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Howard sees opportunity, cooperation with “Hub”

Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton

NAPLES, Italy – U.S. Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, thinks there’s an opportunity for better cooperation among organizations, and she’s optimistic the NATO Strategic Direction South Hub will provide just that.

"If we want to work on any challenges in Middle East/North Africa, we need all of us who are invested to work together,” said Howard during an Aug. 22, 2017, interview with a group of Brussels-based reporters.

The NSD-S Hub, under the roof and lead of JFC Naples, is designed to gather information and analyze a variety of issues to include destabilization, potential terrorism, radicalization, migration and environmental concerns. The new center will concentrate on southern regions to include the Middle East, North Africa and Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent areas, waters and airspace.

A role of the Hub is to team up with various agencies outside of NATO and national military structures to synchronize, coordinate and enable. These include organizations with a variety of backgrounds such as regional development and crisis handling experts, academics, charitable organizations, law enforcement officials and non-governmental organizations.

Over the past year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, have spoken a lot about Strategic Direction South, and Howard said the Hub is just one of the ways that NATO is hoping to contribute to a better understanding among partners and stakeholders about the region’s situation. She said that holistic picture will enable Hub officials to provide recommendations to military officials and explore opportunities for common solution sets and common goals with other organizations.

Howard cited an example using the European Union’s Operation Sophia, which was set up to stem the flow of migrants and refugees from Libya and other countries.

"When you’re down to rescuing people at sea, that’s the symptom of the problem, and so what you want to get to is a better understanding of what the root cause is that’s causing people to migrate,” Howard said.

With the new southern Italy center’s ribbon cutting slated for Sept. 5, Hub officials say the opportunities to start working with potential partners will be the first step in ensuring the eventual production of useful product and analysis.

"There are a number of organizations that are trying to make life better across the Middle East/North Africa, but we could probably do a lot more if we work together,” Howard said earlier this month. "For me, the first step is sharing information. If we can get to an understanding of what everybody is doing, we can go far together.”

Although the Hub will be co-located with JFC Naples and underneath Howard’s oversight, it won’t be an organization with operational command or control.

NATO officials point to the NSD-S Hub being the next logical step as the alliance has been engaged in the southern region of the Mediterranean and the Middle East for many years. Its contributions have run the gamut from providing Mobile Training Teams and conducting study days with regional experts to providing part of the ground force in Afghanistan following 9/11.

The Hub is scheduled to reach final capability by the end of the calendar year.

Judging from Howard’s discussions with various leaders and organizations, there appears to be a lot of interest in the new center.

"Everywhere I’ve gone and talked about it, there’s just been positive response,” Howard said.

More information about NATO Strategic Direction South Hub is available at www.thesouthernhub.org.

U.S. Navy Admiral Michelle Howard,  commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples,  discusses the NATO Strategic Direction South Hub with a group of Brussels-based reporters via video teleconference,  Aug. 22,  2017. (Photo by German Air Force Master Sergeant Dennis Tappe)

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