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TRANSCRIPT: AFRICOM Commander Ham Discusses African Security with Defense Writers
The commander of U.S. Africa Command told journalists that in his travels through Africa he is guided by two main principles: A safe, stable, and secure Africa is the best interest of Africans as well as the United States; and that Africans are
The commander of U.S. Africa Command told journalists that in his travels through Africa he is guided by two main principles: A safe, stable, and secure Africa is the best interest of Africans as well as the United States; and that Africans are best able to address their own security issues.

"The two principles that I talk about as I travel around Africa are the two things that I think guide us -- the overarching principles," U.S. AFRICOM's General Carter Ham told more than two dozen journalists at a roundtable meeting with the Defense Writers Group on September 14, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

The first principle "is just a simple statement that a safe, stable and secure Africa is in the best interest not only of the Africans but of the United States of America," Ham said. "I don't think we should be shy about saying that. ... So it's very clear to me, that simple statement. It's best for us. It's also best for the Africans if African countries are safe, stable and secure.

The second guiding principle, Ham said, is that "it is Africans who are best able to address African security matters."

In the hour-long meeting, Ham was asked to address a wide range of issues, including regime change in Libya, threats by violent extremist groups associated with al-Qaida, and about the effects of U.S. defense budget cuts on his organization.

Ham said AFRICOM must be prepared to conduct a "full spectrum" of military activities and operations, but the command continues to focus on enabling the effectiveness of African militaries, regional security organizations, and the African Union.

"So we do remain focused on building partner capacity, on sharing information, on cooperative exercises, increasingly focused -- focusing our efforts on the African Union regional economic committees and their military standby forces to help build a regional capacity for the African Union," Ham said.

However, any nations prefer to work quietly with the U.S. military, Ham said. "And that's OK," he said " ... That's their prerogative. I'm not interested in U.S. Africa Command getting a lot of credit for what we do. That's not particularly relevant to me. What's important is, if we can contribute in meaningful ways, both in a bilateral basis and a regional basis, to helping Africans become increasingly self-secure, then that's a good way ahead for us."


Following is a full transcript of the event:

Defense Writers Group
Washington, D.C.
September 14, 2011

ADAM HEBERT, MODERATOR: Well, we do seem to have a quorum here, so we'll go ahead and get started and make full use of the general's time.

GENERAL CARTER HAM: Sure.

MR. HEBERT: Our guest today obviously is General Carter Ham. He's the commander of the U.S. Africa Command.

Sir, thank you for coming in today.

GEN. HAM: Absolutely.

MR. HEBERT: We have 65 minutes today. We will be on the record. Because of the large group, we will do one question and one quick follow up as time permits. We'll try to get through everybody, but no promises here.

General, I'll go ahead and begin. If I could simplify things a bit, when U.S. Africa Command was established, its expected mission was going to center around training and advising and airlifts and a lot of support-type missions. Obviously the Libya operation has taken a lot of attention and effort, led by the Europeans, of course, but a major U.S. presence there as well.

What has the Libya operation taught you about your command? What's going well and what do you need to change for the future?

GEN. HAM: I think that's a great question. And I have to admit that when I first -- when then-Secretary Gates told me that he was going to recommend that I go to Africa Command, if you'd have asked me then, you know, do you think you're going to be involved in military operations in Libya, I probably would have said, What are you talking about?

And even on the 9th of March, when I had the good fortune of backfilling Kip Ward as the commander, it was, I think, very uncertain as to what was going to unfold in Libya. And then things obviously rolled pretty quickly from there.

I think for the command, as then the new guy at the command, I don't think that Africa Command ever really thought of themselves as a command that conducted and led those kinds of operations. General Ward saw this coming, saw the possibility of this coming, and started moving the command in that direction to be prepared for that. And I inherited the good work that he did.

Now that we're kind of six months down the road on this business, as you look back on that, I think the greatest lesson for me and for the headquarters and the staff is: Combatant commands don't get to choose their missions. We often use this term "full spectrum," and I think that's what we learned, is that geographic combatant commands must be full-spectrum commands.

And while Africa Command is principally focused on engagement and military-to-military activities and training and exercising and those kinds of things, we must always retain the capability to do the higher-end operations, though that's obviously not the preferred way to do that.

MR. HEBERT: OK, we'll begin right across with Bob and then John.

GEN. HAM: OK.

Q: Good morning.

GEN. HAM: He waited until you took a bite and then --

(Cross talk.)

Q: I'm surprised you haven't made any comments about the rocks you're facing, General. But anyway, I was.

More on Libya. I guess the obvious question for me anyway is, based on what's transpired since Qadhafi went into hiding and so forth, how soon do you think NATO will be able to disengage from Libya? Will he have to be captured or killed first? And do you have sort of residual concerns about al-Qaida in Libya?

GEN. HAM: Yeah, obviously it's for NATO and the U.S. as a member to have that discussion. The current mandate ends here pretty quickly -- I think the 27th, I believe. And so the North Atlantic Council, the Military Committee will have to have those discussions about, you know, do they extend the mandate? If so, for how long and under what conditions? And, unsurprisingly, I'm not privy to those kinds of discussions.

But it's clear to me that at some point, whether it's -- whether it's the end of September or whether it's, you know, some period of renewal of the operation by NATO, NATO's probably -- they're probably closer to the end of Operation Unified Protector than they are to the beginning. So the question then is, what next? And what follows NATO's involvement?

I think I read something yesterday or this morning that indicated that the United Nations obviously should have a very significant role in post-conflict Libya. And I think they're looking for actors probably other than NATO to take a leading role. But I think that's all very much uncertain.

I did have the good fortune of attending a conference in Doha, Qatar, a few weeks ago to kind of talk about, you know, from a military and security standpoint, with leaders of the National Transitional Council, you know, what we see as the way ahead. And it gets to the second part of your question, Bob, and that is, what's the role of -- what do we see as the role of violent extremist organizations in Libya kind of post-Qadhafi?

It's a very legitimate concern. And, you know, there are -- there are organizations -- you know, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, others that certainly warrant a degree of examination, and I think a dialogue between the United States and many other nations, with the National Transitional Council, to say, hey, we've just got to be very -- we have to be very careful. And it is a very legitimate concern of ours. I mean, we have seen points in Libya in past years used as transit points for foreign fighters and the like. And just to make sure that that segment doesn't re-emerge and doesn't become a part of the interim government or any subsequent government.

