General Carter Ham, Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), met with a group of South African journalists March 21, 2013, at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart.
Full transcript follows.
GENERAL CARTER HAM: I was going to thank you for bringing good weather. But, this morning, it wasn't so nice. It was – but now, it's turned out to be quite pleasant. So it's a – it's a – we're always thankful for that at this time of year in Germany because you're never exactly sure what you're going to get in terms of weather.
And so today is a good example. You get a little bit of everything: a little snow, a little rain, a little sunshine. It makes us appreciate when the weather is very nice.
Well, first of all, just let me say thank you for choosing to come here. This is – it's a great treat for us to have the opportunity to host you on your visit. And I think – did I hear right? This is your first time out of South Africa?
So Germany is not a bad place to come for the – for the first time. But there's a bigger world out there, and this is a – kind of a fun – kind of a fun thing.
And, for me, this is a nice opportunity – I think, as you may know, I’m nearing the end of my tenure here at Africa Command and I have about two weeks left is all. Then, we'll – I have no idea what the next adventure is, but there's some next adventure out there. And we'll explore what that may be.
As I was thinking about this meeting, I was remembering very fondly the one visit that I was able to make to South Africa in 2000 – oh, excuse me, in 1997. I was a student at the War College, and they – we do what we call regional studies trips. And I was fortunate enough to be selected in a group that went to South Africa and Botswana. There were only eight of us. It was the Air Force's War College, so there were – there were six Air Force officers, a Marine and me. And we spent a couple of weeks in Southern Africa, most of that in South Africa.
And we were in Cape Town for part of it and got the air bases and the submarine base and a naval base and then a little bit of time in the capital city as well.
And I remember that trip with great fondness. Not only was your country a strikingly beautiful country, especially in the Cape area, which is I think is, to me, the most beautiful part of the world I've ever seen, but it was also a very interesting time because it was in the midst of the truth and reconciliation process. And for us Americans, that was a very, very interesting process to watch that unfold and to get a little glimpse of how that process was used in the country.
And I will tell you I actually used what I learned in South Africa – I tried to use what I learned in South Africa when I served in Iraq many, many years later where they had difficult relations, at best, between the various factions of Sunnis and Shi’a Arabs and the Kurdish people in Iraq.
And the South African model of the truth and reconciliation process seemed to me to be a good mechanism to try to address those kind of concerns. Now, I will admit at being wholly unsuccessful in getting the Iraqis in the northern part of the country where I served to adopt that, but I think it remains today as a good example of how groups with significantly different backgrounds and experiences can find common ground and move together with a purpose. So, again, I have very fond memories of my trip there.
So just a little bit about AFRICOM. I know you've spent the past week learning about us and the things that we're trying to do. For me, this has been a great experience. These past two years have been wonderful. The best way I can describe it is that the days sometimes have seemed endless, but the weeks and the months have seemed to fly by in terms of time.
I've had the opportunity to visit 42 of the African countries in the two years that I've been here. And that, for me, was the best part of the job was the time spent in Africa visiting with senior leaders, military and civilian, with members of civil society. I especially enjoyed the opportunities to speak with university students as I had the opportunity to do so around the continent.
And so I leave here a lot smarter about Africa than I was when I started, but I think the best way to describe it is I know, two years now into this job, I'm beginning to understand how much about Africa I don't know because it's so diverse and so complex. But it has been, nonetheless, a fascinating journey for me, and I have appreciated every opportunity.
So that's kind of where I come from on this – to this meeting. And I think Ambassador La Lime and Colonel Davis told me that you have self-organized and you have – a sequence and a question. So I'll stop talking and start listening if you're ready. Yeah?
Q: Thank you very much. I’ve been designated the first question. I wanted to ask you about the DRC and the proposed (inaudible) intervention force.
Where do you think that's going to happen? Where do you think it will do the job? And even if you think it's still necessary in the light of the fact that there are signs of the M-23 starting to fall apart and – (inaudible) – has handed himself over, a whole bunch of his intermediary people seem to have followed suit into – (inaudible).
GEN. HAM: Let me begin – by my first engagement or first thoughts about the Democratic Republic of Congo. When I was newly assigned as the new commander, the staff does the normal staff briefings, and they talk with you about all the activities that are going on.
And so we talked about East Africa and North Africa and West Africa and Southern Africa. And nobody talked about the center. And so, new guy, I say, "What about the DRC? Nobody talked about the DRC."
And the officer, without hesitation, said, "Oh, sir, the DRC is really hard." And that was – that was the extent of the analysis. (Laughter.) Because it is exceedingly complex.
I was glad to see – first of all, I think that to have a force that is separate from the United Nations force, I think, would be, from a military standpoint, I think that would be unhelpful. So I think that the – if the intervention brigade is, as I believe it is postured to be, is an element of MONUSCO, I think that's the right structure.
But I do think that the force is necessary. There's too much uncertainty in the Great Lakes region. And so for the force commander to have a force under his control that he can deploy and employ in rapidly developing situations I think would be a most helpful element of that force.
As far as is it still needed, I think, in my view, yes, it is still needed. There's certainly – there are some promising signs in the Great Lakes region, but I think it's still very, very fragile. And if I were the force commander, I would want to have this capability. And so I think it will be useful.
Q: General, do you think that the U.S., especially AFRICOM's presence in Africa is perhaps sometimes less helpful than helpful with particular reference to places like Somalia and the use of unarmed aerial vehicles to strike targets that does sometimes create animosity with the locals? Do you think it's – that that perception is true?
