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NAPLES, Italy — Capt. Cindy Thebaud took command Friday of Naval Forces Europe’s busiest task force, which has been lauded as the fleet’s "banner" mission responsible for Western and Central Africa.

"The [Africa Partnership Station] mission has been established as a banner event as we continue to execute" the vision "of going ‘south and east,’ " said Thebaud, who now heads Task Force 65. "I’m coming in here with a proven concept of operation and an opportunity to expand on that."

She relieved Capt. John Nowell, who oversaw the establishment of the APS mission last year to strengthen U.S.-African ties and impart seafaring knowledge to participating African nations.

The APS program’s main mission is to teach African navies, militaries and other organizations to secure coastlines and waterways to counter drug-smuggling, illegal human trafficking and illegal fishing, a $1 billion industry. The goal is to have African nations defend their own shores and waters so the U.S. Navy, or others, don’t have to.

"I see it as a brilliant, very much needed, and dynamic mission," said Thebaud. "Everybody I’ve spoken with … the Africans I’ve met at various APS conferences ... all reiterate the development of maritime safety and security is imperative in establishing stability in the region and economic growth and prosperity."

APS also aims to bring in humanitarian organizations at the onset of planning of missions and to work closely with embassies in the region to establish what projects and needs the Navy can get involved in, Thebaud said.

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