While in Doha, Chairman Jalil and many others I think addressed that, and I think in his subsequent public comments has addressed that, that they recognize that the concern of extremists being present in the government and that they'll obviously seek to not have that, but on the other hand they do want an inclusive government, and we think they ought to have an inclusive government. So it's a bit of tension.

And then, lastly, I would say that in travels in the region, in the neighboring countries over the past several months, the presence of extremist organizations in Libya and expanding their influence is a concern not only of the U.S. but certainly of the regional states as well.

So it's a very legitimate concern and one that we'll have to work collaboratively, I think, with all the partners on.

Q: Just a quick follow up. Is the whereabouts and the future of possession of antiaircraft weaponry more of a concern -- concern to you?

GEN. HAM: Yeah.

Q: What do you know about --

GEN. HAM: There are kind of -- I would categorize the ... Three categories of weapons, of the proliferation of weapons from Libya, are concerning to me. And, for me, at the top of the list would be MANPADs just because of the threat of their use that could result if those get into extremist organizations' hands.

I think, as you all know, that, you know, the Department of State has led an effort -- regionally has met with most of the regional countries, trying to craft a way ahead. I've actually been pretty encouraged by engagement again with the regional partners. They recognized the risk that this runs, and it's been heartening, actually, to see a greater degree of collaboration, of intel sharing, border security cooperation, those kinds of things, to try to stem this flow of MANPADs. So that, to me, is the first category that's at the top of the list.

Second would be just the conventional munitions and explosives that could be the components of improvised explosive devices, and if not controlled -- you know, gets under the control of al-Qaida in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb, or Boko Haram or al-Shabab -- and there's lots of those kinds of munitions and explosives, so the security of them -- of those materials I think would be a second category.

And third are the residual components of chemicals. We know, you know, before March there was an ongoing effort by the office of -- what is it, the office of the prohibition of chemical weapons -- the [Organization for the] Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that were demilling and destroying these weapons, but they didn't complete it -- or not weapons but the materials. They didn't complete it, so some of those materials remain. And so there's a very great concern about, you know, the security of that material. It's not weaponized -- it's not easily weaponized, but nonetheless we want to make sure that the OPCW gets back in there and completes the destruction of the remaining materials.

Q: Thanks.

MR. HEBERT: OK -- John Tirpak.

Q: General, could you give us a quick rundown on what the level of effort is right now by the U.S. Air Forces and the supporting forces for Unified Protector and tell us whether that's been a steady-state effort, kind of a steady level of effort or whether it's been up or down, and whether it's now tailing off?

GEN. HAM: I would start by saying I think you all recognize that I do not have an operational role in Libya. That's the Unified Protector and NATO and the task force in Naples that is managing that. And the U.S. forces that are supporting Unified Protector are under the U.S. operational control of European Command --

Q: Right.

GEN. HAM: -- because of EUCOM's linkages with NATO.

(Cross talk.)

GEN. HAM: Yes. So I'm a peripheral observer of this, so I don't have the details of, you know, how many platforms and what missions they're flying and all that kind of business. But as a very interested observer in all of this, you know, it's something that is quite interesting to me.

What it seems to -- what seems to me to be happening, certainly over the past few weeks, is that, collectively, Unified Protector is doing more collection, more surveillance and monitoring than they are doing strikes. Those strikes do continue if they find appropriate targets to do that.

But I think it's -- more and more assets I think are dedicated to helping the Joint Task Force commander and the Joint Force commander in Naples, Admiral Locklear, who many of you know, maintain a better understanding of the situation on the ground.

So, again, I don't know the specifics, but I think that -- to me that's been an apparent bit of a shift of less -- less assets dedicated -- U.S. assets were mostly in collection and assisting and targeting -- I think, now is less about targeting and more about gaining situational awareness as this very fluid situation starts to unfold.

It's a really tough mission. As I talked with Admiral Locklear and those guys, you know, in the early days of this when the Libyan regime forces were operating in essentially conventional military formations and vehicles and tanks and personnel carriers and what have you, it was fairly easy to discern, you know, who were the opposition, who were the civilians, who were the regime military.

That's virtually indistinguishable now, and it's a really complicated environment in which to operate.

Q: To the degree that you were aware of it, was there ever a shortage of equipment, or did everything that the U.S. -- everything that the U.S. was asked to provide, was it able to provide, or was there a lot of trading out and swapping and shifting things around?

GEN. HAM: Of course, no commander would ever say they have enough assets. Everybody always wants more. But, you know, as the campaign began in the middle of March, I was confident that, in those days Odyssey Dawn, had the capabilities necessary to accomplish the mission that we were assigned.

This will be unsurprising to you. You know, the highest priority for me for additional assets were in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. We had plenty of strike assets in those days, but you can always use -- and commanders will always want -- more ISR to better understand the area in which they're operating.

When the shift occurred to NATO and the transition occurred to NATO, and the U.S. decision was that the United States would contribute to Operation Unified Protector, principally U.S.-unique military capabilities -- I actually think that was a pretty good decision. Again, there was no shortage of strike aircraft. There were plenty of assets that could drop bombs and do that. Again --

Q: Well, I was thinking about tankers and ISR.

GEN. HAM: Yeah, the tankers -- I think the U.S. commitment of tankers -- I'm unaware that any -- that any air operation was curtailed or constrained by a shortage of tankers. I'm not aware that that has occurred.

ISR is tougher because, again, there's always tradeoffs, not just the U.S. but other nations that contribute. And I'm sure Admiral Locklear and the JTF commander would say, yeah, I would like more. And it causes -- but you have to prioritize what you do have and say, OK, these are the most important areas for me to collect.

I think the kind of -- you know, two months ago when the U.S. added Predators, that was a very significant capability add to Unified Protector. I think it's been put to very, very good use.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. HAM: But other nations have added too. You know, the French and British helicopters, I think, were a very significant change and added technical capability that enhanced the JTF commander's ability.

Q: Thank you.

MR.HEBERT: OK, we'll go over here to Dave and then Mark.

