The Government of Sudan faces significant security challenges while navigating the difficult path towards democracy and civilian-led government; concurrently, it has benefited from increased U.S. engagement. Two recent visits by State Department diplomats assigned to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) reflect U.S. interest in developing new security partnerships while Sudanese leaders work to build the foundation of a democratic, citizen-centered government.
Ambassador Andrew Young, Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement, U.S. Africa Command
The historic Juba Peace Agreement, signed on October 3, 2020, laid the important foundations for ending decades-long conflicts in Sudan. At the same time, it presents new opportunities for U.S.-Sudan partnerships, as evidenced by the subsequent announcement to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. In my role as AFRICOM’s Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement and senior Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD), I recently led a delegation to Khartoum with my friend and colleague Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, AFRICOM’s Director of Intelligence.
Before I tell you more about our trip, you might wonder why a U.S. Ambassador is serving at AFRICOM. In a world with increasingly complex transnational challenges ranging from terrorism to pandemics, bridging the gap between diplomacy and defense is of vital importance to U.S. foreign policy and national security interests.
The Office of State-Defense Integration (SDI) in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) facilitates an extensive exchange of personnel between the Departments of State and Defense. Nearly 85 POLADs are assigned to mid- to senior-level advisory positions in the Department of Defense, from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Services and Combatant Commands, such as AFRICOM. Similarly, the State Department benefits from nearly 100 mid- to senior-level military officers detailed to Foggy Bottom as Military Advisors (MILADs), bringing important perspectives and expertise to American diplomacy on military planning, arms control and nonproliferation, democracy and human rights, counterterrorism, peacekeeping, and regional security challenges.
As a senior POLAD, I have a unique role bringing my diplomatic credentials to bear as a senior civilian leader at AFRICOM. During our trip, Admiral Berg and I showed leaders in Sudan first-hand how the United States is committed to a whole-of-government foreign policy approach, and how the Departments of State and Defense support each other to advance our foreign relations.
While in Khartoum, we met with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Sovereign Council Chairman General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and leaders from Sudan’s civil society. We also met with senior Sudanese military leaders including the Chief of Defense, Gen. Mohamed Osman al-Hussein, and Minister of Defense, Major General Yassin Ibrahim Yassin. Our discussions focused on Sudan’s efforts to build a more capable, transparent, and accountable civilian-led military. Among the key tools we discussed for possibly developing a future military partnership with the United States is the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. This program, which is funded by the State Department and implemented by the Department of Defense, brings promising future military leaders to the United States for military education programs. Someday soon, IMET may fund Sudanese military personnel to study in the United States on issues such as military justice, civilian control of the military, and defense resource management. Sudanese students would also study alongside their U.S. counterparts in professional military education courses and learn best practices. IMET builds long-term personal and professional connections that can benefit diplomatic relations for decades to come.
AFRICOM’s approach to achieving U.S. security interests in Africa is through expansion of our regional partnerships. We are exploring possibilities and opportunities with Sudan, militarily and diplomatically. Admiral Berg also showcased the essential role of a professional military during an address at Sudan’s Higher Military Academy, the first speech in a generation by a U.S. military leader at Sudan’s premier military education institution. The fruitful exchange that followed with students demonstrated just how interested Sudan’s armed forces are in pursuing closer cooperation with the United States.
We are at a watershed moment in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Sudan, made possible by the brave efforts of the Sudanese people to chart a bold new course toward democracy. We seek to deepen and broaden our relationship and pursue shared objectives. This is a journey we intend to embark on together.
Mark Schapiro, Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa
Following Ambassador Young’s visit, AFRICOM’s maritime component, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (NAVAF), marked its first U.S. naval engagement with Sudan in more than 30 years. This engagement included ship visits to Port Sudan by the USNS Carson City, followed by the USS Winston S. Churchill. As POLAD to NAVAF, I was proud to work alongside my colleagues at U.S. Embassy Khartoum to make these engagements happen.
Together with Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government, we strive to build a partnership between our militaries and model the importance of civilian-military cooperation. During the port visit, I joined a delegation of U.S. military leaders, led by Rear Admiral Michael Baze, Director of NAVAF’s Maritime Headquarters, U.S. Sixth Fleet, who continued conversations initiated during Ambassador Young’s visit to further explore opportunities to work together and establish a basis for a relationship committed to regional security and stability.
Our Sudanese hosts warmly welcomed us and shared our optimism on the promise of a new era in security cooperation to strengthen maritime security in the Red Sea. We discussed next steps to expand cooperation, including Sudan’s pledge to attend the multilateral Cutlass Express exercise later this year as observers.
As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have made clear, renewing democracy at home and abroad is a key U.S. foreign policy objective because strong democracies are more stable, more open, more committed to human rights, and less prone to conflict. Another key objective is revitalizing alliances and building new partnerships with countries like Sudan because these relationships are force multipliers and unique assets to the United States. Our allies and partners are our greatest strength. As POLADs, we are proud to do our part to bring diplomacy and defense together to build new partnerships essential to meeting the challenges of tomorrow.
About the Authors: Ambassador Andrew Young serves as Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement at U.S. Africa Command. Mark Schapiro serves as Foreign Policy Advisor to the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa.