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Coalition partnerships key in Operation Inherent Resolve

Lt. Gen. John Hesterman III looks on as Gulf Cooperation Council liaison officers participate in an exercise at the Combined Air Operations Center, Nov. 26, 2014, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Hesterman is the U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander. Screens in the photo have been blurred for operational security purposes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chelsea Browning)

Lt. Gen. John Hesterman III looks on as Gulf Cooperation Council liaison officers participate in an exercise at the Combined Air Operations Center, Nov. 26, 2014, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Hesterman is the U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander. Screens in the photo have been blurred for operational security purposes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chelsea Browning)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS) -- At the forward headquarters of U.S. Air Forces Central Command at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, U.S. Airmen work closely with their counterparts from 14 nations as they plan and carry out daily air operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The organization that spearheads the coalition-building efforts here is A5 -- Security Cooperation and Future Plans. Within that directorate, two initiatives in particular, the Gulf Cooperation Council Liaison Officer Program (GCC LNO) and the U.S.’s Air Defense Liaison Teams, have been key to operational partnerships with a growing number of the more than 50 nations aligned against ISIL.

The AFCENT Coalition Coordination Cell is responsible for the GCC LNO program, which has played a large role in laying the groundwork for successful partnerships. The GCC is a political and economic alliance of Middle Eastern countries comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Started in 2013, the program takes officers from those countries -- typically at the O-5 rank -- and gives them a four-month compressed course in Combine Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC) and regional air operations. There are usually about 15 officers in each class.

“It’s designed to give the officers an orientation to the CAOC and help familiarize them with operations here,” said Lt. Col. Craig Sheumaker, the AFCENT coalition coordinator. “I think the program has been very helpful. It’s given our partners a good familiarization with our processes and gone a long way in ensuring we’re able to work together effectively.”

The program really paid off in September 2014, when Operation Inherent Resolve began and some of the LNOs who had gone through the course became the liaisons for real-world operations.

“Despite the common challenges of regional and international politics, the coalition has been able to work well together,” said Maj. Brian Hans, who works with Sheumaker in the coalition coordination cell. “The ( liaison officer) program has been key in ensuring we can communicate and coordinate with one another.”

In addition to the GCC countries, A5 also works with liaison officers from many other regional and western partner nations -- in total, approximately 50 officers. The A5 directorate here, in coordination with the Qatari authorities at Al Udeid AB, ensures all logistical concerns, which includes building access, food, and housing are taken care of for these officers.

As part of AFCENT’s coalition-building efforts, the command also sends U.S. liaison officers to the air operations centers of partner nations in the region. Nations currently hosting Air Defense Liaison Teams include Iraq and all the GCC partner nations except Oman.

The LNOs are typically fighter or bomber pilots, air battle managers, and occasionally mobility pilots. Each team is comprised of a senior officer who is in the partner country, a duty officer at the CAOC, and a cyber network technician.

“These teams are extremely important in integrating air operations with our partners,” said Lt. Col. Robert Lilke, the A5 deputy director at the CAOC. “They’re essentially the Combined Forces Air Component commander’s representative in those countries.”

The LNOs are problem solvers, he said, dealing with issues such as airspace access and diplomatic clearances. They must be familiar with partner nations’ customs, rules and laws, as well as cultural and political sensitivities.

In order to put together the Air Tasking Order at the CAOC, planners must know what each partner nation can contribute, so LNOs must be well-versed in each country’s assets, capabilities and limitations.

Lilke, an E-3 Sentry mission crew commander by trade, just returned from 80 days of standing up a new Air Defense Liaison Team in Baghdad.

“The political aspect is the most challenging thing,” he said. “Iraq has many political, religious and sectarian differences, and it’s challenging to navigate those successfully. But they want us there, they want our help. We just have to respect that they’re a sovereign country, and they each have their own laws and ways of doing business.”

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