Q: Yes, I understand that there has been a brisk trade of energy for weapons between China and Africa. Now, we know that the Russian -- that Russian companies sold the SA-24 to the Libyans, and we know the Russians sold SA-18 to Eritrea that ended up in Somalia. But what chance do we have with what the Chinese have been introducing to Africa in the way of arms, and were they involved in sales to Libya?

GEN. HAM: I think it's uncertain with regard to Libya. I mean, my understanding is that the Chinese have been asked, you know, have you done this, but I don't know what the response to that has been. In other places in Africa, it's very clear that the Chinese, like us and like many others, are engaged in supporting African militaries with equipment.

I don't -- as a commander of U.S. AFRICOM, I don't see that as a military competition, if you will, between us and China. As an example, we believe the Chinese recently provided to the Democratic Republic of Congo a number of riverine craft for their security forces. I actually think that's pretty helpful. That's a capability that they need. It's not a capability that we possess. So it actually can be pretty helpful.

There are a number of African nations who fly Chinese aircraft, have Chinese maritime patrol vessels and the like. And I don't see that, again, as a military competition but rather African nations making decisions about, you know, where is the -- where can they best find a supply of the material and equipment that they need to accomplish their objectives?

Now, I'm a U.S. guy, so would I prefer for them to have all U.S. stuff? Absolutely. That makes it easier for us to engage and all the rest of that kind of stuff, but the Africans will make decisions that are best for them. And, again, I don't see that as a military competition between us.

Q: But you said number one on your list of concerns in Libya was where the SAMs are going, the MANPADs. Are you aware of the Chinese introducing any MANPADs into Africa?

GEN. HAM: I'm rolling this back in my brain to see if I know of any specific instances. And I don't, off the -- I mean, I would like to go back and look through my data, but off the top of my head, I don't know about MANPADs.

I do know that the Chinese, and I think other nations, have been asked by a number of organizations -- said, hey, it would be helpful if we knew what you did provide to Libya so we can have a more accurate baseline, and then kind of go from there to say, OK, how do we best account for this? But off the top of my head, I can't -- I don't recall Chinese MANPADs.

MR. HEBERT : OK, Mark Thompson and then (???? Ph).

Q: General, I know that it's tough for an Army general to take a high-altitude look at something, but I want to take you higher.

Success turns lessons into templates. As you look at Libya, the first two weeks were a U.S. show. We had B-1s, B-2s taking off from CONUS. And then it was handed off pretty much to NATO.

Is this a way of war in the future? Is this a unique circumstance that only lent itself to this particular case? Or are there things that worked there in that sort of two-step process that might be applicable in the future?

GEN. HAM: I think the latter. I think there are things that clearly Africa Command has learned from this -- from Odyssey Dawn and then the transition to NATO and Unified Protector that will be instructive for future military activities, not only in Africa but in other places.

But it would be wrong, in my opinion, to say this is now the template, this is the model that we will follow. It is -- as all military operations are, they are condition-specific. And in this particular condition, this seems to be about the best way ahead.

I will make two points. One is I think we go back to the origin of, you know, what started all of this, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 and the protect-civilians role was a little different than, I think any other kind of operation we've engaged in, at least in my recent memory. Again, I don't know, you know, is that precedent setting now? I think that's for the U.N. to decide.

But I think for us -- and as the U.S. commander who had to get this thing started, I remain very confident that had the U.N. not made that decision, had the U.S. not taken the lead with great support from France and the U.K. and Norway and Denmark and a host of others, I'm absolutely convinced that there would be many, many people in Benghazi who are alive today who would not be. So I think that piece of this is instructive.

The other piece that I think is important is to remember how we were able to do this. This came about in pretty short order and unfolded quite quickly. And one of the reasons that I think the U.S. was able to respond very quickly was the presence, almost exclusively in European Command, of air and maritime forces that were flexible and able to respond pretty quickly, great support from NATO allies and several other nations for basing and overflight, and in many cases contribution of forces.

So it was a great international effort, and there's probably something to be learned from that, how to -- you know, from the U.S. standpoint, you know, we're pretty practiced at doing big military operations with our NATO allies. We brought in some non-NATO participants, but we have NATO framework for that.

How do you do that in other parts of the world where you don't have that standing alliance, I think, is something that we need to think seriously about, and how do you bring together a multinational coalition without the standing agreements and interoperability practices that NATO has?

Q: Is it totally unremarkable now in hindsight that a woman ran the air war for the first two weeks?

GEN. HAM: I think it's unremarkable that she's a woman. I think it's remarkable what she accomplished. Yeah, I don't -- yeah, I don't think there's anything -- I wouldn't make any more of that other than she did an absolutely fantastic job, and continues to do a fantastic job as the Air Component Command for Africa.

And as I've traveled with her in Africa a couple of places and meet with air chiefs and others, I think -- again, my sense is that they're struck by her competence, her professionalism, and not really concerned that she's a woman.

MR. HEBERT : OK. To your right, sir -- Sandra Irwin, and then Christian.

Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the budget. Former Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have told us repeatedly that one of the big challenges they have had in controlling expenses is the combatant commanders' staffs or contractors, support (inaudible) they called it.

Have you been asked to have AFRICOM cut back on staff, contractors, things like that? And how much? And how would that impact your functions and doing your job?

GEN. HAM: We haven't been given any specific, you know, reduce your level of contractor support by X, or reduce your manning by Y or anything like that. But it's clear to me that we do have to look at ourselves very closely and say, you know, are we most effectively and efficiently applying the resources that we've been -- that we have been given?

There is a general trend toward, where it makes sense, to reduce reliance on contractors. For us at Africa Command, the single largest contingent of contractors are in our intelligence support, both in Stuttgart and in Molesworth in the U.K. And we have a small contingent still in Tampa that coordinates with the U.S. Central Command.

But that's our biggest chunk of contractors, and we're constantly looking at that to say, you know, is there a way to be more efficient and reduce, at least to a degree, the reliance on contractors? So we'll keep wrestling with that.

But to date, no specific, you know, direction to reduce by an amount but clearly an intent to do so.

Q: How would you replace contractors, because we're told that all the resources have gone to Central Command, which means AFRICOM would be a lower priority? So how would you be able to get enough personnel to make up for the contractors?

