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TRANSCRIPT: General Ham's Press Conference in Morocco
On September 25, 2012, U.S. Africa Command Commander General Carter F. Ham spoke at a press conference with the Moroccan media at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, Morocco. <br />While in Morocco, General Ham visited with members from the Morocco Center
On September 25, 2012, U.S. Africa Command Commander General Carter F. Ham spoke at a press conference with the Moroccan media at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, Morocco.
While in Morocco, General Ham visited with members from the Morocco Center for Strategic Studies. Of that visit, General Ham said, "...which was very helpful in me getting a better understanding of some of the regional security challenges..."

One of the main topics General Ham addressed at the press conference concerned the current situation in Mali. About that situation, Ham stated, "It will certainly require the efforts of the international community to address these challenges, but the solution must begin with the government of Mali."

Concerning the relationship the United States has with Morocco, Ham stated, "With regard to our military relationship with Morocco, I think the best word to describe it is partnership. Partnership is a relationship which benefits both participants."

The complete transcript appears below.

GENERAL CARTER HAM: Well, thank you all for taking time to join us this morning. The last time I was in Morocco, it was for the African Lion exercise, and that exercise focused on the tactical cooperation between American and Moroccan military forces. The visit this time focuses more on the operational and strategic relationship and dialogue between our two countries. Had a very interesting discussion with members from the Moroccan - Morocco Center for Strategic Studies, which was very helpful in me getting a better understanding of some of the regional security challenges, and beginning this afternoon, a large group of international experts coming together in Morocco to discuss matters of our collective security concerns. All of that, to me, reinforces the necessity for close relationships between the U.S. and Moroccan military forces.

The continuing challenges in Mali, the recent demonstrations across North Africa, reinforce that we live in a turbulent and challenging time, and it also conveys to me the importance of nations working together to address their mutual security interests. So with that, again, thank you for coming, and I welcome your questions.

Q: (Through interpreter.) My question is, what's your feeling of the situation in north Mali? And the reason of the whole discussion with the whole proliferation of arms everywhere, why even dare any intervention from the international community, the region, especially when we hear daily reports that speak about the - (inaudible) - control of al-Qaida of the whole region there?

GEN. HAM: There's no question but that the people of northern Mali are in a very difficult situation today, and I would say they face three simultaneous significant challenges. First is the collapse of effective government in the northern portion of Mali; second is the presence of al-Qaida, Ansar Dine and other extremist terrorist organizations; and the third is a worsening humanitarian crisis across the region. It will certainly require the efforts of the international community to address these challenges, but the solution must begin with the government of Mali. And so I believe the government of Mali's request of ECOWAS and their request for the United Nations to address this problem are positive steps. But the solutions to the challenges in northern Mali will not be resolved very quickly. This will take time, it will take political will, it will take money, it will take the cooperation of all of the regional partners, and probably will require the use of some military force. But at least the discussion began formerly this week with the United Nations General Assembly.

Q: (Through interpreter.) So in the advent of all the events which the whole region is actually facing, how can you see the role or the potential military role that Morocco can play in the days to come? And what are events – (inaudible) – might take place in the weeks to come in the region of Mali, the region of tension?
GEN. HAM: To address your second question first, I think there is general understanding that if there is to be a military activity, intervention in northern Mali, it’s going to take a long time for that to occur. And I would – in my opinion, it must be – any military activity must be Malian-led. So one of the first steps will be what efforts does Mali request of the international community to help Mali reestablish a capable army to undertake operations in the northern portion of their country. And I think those efforts are likely to be training, equipping and logistical support.
As far as the role for Moroccan armed forces, that obviously is to be determined by Morocco. But I would cite two contributions that Morocco has made over a number of years. One is, of course, providing security here in the country, to not allow organizations such as AQMI or others to extend their presence here in Morocco. And second is Morocco has played a very active role for a number of years in the training and education of military leaders from other African countries. This has allowed those leaders, when they return to their home nations, to be more capable. And many of those come from ECOWAS countries. And if there is to be military activity in Mali, it probably will come from the armies of the ECOWAS countries. So in a very real way, Morocco has already contributed.

Q: (Through interpreter.) Concerning the maintenance of peace in the region, how does AFRICOM conceive this kind of - (inaudible)? Is it going to be bilateral? It will be United States on one hand and the respective countries on the other? Or is it going to be, rather, multilateral? And if it's going to be multilateral, what, in your opinion, are the challenges going to be like?

GEN. HAM: The main purpose for United States Africa Command is to strengthen the capabilities of African militaries and also of regional organizations. Most of our efforts are conducted on a bilateral basis. That is partly because our American laws and policies are focused on bilateral relationships. But we clearly recognize that the threats that present themselves in the region are transnational; they cross national boundaries. So we are always looking for opportunities to work through regional organizations. The programs for us to deal with regional organizations are not as well developed as are our programs for bilateral or state-to-state interaction. So this is an area where we can, and in my opinion we must, improve. And we will - and we will certainly look to the nations within the region for their ideas on how we can more effectively conduct multinational or regional activities.

Q: (Through interpreter.) I have two questions for you, General. The first question's related to your visit to Morocco and to the persons that you have – (inaudible) - and how meeting - (inaudible). Have there been any decisions taken to reduce - (inaudible)? And the second question is related to the help and support provided by AFRICOM to Morocco. I'd like to know - (inaudible) - budget and what has been allocated to these kinds of cooperation.

GEN. HAM: I arrived only last evening, so so far our - the meetings have been - have not been as extensive as they will be over the next few days. So the morning was spent here at the U.S. Embassy with U.S. meetings, and then, as I mentioned, a very, very productive meeting with the president and researchers from the Morocco Center for Strategic Studies. There will be meetings later today and most of the day tomorrow with a wide group of international security experts, and then ultimately a meeting with General Bennani to discuss our shared interests.

