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TRANSCRIPT: Ambassador Holmes Interviewed by Executive Director at Institute for Security Studies in South Africa
<i>In an interview with Dr. Jakkie Cilliers, executive director, Institute for Security Studies, in Pretoria, South Africa on October 28, 2011, Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, U.S. Africa Command&#39;s civilian deputy, talked about the command&#39;s
PRETORIA, South Africa - U.S. Africa Command's civilian deputy, Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, explains U.S. AFRICOM during a speech October 28, 2011, at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa. Holmes discussed controversies related to the command as well as the U.S. military's areas of focus in working with African nations. (U.S. Africa Command photo by Vince Crawley)
1 photo: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 1 of 1: PRETORIA, South Africa - U.S. Africa Command's civilian deputy, Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, explains U.S. AFRICOM during a speech October 28, 2011, at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa. Holmes discussed controversies related to the command as well as the U.S. military's areas of focus in working with African nations. (U.S. Africa Command photo by Vince Crawley) Download full-resolution version
In an interview with Dr. Jakkie Cilliers, executive director, Institute for Security Studies, in Pretoria, South Africa on October 28, 2011, Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, U.S. Africa Command's civilian deputy, talked about the command's six focus areas, basing concerns, and AFRICOM's role in recent events including operations in Libya.

Regarding the debate about AFRICOM's location, Holmes said that the U.S. military was "shocked and chastened in 2007 at the response of African governments and African opinion leaders," and added that the decision was quickly made to maintain the command's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

U.S. AFRICOM's activities, Holmes explained, are focused in six main areas: peacekeeping, counterterrorism, defense sector reform, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, development of noncommissioned officers, and maritime security.

Holmes briefly highlighted AFRICOM's role in Uganda in support of efforts to counter the Lord's Resistance Army, which he said involves developing the concept for the operations, coordination, and advising the Ugandan military.

In Libya, Holmes stated that AFRICOM played a coordination role initially after the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 was passed, but the mission was handed off to NATO after 10 or 11 days. Africa Command's role included the coordination of intelligence and imposing a no-fly zone over Libyan air space.