GEN. HAM: Yeah, I think -- well, obviously, you know, Central Command is the priority effort but not the exclusive effort. You know, particularly in countering violent extremists, Africa Command has received a pretty good priority and level of support.

I think the challenge for us is, again, how do we -- across the intelligence community and across the intelligence enterprise, how do we best leverage all those capabilities to the degree we can to reduce redundancy so that we don't have a number of different agencies and organizations performing the same tasks?

How do we leverage reach-back? You know, do I have to have somebody physically present with me, or am I comfortable reaching back to the Defense Intelligence Agency, to other intelligence organizations, and relying upon their analysis and support?

So we're working our way through all of that -- what can we share with European Command, with Central Command, Southern Command and others with whom we operate closely? Again to reduce redundancy.

It is perhaps intelligence and aviation, probably special operations forces, are the three -- I would say probably the three areas where the heavy commitment of those capabilities into the -- appropriately into the CENTCOM area of responsibility is the most difficult challenge.

Some of you remember, in a previous life I was the director for operations on the Joint Staff, so I'm kind of one of those that was supportive of priority going to CENTCOM, and I think that's still right. But, again, it doesn't mean exclusively to CENTCOM. And we do a lot of things together.

Djibouti is a good example of that, where we worked very closely with Central Command -- and, again, if we can share intelligence assets rather than having our -- each of us have our stand-alone capabilities, there's some benefit in that.

Mr. HEBERT: OK. Christian Lowe.

Q: General, you said in answer to your first question that the Libya operation sort of demonstrated to your command that you had to be ready for the full spectrum of operations; you had to retain the ability to do the higher-end operation. Let's get more specific about that. What have you implemented or what are you going to implement? What sort of changes are you going to make to your command that better prepares you to engage in that kind of operations?

GEN. HAM: Most specifically, it was kinetic targeting, which was not something that we had practiced. We didn't have a great capability honed and refined inside the organization, and Odyssey Dawn caused us to really work in that regard. And then --

Q: What does that mean? I'm sorry. What does that mean?

GEN. HAM: The refinement and the very precise analysis of what's a defined -- you know, what are the effects that I want to achieve as the commander? Then what specific targets will contribute to achieving that effect?

And so you get into the very precise application of, OK, here is a communications node. What does it do? How does it connect with other places? What would be the right munition to use against that target? What's the collateral damage likelihood? What's the right time of day? What's the right weapon to use? What's the right delivery platform to use against that? How do you synchronize it?

That level of detail and precision for kinetic targeting -- dropping bombs, Tomahawks, those kinds of things, was not something the command had practiced to the degree that we were required to do in Odyssey Dawn. It came pretty quickly. Again, this will be unsurprising to you. You know, most of the intelligence analysts, most of the targeteers across the United States military, have done this in previous deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, so they know how to do it, but collectively, Africa Command had not previously done this.

So we got up to that capability pretty quickly. The question for us now is, how do we sustain that so that if we would have to do this again we start at a higher plateau than we were previously?

Q: What else? Anything else?

GEN. HAM: Interoperablity. I mean, we very quickly had a very large coalition, and how do you synchronize those efforts? Particularly, again, of the non-NATO folks, the folks that we have not traditionally worked with. And for us in AFRICOM, that's especially important because, you know, we need to craft those same practices with our African partners. So if we were to do a joint airlift activity, for example, how do we make sure that we can do so effectively -- air traffic control, airfield management, those kinds of activities with our African partners?

And then, lastly, I would say in the maritime domain, the same kind of thing, is when you bring a number of different nations together, many of whom have not worked together previously. How do you get to a capability that's necessary in very short order? We're having some good success in West Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, and increasing our maritime cooperation there.

And I think the lessons that we learned in the early days of Odyssey Dawn are helping us to facilitate that.

MR. HEBERT : To the left here. Thom Shanker.

Q: Thanks. Great.

Earlier in this discussion, General, you mentioned your concerns the upheaval in Libya was opening the door to violent extremism there. Could you widen the aperture and look across your vast AOR and give us a status report of the various militant extremist groups?

Has the Arab Spring uprising increased opportunities for al-Qaida and the Islamic Maghreb, the al-Shabab, and even in Northern Nigeria? I guess, what do you think of these intelligence reports that say that as al-Qaida's central leadership in Pakistan is weaker, that all these affiliate groups are trying to coalesce perhaps in Africa to be the new center of gravity --

GEN. HAM: Well, Thom, we could talk for a couple of hours about how I see that unfolding in Africa, but I think -- you know, yesterday Mr. Vickers talked about that, that al-Qaida main may be somewhat diminished but the affiliates, both acknowledged and those who would like to be affiliated, may be gaining in capacity. And that's what I see in Africa and that's what concerns me in Africa.

And we have three primary groups that we deal with, and these are the ones that you know about. It's al-Shabab in East Africa, al-Qaida in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb in the Sahel, and then Boko Haram. Each of those three independently, I think, presents a significant threat not only in the many nations in which they primarily operate, but regionally. And I think they present a threat to the United States.

They have at least -- at least three of those -- those three organizations have very explicitly and publicly voiced an intent to target Westerners, and the U.S. specifically. I have questions about their capability to do so. I have no question about their intent to do so. And that to me is very worrying.

And so, if I was just those three organizations, that would be troubling enough to me. What's of greater concern, actually, is the voiced intent of the three organizations to more closely collaborate and synchronize their efforts. And we're seeing this intent voiced most clearly between AQIM and Boko Haram.

They've expressed an interest in sharing training and operations and those kinds of activities, and that to me is very, very worrying. It seems to me that the connections with al-Shabab are probably more idealistic than realistic at this point, but just the fact that they want to connect is worrying.

So we could, if left unaddressed -- then you could have a network that ranges from East Africa through the center and into the Sahel and Maghreb, and I think that would be very, very worrying. So, what do we do about that?

Well, the issue is we work with our regional partners. And, again, the president said it best in Ghana a few years ago. You know, what we seek to enable are African solutions to African security challenges. The Africans are better at addressing this than we are. In some cases they need some assistance, and where we can provide that, we seek to do so to help them counter that.

