity in the region relies on the safe and lawful use of the maritime space, making maritime security vital to economic development and sustainment. But as you know, this region’s maritime domain presents every nation with various security challenges,” said Captain Hwang.

 Adding that the cutlass exercise will mainly be focused on illicit trade and irregular migration to transnational threats, including piracy, illegal fishing, and the harvesting of resources, the challenges we face in the maritime domain cannot be fully addressed by a single nation. “By striving to consistently deepen our partnerships and improve the quality of exercises like Cutlass Express, we enhance our ability to communicate and synchronize maritime operations to counter the manifold threats we face collectively.”

“The group you see here today represents our long-standing partnership in the Western Indian Ocean area. The Cutlass Express exercise we are planning marks our 12th year of working alongside each other, building friendships and partnerships among our countries. It is not the equipment and systems that unite us. Regardless of the flag on your uniform or your rank, whether you are military or civilian, it is the shared hope for peace and stability that brings us together in common purpose,” He said.

He concluded by appreciating Lesotho for hosting them, “Thank you for the sincere welcome to your beautiful country. This is my first time in Maseru, and I am inspired by the hospitality you have extended to the partner nations and international organizations participating in the Cutlass Express final planning event. We are very grateful.”