With regard to our military relationship with Morocco, I think the best word to describe it is partnership. Partnership is a relationship which benefits both participants. And while some of the relationship is focused on equipment, such as the F-16s and other pieces of military hardware, the more important part of the partnership, to me, is the interpersonal relationships. We have a large military staff here who facilitate the military relationship between the two countries. Every year there are a large number of Moroccan officers who travel to the United States and participate in training and education programs.

We have a very wide range of military activities that we do together here in Morocco. And it extends from a very large exercise such as African Lion, with thousands of participants, with ships and airplanes. But in some cases our activity is a small team, two or three people doing a medical exercise. What we have found in this relationship is that every time I am able to send American military persons here to Morocco, they come back to us better trained, better educated and with good experience. And it is for General Bennani and others to talk about the benefits to Morocco, but I believe the Moroccans also benefit from this partnership. I can say for certain that the American ambassador, General Bennani and myself are firmly committed to keeping this relationship very strong.

INTERPRETER: The lady is from the Maghreb Arab Press Agency. And she says that concerning the meetings that you are going to held (ph) with the Americans and Moroccan officials, can you give us an idea about the issue that you will debate, I mean, in these meetings, especially the urgent ones? Second question, please. (Inaudible) – the issue of the lack of security in the Sahel region. What role will AFRICOM play, I mean, in order to mitigate the situation - (inaudible) - in the Sahel region?

GEN. HAM: In my discussions with Moroccan officials, we will certainly talk about the security challenges in the region. It's obvious to you, but I'm an American soldier. I don't have the same understanding, the same cultural awareness, the same experience that allows me to have a regional depth of understanding of the security challenges here. So the opportunity for me to hear from those who live here, those who understand these matters more completely than I do, is very, very helpful to me.

Of course, we will also talk about some specific military matters. We'll talk about the planning for the next African Lion exercise. We'll talk about other training opportunities between our two nations and look for opportunities to strengthen the military-to-military relationship.

With regard to your second question about what do - can we do; what can we offer for the current security challenges, I think the role that the United States military does best is to be a supporting, an enabling role for African militaries in this region. My president said a few years ago in a speech in Ghana that in the long run, it is best for Africans to address African security challenges. And so we look for opportunities where our assistance can help those African militaries, and that’s principally through training and equipping. So we'll continue to look for opportunities where our assistance is welcome and where it is helpful.

Q: (Through interpreter.) Her name is - (name inaudible) - from - (inaudible) - newspaper. You have commended the role of Morocco in the maintenance of stability in the region. What are the measures that the country can take in the light of this - (inaudible) - American-Moroccan partnership in order to further guarantee stability in the region?

GEN. HAM: Morocco has a very strong, stable government and a strong and stable military force. In many ways, it's a good model for some others. I - it is my personal view that Morocco's assistance in helping to create a regional approach to the security problems would be very helpful. So that - I think that would be an area where we could work together to help better understand how do we bring together the many nations of the region to work collaboratively to address the mutual security interests. And Morocco's role, Morocco's voice in that process would be very, very welcome and very helpful.

Q: (Through interpreter.) He'd like to know your point of view on the military concerning the conflicts in the Western Sahara - (inaudible) - and your - (inaudible) - that Morocco should actually preserve and maintain its stability, but don't you think that this - (inaudible) - ongoing conflict might lead, perhaps, to the exploitations - (inaudible) - especially al-Qaida, and they might actually infiltrate the region and create a situation of instability?

GEN. HAM: Clearly any expansion by al-Qaida or Ansar Dine or other extremist organizations is very dangerous throughout the region, so I believe all the nations of the region must be on guard and must protect against such expansion.

With regard to the Western Sahara, I think the United States government has been very clear and very consistent. We support the U.N. process, and we seek a peaceful and sustainable resolution.

Q: (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) - from the Moroccan (television ?). Is African - AFRICOM - (inaudible) - role going to be limited to providing help and training to the local armies, or is it going perhaps in the future to play another human caring role, especially in a region like, you know, Sahel and African - (inaudible) - regions where there is a need for human assistance?

GEN. HAM: As the nations of the region, as the regional organizations and as the United Nations discuss and contemplate and begin to plan how to address the government of Mali's request for assistance, the role of the U.S. government will develop and will emerge throughout that discussion process. And along with that, the role of the military of the nations of the region and of international partners will also be discussed.

But there are no plans for U.S. direct military intervention, even in the - in the role of humanitarian assistance. There are other organizations who are better postured to provide humanitarian assistance to the people in northern Mali. Typically the use of any military to provide humanitarian assistance would be considered almost a last resort. And I think at least right now, the presence of other nations' military forces in northern Mali would complicate matters rather than make them better, at least - at least right now.

But you are right, I think, to highlight the significance of the humanitarian crisis that exists in northern Mali. There are - there are hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering and require the assistance of the international community.

I think with that we're probably out of time, but again, thank you for making time, and thank you very, very much.

Q: (Through interpreter.) Just one question about how can AFRICOM be helpful - be helpful, for example, for the whole region, not only, for example, for Morocco as a strategic ally to the United States?

GEN. HAM: The best role that the United States military plays in the region is to help our African partners with training, with equipping, with sharing of our experiences. And so that's what we seek to do, and we think that role is better for us than direct military intervention.

Q: (Through interpreter.) And therefore the cooperation between military forces - (inaudible) - States, is it directly between United States and Morocco, or so would the AFRICOM?

GEN. HAM: The United States military-to-military relationship with Morocco is managed by United States Africa Command. We have very, very close relationships with General Bennani and with those here at the Armed Forces. We work under the direction of the U.S. ambassador to keep - to strengthen this relationship to the benefit of both nations.