An example of that would be, perhaps, in Mali, which is a tough place for AQIM. And the Malians have asked for some help in training and equipping their forces to counter AQIM. We're doing that. We're glad to do so. And we think we are contributing in a meaningful way to increasing Mali's capability.

I'm also struck -- and I would just tell you, in a fairly recent visit to Mauritania, the chief of the Mauritanian armed forces -- they've also been a great partner in countering AQIM. His comment to me, it really stayed with me. And after long discussion, you know, he said, hey, we need a little bit of assistance. You know, Mauritania is not a wealthy country. They need a little bit of assistance. He said, but what we need more than assistance is partnership.

And I thought that was a pretty sophisticated approach to this. The Africans want to take responsibility. They do take responsibility. In some cases, you know, they do need a little bit of help, but what they're really looking for is, you know, what are ways that we can partner and collaborate and address our shared security interests together? And I thought that that was a pretty good way of thinking about this.

MR. HEBERT: OK, let's go down to the far left.

Q: General, to what degree has the U.S. military deployed armed UAVs over Somalia?

GEN. HAM: I'm sorry?

Q: To what degree has the U.S. military deployed armed UAVs over Somalia?

GEN. HAM: That's not something I'm willing to talk about publicly.

Q: And can you walk us through why you can't?

GEN. HAM: I mean, I think it's -- the U.S. conducts sensitive operations in a lot of places, and I think the less we talk about that publically, the better off we all are. I like -- I like the fact that al-Shabab and other extremist leaders in some parts of the world don't know where we are, what we might do, what we are doing, what we're not doing. I think it's beneficial for us for them to not know.

MR. HEBERT: Want to try another?

Q: No, that's good. Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. HEBERT: Mike, go ahead.

Q: On the topic of terrorism, last year officials from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program toured Africa, saying they were going to expand their efforts there. Senator Lugar even led a delegation so that these pathogens wouldn't fall into the hands of terrorists and be used in bioterrorism. Can you tell me a little about where the status of biosecurity efforts on the continent stands and where it might be going in the months and years ahead?

GEN. HAM: There are a number of initiatives. There's more that we probably should be doing. And as you mentioned, Senator Lugar has kind of been leading that charge. There are a number of U.S. military research facilities operating in a number of places in Africa and a number -- they've established partnerships with many African nations in places where we don't have a lab or a research center.

To me, the most encouraging thing is that the Africans themselves are becoming increasingly conscious of the risk of the biological threat and are taking active measures to counter that. It can be so simple as cooperating on antimalarials, which is for many African militaries is actually a pretty debilitating issue and very significantly affects their readiness, but also to -- you know, to more widespread concerns of a biological threat that could affect the continent.

So again, I think there's more that we could be doing and probably should be doing. But the research labs are making some pretty good progress. What I have asked the AFRICOM staff to do in concert with the policy folks in the Office of the Secretary of Defense is how do we better synchronize the efforts of each of the labs and the research centers.

They're service-sponsored. So in some cases they have a bit of a narrower view of their responsibilities than I would like to have. And I'd like to strengthen the partnership not only between the various U.S. research centers and labs on the continent but also to increase the partnership with African medical and research capabilities, some of which is occurring. Ghana is a pretty good example. It has a strong partnership with one of the universities there. But there is more that we can and should be doing, I think.

MR. HEBERT: OK, so we'll swing around 180 degrees. John, and then Tony?

Q: Sir, there was a big push when AFRICOM was in its final stages of being set up -- a huge push here in Washington and across the continent -- that it would be -- that the command would be for training, equipping, helping out African nations. That seems to be -- that seems to have been overcome by events in Libya, other things.

You've talked about taking some of that offensive expertise that you've gained over the last few months and kind of institutionalizing that. Have you talked -- have any African nations especially those that were so concerned about an offensive U.S. military presence on the continent -- have any African leaders raised concerns about this that it looks like the command is shifting more offensive?

GEN. HAM: I have -- I have not heard that from any African civilian or military leader with whom I have engaged in the six months that I have been there. But it is clear in many places that there's concern about that, and there's -- you know, you read articles in African journals and blogs and what have you that are -- that they remain concerned about, you know, what's our ulterior motive, what are we really trying to accomplish in Africa?

Some of that, I suspect, is just normal suspicion and there's probably not much that we're ever going to do to convince someone other than what they currently believe. And you know, there's just some people who say, you know, that we do have some ulterior motive.

All I can do is try to convey as best I can what it is that we try to accomplish, and the two principles that I talk about as I travel around Africa are the two things that I think guide us -- the overarching principles.

And one is just a simple statement that a safe, stable, and secure Africa is in the best interest not only of the Africans but of the United States of America. I don't think we should be shy about saying that. I think one of the reasons AFRICOM was established was a growing recognition of the importance of the African nations to the United States and to the international community in a broad range of matters.

So it's very clear to me, that simple statement. It's best for us. It's also best for the Africans if African countries are safe, stable and secure. The second guiding principle is, again, this issue the president talked about in Ghana. And that is it is Africans who are best able to address African security matters. And we try to -- we try to put -- we try to have our actions match our words in that regard.

So we do remain focused on building partner capacity, on sharing information, on cooperative exercises, increasingly focused -- focusing our efforts on the African Union regional economic committees and their military standby forces to help build a regional capacity for the African Union and for others to address.

So again, I just -- and what I hear as I travel around, you know, is mostly acceptance, mostly appreciation of that. In many places they would like us to do more. There are some countries that would like us to do more but do it quietly. And that's OK. That's their -- that's their prerogative.

I'm not interested in U.S. Africa Command getting a lot of credit for what we do. That's not particularly relevant to me. What's important is if we can contribute in meaningful ways, both in a bilateral basis and a regional basis to helping Africans become increasingly self-secure, then that's a good way ahead for us.

Q: A second thing -- some lawmakers have been pitching their cities and their districts or states as a potential permanent home for Africa Command's headquarters. Can you give us an update on where a possible move stands, maybe some candidate locations? And how does the budget, since it's not cheap to move down the street much less around the world -- how does the budget situation affect a possible move?

MR. HEBERT: Boy, you're not stepping into a minefield there, are you?