The complete transcript is included below: DR. JAKKIE CILLIERS: This is Jakkie Cilliers and I'm speaking to Ambassador Anthony Holmes, the deputy at AFRICOM in Stuttgart, who has presented a seminar at the institute on the United States security policy in Africa and the role of AFRICOM. Ambassador Holmes, welcome to the institute, and thank you for an excellent presentation. I wanted to follow up by asking a few questions. One of them was that you mentioned the six roles of engagement of AFRICOM. Perhaps could you just list that for our listeners. ANTHONY HOLMES: Sure. These aren't exclusive, but these tend to be six areas where there has been a real focus and a decision that these are worthwhile areas where there's both a need on the part of Africans and a receptivity -- lack of sensitivity in areas that we think we have an advantage and expertise that makes it a natural fit. The first area is training of peacekeepers for both U.N. and AU peacekeeping missions. We've been doing this since 1997 under a couple of different names. We've trained almost 205,000 African troops, 235 units from 25 countries. It's extremely popular. A number of countries have decided to use peacekeeping as, in part, a self-paying way of rehabilitating and re-equipping their militaries. Because of the $1,028 that the U.N. and now the AU pay to peacekeepers, often you have a situation in which troops from countries can get huge increases in their salaries, the ministry can take off the top --- a percentage to use to upgrade the military, and through the provision of both equipment, but particularly training and the experience that comes with operating with other militaries, this has a tremendously positive impact on the professionalism and comportment of the troops themselves, and in some cases -- I would mention Burundi -- is a way for them to rehabilitate their image internationally as they come out of a very ugly and protracted civil war. DR. CILLIERS: So peacekeeping is very important, but there are other also five other roles that you mentioned. Could you just list them? AMB. HOLMES: Right. Maritime. We find there's a tremendous need for increased maritime security, and most maritime -- most coastal countries in Africa have very limited awareness of what's happening in their territorial waters, much less their exclusive economic zones. So they're very receptive to that. A third is in the defense sector reform component of a broader security sector reform program. We work to try to help other -- to help militaries not only improve their skills, but mainly to develop the institutions that they need to be modern, effective militaries. And that's not limited to just the services, but we also work to develop ministries of defense, so that you truly have militaries that are subordinate to civilian authority. The fourth is counterterrorism. This is an important priority for us in terms of our objectives on the African continent. Given the realities on the continent, however, our focus tends to be on Somalia and the surrounding countries to deal with al-Shabaab, and in West Africa, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is based in northern Mali but increasingly has ties with Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. So we try to assist the governments and militaries of the countries in that region to develop the capacity to come to grips with and solve its own terrorism problem. The fifth area is in the training of noncommissioned officers. The strength of the U.S. military is in the -- in the capacity of and the responsibilities of our noncommissioned officers. They often train their lieutenants and captains to be good officers, and they are -- we couldn't be what we are as a military without them, and we can't imagine that African militaries will be able to provide the security that they need to without developing NCO corps. And then the sixth area is humanitarian assistance and disaster response, how to use militaries in conjunction with civil and humanitarian organizations to deal with both natural disasters and man-made disasters. DR. CILLIERS: Tell me a little bit -- how big is AFRICOM, and what is the role of AFRICOM? How do you see yourself? Does it have troops? Does it have military assets that it deploys? AMB. HOLMES: No, AFRICOM is exclusively a headquarters operation. There are a couple of thousand people spread between Stuttgart, Germany, Molesworth Royal Air Force Base in the United Kingdom, and then in both Washington and in Tampa, in Florida. And our role is coordination and planning primarily. We don't have troops. When we need troops for operations or engagements, we have to go through a very formal and structured process at the Pentagon to request those troops, and then the Pentagon authorizes the request and then sends it out to the services, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and special forces, to see if they have people available to do the mission that's been approved. And sometimes they're not available, or sometimes we get fewer than we thought we needed. And we have to then change the scope of these exercises to accommodate the realities of a military that's engaged around the world, and particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whose priorities are obviously very much higher than AFRICOM's. DR. CILLIERS: What's happened about the debate about the location of AFRICOM into Africa or perhaps even back to the United States? AMB. HOLMES: Well, the U.S. military was shocked and chastened in 2007 at the response of -- well, around the world, but particularly by African governments and African opinion leaders, the negative reaction to the prospect of having AFRICOM based in Africa. And so the decision was quite quickly made to maintain AFRICOM in Stuttgart, Germany. Most of AFRICOM was hived off from the European command, also in Stuttgart. We migrated to a little barracks that was being returned to the Germans. And that's where we are. That's where we are likely to remain. That's official U.S. government policy. There are some in the U.S. Congress who would like very much to see AFRICOM headquartered in the United States. That would be an expensive proposition, and given our budget situation presently, I don't think that's likely to happen. But that would be the only alternative, in my view, to remaining in Stuttgart. DR. CILLIERS: The U.S. has recently deployed troops into Uganda to try and help the Ugandan government track down and apprehend or eliminate Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. Would those troops, therefore, be coordinated under -- by AFRICOM? And what is their