Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with senior government and military leaders here to discuss the U.S.-Ethiopia security partnership and shared interests in East African security challenges, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today in a statement.
Carter’s July 23-24 visit to this Horn of Africa country was the final leg of a three-country trip that began in Israel and included a stop in Uganda.
The deputy secretary is the highest-ranking Defense Department official to visit Ethiopia in more than a decade, Little said.
“My visit here to Addis represents not only the increasing importance we place on our partnership with Ethiopia, but the importance we place on the role of the African Union also in addressing Africa’s security challenges, be it Somalia, Mali, the troubled Sudans, or the Central African Republic,” Carter said after a meeting last night with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Carter characterized the U.S.-Ethiopia partnership as an important bilateral relationship and expressed gratitude to Hailemariam for the critical role Ethiopia has played in addressing regional challenges in Somalia and the Sudans.
“Ethiopia and the United States have shared interests in these countries and we continue to explore additional ways that we can work together to tackle East Africa’s security challenges,” the deputy secretary said.
“I’d like to note that my government recognizes Africa’s strategic importance,” he added, “and we at the Department of Defense recognize its strategic importance today and [for] the future.”
Carter and Hailemariam also discussed next steps in response to recent events in South Sudan and exchanged views on the African Peace and Security Architecture, maritime security, and conflicts in Somalia, Mali, the Central African Republic and Africa’s Great Lakes region. The African Peace and Security Architecture is an ongoing Africa-AU framework for crisis management on the African continent.
A senior defense official said that Ethiopia is not a formal partner in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, called AMISOM, it has forces in Somalia and was the first of Somalia’s neighbors to respond against al-Shabaab, even before the African Union pulled together what now is AMISOM. Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaida-linked militant group and U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization fighting to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia.
“The Ethiopians are the No. 1 peacekeeping contributor in Africa at this point in terms of number of forces,” the official added. “They have substantial forces involved in South Sudan and in Sudan, and they’ve been involved diplomatically there as well.”
Carter also met with Chief of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces Gen. Samora Yenus to discuss the critical role Ethiopia has played in stabilizing Somalia and providing peacekeepers along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
While in Addis Ababa, home of the African Union headquarters, the deputy secretary met with Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, the most senior DOD leader ever to visit the AU. The African Union, made up of 54 African states, this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of its original Organization of African Unity. The AU took the place of the OAU nearly a decade ago, and one of its objectives is to promote peace, security and stability on the continent.
At the AU, Carter thanked Mwencha for the African Union’s leadership in tackling Africa’s security challenges.
The deputy secretary also met with alumni from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Addis, founded in 1999 and one of five DOD regional centers.
The ACSS is an agency within DOD that serves as a link between military and civilians involved in the security sector from across Africa, Europe and the United States, according to center literature. The goal is to bring people together to maintain a global network of professionals with a shared commitment to addressing security-related challenges facing Africa.
At a breakfast yesterday morning, Carter met with ACSS alumni from across the continent who offered their perspectives on Africa’s progress in addressing its security and development challenges.
“My job in the Department of Defense is to let people have the basic security that allows everything else in life to be possible -- economic development, political development, personal development, community development and everything else,” he told the alumni.
None of that is possible, he said, unless people can wake up every morning and go to work and take their children to school and do all kinds of everyday activities in a safe environment. A few places in the world are blessed with such security, and after a while begin to take it for granted, he added, and people who don’t have it think of nothing else.
“So our job in part is to provide that security. Here in Africa, there are so many sources of insecurity and certainly the United States military is not the answer to them,” Carter said. “We try to make contributions where we can, where you teach us that would be a useful thing to do, and I’m very open to that.
“We in the United States are increasingly turning our thoughts to Africa,” he continued, “because we recognize that this is one of the places that is going to determine its future and our future by trade and culture and many other things.”