GEN. HAM: No, that's OK. I'll look over at Colonel (Inaudible). I think I'll say -- I think I'll say this right. I think the FY '12 defense authorization act as drafted by the House contains a requirement for the Department of Defense to report back -- to do a study on the basing of Africa Command headquarters and report back -- I believe the draft language is April, I think, of '12. Of course that's -- you know, that's not law yet. But I think the department -- I think OSD is looking at that and saying, OK, though it's not law, you know, we probably ought not delay too long. And I think they're getting energized now to do a real no-kidding Africa Command headquarters basing study in anticipation of that requirement. And obviously we'll be a piece of that. But there's lots of factors other than, you know, than the operational commander being engaged in it. But I think that's kind of where that stands.

The money piece to me is perhaps more relevant. I'd have a pretty tough time in this fiscal environment going to Secretary Panetta and saying, hey, we ought to spend a bunch of money to move the headquarters anyplace, even if -- even if doing so might have some other benefits.

Right now in this environment, I'd have a -- it would really have to be a compelling reason for me to go back to the secretary and say, we ought to spend a bunch of money to do this. So we'll await, you know, what happens in the '12 authorization act and, you know, if that requirement materializes, I think the department will be ready to do that study and provide that information back to the Congress.

MR. HEBERT: OK, Tony Capaccio, then David.

Q: A couple of Libya questions. Has NATO's involvement in Libya resulted in any residual good impacts in the relationship with other African nations -- you know, as far away as Mauritania or Mali? I mean, do they think that this was a good intervention, this had helped AFRICOM build bridges in their region?

GEN. HAM: The African response is -- has been mixed. I mean, you've seen that play out. There are African states who firmly believe that military operations and activities in Libya was the wrong way to approach this.

There is general agreement that, you know, that it's time for Mr. Qadhafi to leave. There's general agreement that the citizens were threatened. But there is disagreement in some countries as to how the U.N. responded, how the U.S. and its allies and partners and in how NATO responded, but again, general agreement on the desired end-states, disagreement about method.

The Africans -- one of the things that I discuss with the African military leaders as I travel about is, hey, we need to have that same kind of ability, albeit on a smaller scale, but for the Africans to operate militarily and with better synchronization. And hence our focus -- my focus from the Africa Command on helping the regional economic community standby forces -- so ECOWAS, ECCAS, you know, East African Community and the others -- build their -- build a regional capacity so that they buy to common standards, so they have interoperable communications, logistics systems, casualty evacuation, command and control.

We train and exercise and we can facilitate some of that. That's why we're engaged with the African Union Peace and Security Commission to try to establish kind of AU standards for this kind of business, so that the Africans can increasingly become interoperable with one another. It's less important that they're interoperable with us. It's more important that they can do it themselves.

Q: I have one quick question on counterterrorism capabilities within AFRICOM, residual. You laid out the two or three major terrorist groups. What's the implication of your special operations counterterror capabilities? Are those being -- have those been built up in the last -- in the six months you've been there, or state of play on that?

GEN. HAM: It's a -- the Special Operations Command Africa has grown a little bit and so we have some pretty good capability there. Most of Special Operations Command Africa is focused again on building the capability of African states. And so again, we find ourselves in lots of difference places engaged in partner capacity -- not conducting operations; that's for the Africans to do -- but us enabling those through building the capacity of those.

And we'll continue in that -- in that regard. And I think that's the right way to do this. Would I like more forces? Absolutely. I'd like more special -- you know, the demand for special operating forces of lots of different flavors is pretty significant in Africa.

We get -- you know, we get pretty good support and, I think, you know, as we, you know, look to '14 and beyond, you know, if things hold in Afghanistan and we start to see reduction of forces there, then the availability of special operating forces will increase for Africa and I think that will be beneficial.

Q: I'm thinking of counterstrike capability to conduct surgical raids like in Afghanistan and the U.S. Special Forces are doing anything against al Qaida. Do you have a built-up residual capability?

GEN. HAM: Again, we have what we need. But I kind of like not talking about that so, you know, so that AQIM as they're, you know, wandering around in the Tigharghar Mountains and folks in other parts of Africa, I think it's good that they don't know when and where they might be subjected to some threat.

But it is something we keep -- you know, we work obviously very closely with U.S. Special Operations Command. Admiral McRaven and I have a wonderful relationship, as we did with Admiral Olson. And I'm confident that when we have high priority requirements that we'll always be supported, have been supported by the chairman, the secretary, and certainly the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

MR. Tighargha: OK, David Cloud and then Otto.

Q: Just a few more on Libya. Do you think Qadhafi remains in command of some elements of his forces at this point?

GEN. HAM: Probably some, but certainly a very, very small number, significantly smaller number of regime loyalists. It doesn't seem to me -- and again, I would caveat this with saying, you know, again because I don't have an operational role, I don't have, you know, all the current -- (inaudible) -- but it seems to me that he's -- his ability to influence day-to-day activities, I think, has largely been eliminated, probably not completely eliminated but pretty significantly. But I think there are -- there are still certainly some pockets in Sirte and, you know, some residuals in Bani Walid and a couple of other places.

Q: As a military matter, does that make him a legitimate military target?

GEN. HAM: No, I think the answer is -- I think the way we've talked about that from the very start is that, you know, we don't target individuals. We target capabilities. And so a command-and-control capability, a facility that we go after, if we had some indication that he was present at that facility, it would not -- it wouldn't have a significant effect on the decision to strike or not strike.

It would be, you know, degrading that capability. But I'm unaware of any NATO Operation Unified Protector activity to specifically track him. And I think actually General Bouchard has been pretty clear about that, that they're not doing that. Rather, they're going after capability. If he happens to be at one of those sites, then so be it.

Q: But that's really kind of what I want to understand. I mean, as long as Qadhafi remains at large, even with a small but -- with a small ability to control forces, then this war remains unresolved. So why wouldn't -- and it would seem to me as a layman that he is a legitimate military target as the leader of a country in command of military forces. So why is there a reluctance -- and presumably even under the NATO mandate, where he is directing attacks potentially against civilians -- why is there a reluctance to acknowledge or even apparently to undertake operations to go after him?