role and function? AMB. HOLMES: Well, AFRICOM's role here would be to develop the entire concept for the operation, to coordinate, discuss in-depth with the Ugandans about what they need, to understand what the realities are with the LRA -- what its impact is, how it operates, where its point of vulnerability might be, and to develop a plan by which U.S. assets -- and in this case we're talking about a small number of special forces soldiers -- go in to advise the Ugandan military, as well as the militaries of South Sudan and the Central African Republic and Congo, DRC. DR. CILLIERS: What role does AFRICOM play in Somalia in al-Shabab? AMB. HOLMES: Well, we have a no-boots-on-the-ground policy. We don't have people in Somalia. We work very hard with the governments of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya to insulate them from the impact of al-Shabaab and its policies and practices in Somalia. We, as a government, provide a fair amount of relief through nongovernmental organizations to the people of Somalia. We're very concerned about, particularly the past couple of years, the introduction of large numbers of foreigners into al-Shabaab training camps with the clear intent of promoting terrorism and conducting terrorism attacks outside of Somalia. And initially some thought that Somalia was purely a domestic -- al-Shabaab was purely a domestic Somali phenomenon. That's becoming less and less the case as these foreign troops come in there, are trained and then go on. The attack last -- in July of 2010 in Kampala, Uganda, was the most dramatic manifestation of this. But we know that there are large numbers of foreigners being trained in al-Shabaab training camps in Somalia, and that's of great concern. And we also know that many members of this Somali diaspora in Europe and the United States have gone back to Somalia for training. And we are very concerned about this. This is -- we feel vulnerable. DR. CILLIERS: You also mentioned the concerns that the U.S. has with regards to what's happening in the Sahel, of course, particularly in Nigeria, the Boko Haram. Do you see an internationalization of the Boko Haram threat? Are you concerned about that -- the linkage which is something that started out very much as a domestic issue, is -- also has the potential to become a regional security concern that may also draw the attention and support of the United States? AMB. HOLMES: Well, it's already drawn our attention. The government of Nigeria is only coming to grips with the existence and magnitude of the problems and beginning to think through the ramifications. We have offered assistance. We have a longstanding military-to-military relationship with Nigeria, but its priorities have not been on this terrorism issue. But with the bombings in northern Nigeria over the past -- well, exactly 12 months since October of 2010, and particularly the one this past August 2011 at the U.N. compound in Abuja, we are witnessing and we know that there are increasingly frequent contacts, and indeed, training of members of Boko Haram by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and that's of great concern. And we think it would be a disaster if AQIM and its policies and approaches were adopted by Boko Haram. Thus I'm not sure that would be an internationalization, but it clearly would be a downturn -- a change of character of Boko Haram as a terrorist threat. Boko Haram has been focused on the Nigerian government and changing Nigerian society -- rightly or wrongly. But now, with this link-up with AQIM, it's a much graver threat than it's been before. And of course, Nigeria is such a large, important country, with so many development challenges, that it can only have a negative effect domestically across the range of issues and institutions in Nigeria. DR. CILLIERS: Libya and the -- and NATO's role in Libya has been -- has received a tremendous amount of media coverage, particularly here in South Africa. What role did AFRICOM play in the Libyan operations? AMB. HOLMES: There was coordination initially after U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 was passed. We coordinated with the international community, particularly the French and the British, in terms of enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolution. Before or after 10 or 11 days, it was handed off to NATO. So this was a standard regional command coordination function in terms of, again, understanding the situation there and putting together, in this case, a no-fly zone, an air-exclusion campaign, and -- you know, without troops on the ground. So, I mean, it was a question of coordinating intelligence primarily on the regime and points of vulnerability, particularly in terms of air defenses and being able to actually impose a no-fly zone over Libyan air space. DR. CILLIERS: AFRICOM is a -- Africa is a -- is a complex continent, and views on the continent are not as common or as united as many people like -- often like to present. How would you perceive the differences in the reception that AFRICOM has received in different parts of the continent? Has it been welcomed more in certain areas than in other areas? And how would you grade the collaboration that AFRICOM gets, and the U.S. military generally gets, from African countries? DR. HOLMES: Well, a common misperception is that AFRICOM was the beginning of U.S. military engagement in Africa. I mean, the United States military, the United States itself, has had decades of engagement with African militaries. We have been in a position to provide training and, to a very limited extent, materiel, to African militaries. And the demand on the part of African militaries for engagement with us -- for exercises, for training -- is virtually limitless. I'm not aware of a single African military that we engage with -- and there are only two or three that we don't -- that doesn't want much more training and engagement. Obviously, resources on both sides are a major consideration in that regard. And there are a few countries, to be sure, that -- where the military's great desire for increased engagement with AFRICOM is not matched by the politicians. And so we have more arm's-length relationships with several -- not a large number, but several -- militaries in Africa with which we would like to have deeper ties, because of the politicians putting limits on such engagement. DR. CILLIERS: Thank you very much. That was an interview with Ambassador Anthony Holmes, the deputy to the commander for civil-military relations at the United States Africa Command. Thank you very much. AMB. HOLMES: Great. You're welcome. (END)