GEN. HAM: I mean, obviously this is a policy matter. My sense as a military guy would be that the level of resources necessary to find -- you know, to focus and find him and try to target him would be considerable. I mean, to look for an individual is really complicated business and it would detract very significantly from the other military requirements that Unified Protector is trying to meet. So I think there's a -- there's a policy decision do you go after him, but I think there's a militarily pragmatic issue at play as well.

Q: Could I have just -- last one -- I mean -- sorry.

MR. Tighargha: We're getting backed up here. We need to press on. Otto and then Jordana.

Q: General, you dealt somewhat with my initial question which was, you know, the great suspicion about AFRICOM when it was stood up was what we were there for. You seemed to indicate then that a lot of that is dissipating, there's more acceptance for our role there now than when the command was conceived.

GEN. HAM: That's my sense. I mean, we keep getting asked to do more and more and more, and go to more places, more exercises, more military-to-military engagement, more and more requests for interchanges and I don't -- I don't recall anybody saying, we don't want you to come here anymore. And I would -- you know, that -- you know, I would -- you know, that has nothing to do with me. It has to do with three-and-a-half great years by General Ward kind of breaking down those barriers and establishing those partnerships, tremendous work by Africa Command's service components -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Special Operations, Horn of Africa.

And I think it gets to what -- you know, what American military folks do best, is it's not generals talking about this stuff. It's when you put a sergeant someplace or a chief petty officer someplace and that's the -- they carry the day because it's their actions that convey the sincerity of our effort. That seems to be working. There are still some places that there's a lot of suspicion and that's OK. We'll just keep working to chip away at that.

Q: The other one is the piracy issue off of Somalia. What is your role in that kind of a -- you know, forces come out of EUCOM and CENTCOM? You know, what's your role in running the antipiracy efforts and is there maybe more that we can do? The attacks are going up. Success is down. What's the situation on the Somali piracy?

GEN. HAM: The two issues of piracy -- you know, I was, you mentioned in East Africa. There's a different dynamic in West Africa and Gulf of Guinea. I think at present there's 12 ships that are held and about 300 persons that are held by the East African pirates. And it is very troubling.

I think as most of you know that this is a shared responsibility between Central Command and Africa Command. We have the land. They have the water, at least most of it. What I do know is the piece that's lacking most significantly in affecting a counterpiracy effort is the lack of good governance in Somalia. It's just -- and a lack of economic alternative. You know, if you're a young kid, I mean, there's not a bright future for you in Somalia. And if somebody offers you a gun and the prospects of a whole bunch of money, you know, to participate in pirating a commercial vessel, that's a pretty tempting offer.

So I don't -- you know, one of the challenges is, you know, what do we and the rest of the international community -- what's our plan to help Somalia develop good governance and economic alternatives so that piracy is a less lucrative option?

We do know that the presence of -- you know, maritime patrolling and presence of those vessels does matter. We've seen it alter pirates' activities. But it's an inherently inefficient way of countering piracy. I mean, chasing pirates and mother ships around the Indian Ocean isn't a particularly effective way to do this. But at its core, I think that it's good governance.

There is some progress I think being made on the judicial front. We're seeing countries as far away as Korea and the United States take in some of these pirates, try them and imprison them. That's not a bad deterrent where previously they were essentially -- it was essentially a catch-and-release. And that's increasingly not the solution.

We're looking for a way -- we, the U.S. government, looking for ways how do you help Kenya, how do you help Tanzania, how do you help others who are most affected by piracy, reinforce their judiciary and their law enforcement activities to counter it? But it's going to be a tough -- it's a -- unfortunately there's not a good solution.

More and more vessels and shipping companies are relying on on-board security. Some of the simple measures -- you know, the -- just, you know, concertina on the low -- you know, the low board vessels just to deter seem to be having some effect. But it's going to -- I think we won't see significant progress until there's governance and an economic alternative.

It's different in West Africa, if I could talk about West Africa and Gulf of Guinea piracy. The tactics are different. They don't hold vessels. They get them, get a ransom. They'll either take the oil and bunker that for future sale. It's a little bit of a different dynamic. But we have found in the cooperative efforts of many West African nations, they are addressing this collaboratively.

And we hosted a conference not long ago in Germany, brought in many West African countries, the African Union, ECOWAS, ECCAS, and working through things like what are the agreements that are necessary to allow hot pursuit across maritime boundaries so that, you know, the pirates just -- you know, they just take a ship and then they'll just escape. Right now, there's no -- there's not mechanism to allow hot pursuit. But there's ways to do that, ways to share, again, intelligence, maritime domain awareness, share information for trials of these pirates. So I'm a little more optimistic about the progress in West Africa.

MR. HEBERT: OK. We have five people still on the list and not a whole lot of time. So we need to move on to the speed round here, beginning with Jordana . We'll have to forego the follow-ups and then Jim.

GEN. HAM: OK, I'll be short. I'm sorry.

Q: That's OK.

Q: I'd like to bring you back to the budget. I know the U.S. is trying and DOD is trying to get hundreds of billions of dollars in the budget. What sort of missions and capabilities in AFRICOM are addressed, and also what are some of the options on the table? Does that include reorganizing AFRICOM or even doing away with it somehow?

GEN. HAM: Yeah, from a budget standpoint we're pretty small potatoes. I mean, we don't spend -- we don't have assigned forces. You know, really it's just kind of the headquarters and Camp Lemonnier, and we rely on rotational forces.

So I do worry that -- you know, as the services wrestle with reductions in budgets, particularly for Navy and Air Force whose -- you know, rotation of their forces is more expensive -- you know, that we sustain the right level of the naval and air engagement with Africa. So far, that's pretty promising. I think that will be OK.

I would say the budget -- the future of the budget is causing us to do two things.

First, it's causing us to much more rigorously prioritize and say, OK, where are the places that we really need to be and where do we achieve the greatest effect to achieve the national end-states that are required of us? And secondly, as talked about in some other issues, is finding opportunities to do more multinationally, more regionally and less bilaterally. And so that's I think two ways in which we'll seek to address budget issues.

Q: And those priorities -- if I could ask a quick follow-up -- what are some of those priorities?

GEN. HAM: Well, for example, as we look at, you know, regionally -- to me, East Africa is the most important region, and mostly because that's the area where there's violent extremists. There's this seam, this boundary between us and Central Command, growing connection between al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabab and al-Qaida in East Africa. There's piracy. There's the Lord's Resistance Army. There's, you know, the new nation of South Sudan and security force assistance. There's the terrible famine and humanitarian requirements. So East Africa has kind of got the large conglomeration of security issues right now.

Q: Thank you.

MR. HEBERT: Jim.

Q: General, you talked about some of the immediate concerns in Libya obviously in terms of securing MANPADs, chemical weapons and just overall stability. Do you also foresee further down the road a unique U.S. role in terms of rebuilding Libya's military either through FMS and small teams of advisors and what is it that (inaudible)?

GEN. HAM: I think from my view what we should seek with a new Libya is a normalized security assistance, a normalized military-to-military engagement. The National Transitional Council has been pretty clear that they're not interested in significant presence of outsiders in their country. They may well look to other organizations and other countries for leading roles in their security assistance, and I think that's fine. What I would hope that we will be able to do as we reestablish our embassy and the attachhhhhÃs and all that is to have a meaningful dialogue with the Libyans about what are the ways in which, again, the U.S. can bring its unique military capabilities to bear in assisting the new Libya?

So I don't know what that might mean just yet. But I don't think that the U.S. military will be Libya's leading military partner. I think we'll probably be more discrete and more specialized in our engagements.

MR. HEBERT: OK, Sean and Anna.

Q: General, I noticed when you laid out the sort of three extremist groups that most concerned you across the continent that you referred to al-Shabab as opposed to al-Qaida in East Africa. Is that because you feel that with the deaths of Nabhan and Harun Fazul over the last couple of years that AQ in East Africa has been sort of substantially degraded, that it's not the primary threat in that part of the world anymore, or is it because you think that it's become so interlocked with al-Shabab that they're basically the same organization, or is there another reason?

GEN. HAM: I think -- I think al-Shabab is going through a bit of an identity crisis themselves. There are clearly those in the senior leadership of Shabab that are quite closely aligned with al-Qaida and its objectives. But there are others that don't necessarily agree with that and see Shabab should be more focused internally and domestically. That same kind of struggle I see actually occurring in Boko Haram.

But it is very clear to me that Shabab has very publically and very clearly stated their affiliation with al-Qaida senior leaders, their alignment with their objectives. So I mean, I think it's a very close relationship, certainly the fact that some of their senior leaders have met their maker sooner than they were currently planning was not a bad thing. But the intent to be closely aligned with al-Qaida senior leaders certainly remains.

MR. HEBERT: OK, opposite side, we'll finish up with Anna and then Kevin.

Q: Hi, General. The president has been pretty adamant about no boots on the ground in Libya. This week we learned there are a few U.S. soldiers helping State Department officials. So I was wondering if you see any further U.S. troops heading there for those sorts of missions.

And then also, you know, again, along those lines, our allies have made similar assurances to their electorate saying we're not going to do boots on the ground either and so there doesn't seem to be any strong U.N. peacekeeping movement towards any sort of force there, the African Union isn't particularly strong in countries that make sense to do those sorts of roles or the countries that are stronger within the African Union forces maybe don't make sense to do those sorts of roles in Libya.

And so are you concerned about a lack of boots on the ground as this transition extends possibly towards a retaliation against loyalist forces and what are your thoughts on that?

GEN. HAM: On the U.S. side, I think Ms. Nuland and a couple of others talked about this., you know the four military personnel who are there now working with State are clearly in a support role and a different role. So we're in a different phase of activities in Libya now.

My expectation would be when the time comes -- when State and the government decide it's time to reopen the embassy, my hope is that there'll be a military defense attachhhhhà at the side of the ambassador when we do that. So again, there'll be some military personnel there. But they'll be there in the umbrella of initially assisting State Department reestablish the embassy, reestablish their programs.

And then my hope would be -- longer term would be, again, the establishment of a normalized security assistance, normalized military-to-military engagement where U.S. military folks might, you know, come in for a training exercise but, you know, not to be stationed there. And I don't -- and certainly not in any operational role as things develop with Libya.

As far as the overall issue, I mean, it's obviously more appropriate for the National Transitional Council to talk about their way ahead and what they see and what they would like to see in terms of international support. But they have been pretty clear about the fact that they do not envision the necessity of at least large-scale international presence or stabilization force or what have you.

I think the U.S. and all others are watching their actions. You know, do they really implement an effective reconciliation process? Do they control the violence? Do they control retaliation between various factions? The words are right. The challenge will be now do the actions match the words. And I think that will probably be a large determinant as to how the international community views its future assistance and cooperation with Libya.

MR. HEBERT: OK and the final quick question goes to Kevin Baron.

Q: Thank you very much for the extra time. You mentioned you wished for more SOF forces after 2014 for Africa. SOF forces require a lot of enablers as well, and I know that Camp Djibouti -- Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is expanding already with more permanent housing and, you know, buying more land. Isn't it true that the number of U.S. troops is already going up in that -- at least there, and should U.S. troops expect a higher op tempo in being rotated through Africa maybe much sooner than 2015?

GEN. HAM: Well, I should be clear. I'd like more special operation forces now. I expect we might see some incremental increases. But I think it will be until decisions get made about post -- about Afghanistan post-2014, I wouldn't see any large-scale change in the availability of special operations forces for Africa.

Special operations forces, as you know, by their nature don't require -- they do require some enablers but they don't require a large infrastructure. And our small teams that, for example, are operating in training -- are training the Malians -- it's a pretty bare-bones operation. So we don't -- it doesn't, again, require lots of infrastructure. You know, they rely mostly on indigenous support; and host nations have been quite good about providing, you know, adequate, you know, barracks if that's necessary or other sustainment.

In Djibouti, we have grown and it's a little bit larger. It's a very, very interesting and important hub not only for U.S. Africa Command but for Central Command, for Special Operations Command, for Transportation Command. The Djiboutians have been absolutely wonderful partners and hosts and facilitating our activities there. But yeah, it has grown a little bit. I don't think it will grow too much more. We've got the next couple of months a couple of other organizations going in there. But I think it will probably plateau at least for a while.

MR. HEBERT: Thank you, General. We appreciate your -- (inaudible).

GEN. HAM: OK, all right. Thank you all very, very much.

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