GEN. HAM: I think there are persons and organizations who believe that the U.S. military is unhelpful in Africa. It won't surprise you to believe, or to hear that I believe, the opposite.
Obviously, I believe we do provide a positive influence but within context.
We are at our very best when we are supporting an African-led endeavor. And so, while you cite Somalia, perhaps, as a point of friction, I would point to Somalia as a place where the United States, to include the United States military, in my view, has played an appropriate and positive role because our role has been in support of an African-led endeavor; in this case, the African Union mission in Somalia.
It is not surprising to anyone at this table that, you know, the last time the U.S. became militarily involved in Somalia, that didn't turn out very well. This time, we applied a different methodology, and we did what we should do. And that is, when the neighboring states and the African Union decided that they were going to act, then they asked for a little bit of assistance from the international community, to include the United States.
And I think that's a pretty good model for us to follow. It won't be exactly the same in any other place, but Somalia, perhaps Mali in the future and some other places that we might talk about again, where there is an African view, an Africa plan, an African-led operation where they've asked for a little bit of help.
If I may, just one personal anecdote from Somalia. A year and a half or so ago, I was in Nairobi, and the chief of defense forces asked me to join him for a meeting. And it was something that had not been scheduled, so a little bit of a surprise.
So we went to a meeting at his headquarters. And it was the military chiefs of the troop-contributing countries to AMISOM. And they had been charged by their heads of state, by their presidents, you guys figure out the military strategy to defeat Al Shabaab. And it was a very, very interesting experience for me. So there was a very heated debate, as you might suspect, amongst the most senior military officers. The staffs weren't present. It was just them. It was just the commanders.
They had a very robust discussion about, well, we should do this; no, we should do that; this should be the priority; that should be the priority. But they finally came to consensus on what they were going to take back to their presidents as the plan. And, to this point, I hadn't said a word. It was them. It was their strategy that was being developed.
Now, when they were done with that, they did turn to me, and they said, and, hey, and here's some help that we could use from the United States. And so we were glad to do that. So a little bit of training, a little bit of equipping and some intelligence support that we and others have been able to provide.
So I would say that Somalia, rather than being an example of a negative role of the United States, I see that as a way where we can be helpful. We were asked by Africans to support an African-led activity, and I think that's when we're at our best.
Q: General Ham, are the African troops ready to take over from the French in the front line in Mali?
GEN. HAM: Well, not quite yet, but they will be and they must be.
I think there's a good plan, again, with international support. The European Union is already on the ground helping the ECOWAS forces and other forces prepare for their activities. I think it is the right approach.
This is a way, again, where the international community can be very, very helpful. My sense is that the West African states, and a few others, clearly have the political will to take on this mission. And they recognize, though, that they need some help militarily in terms of training and equipping in order to take on this mission.
I was afforded the opportunity to participate in an ECOWAS conference shortly after the military coup in Mali. And it's been very encouraging to see that the political will has sustained. I mean, the African leadership, both military and civilians, says this is our responsibility; we need to do this, but we need a little bit of help. And I'm convinced that the African-led force will be ready and will be successful. It may not happen as quickly as any of us would like to happen, but it is certainly moving in a positive direction.
And of course, there are, already, lots of Africans, you know, in the force. I mean, the Malians themselves, of course, but Nigeria and Chad and Burkina and many others already have troops on the ground. So it's moving in a good direction.
Q: (Inaudible) – from City Press.
It's a question, sir, about the rapid reaction force. You announced in December that there should be a rapid reaction force to be able to intervene in crises more quickly. But I see that it's going to be stationed in the United States.
What are the plans to station it within Africa? And just a little bit more about the aim of this rapid reaction force?
GEN. HAM: You're talking about a U.S. rapid reaction – is that –
Q: I think you announced something, an AFRICOM rapid reaction force.
GEN. HAM: Yeah. So –
Q: Or they’ll be working with you, if I understood it correctly.
GEN. HAM: So there's a couple of different forces that we might be talking about. There's a force called the – it's called the Commander's In-Extremis Force. It's a U.S. special forces organization, small but specifically tailored to be able to respond quickly in the event of a crisis. Until the 1st of October of last year, we shared one of those forces with European Command. We didn't have our own dedicated force. We do now, and that force has been employed.
Their home station is, indeed, in the continental United States, but they always have – the rapidly deployable element is here somewhere in Europe. Sometimes here in Stuttgart. They've been in other places in Europe so that if information is that there is a potential hot spot, then we can move them to places like Italy or Greece or Spain where they could be – or even to Djibouti or other places where they could respond more quickly.
I think that works best for us to have the flexibility to move them and position them where the intelligence and the information tells us there might be a need. That, to me, is – that affords me greater flexibility than if we had them tied down to one specific location, even if that location was in Africa.
But you raise a very good point, and that is that – just the challenge of access and just the sheer size, the time and distance it takes to move about the continent. I don't have to tell this group. You made the longest trip, I mean, you know, from South Africa to Europe. You know how long that takes.
So that – you know, we always are cognizant of the geography and of the time distance it takes to move forces about in Africa. And this is very true, also, for the Africans. As each of the regional economic communities, you know, seeks to establish – it's called by different names – but standby brigades or standby forces, then the ability to assemble and deploy those forces in a very timely manner is complicated just by the sheer enormity of the continent.
Q: General, Nick Koch from Business Day.
I'd like to ask you about Rwanda. I think that we had this very useful course maybe six months or, say, a year ago, we’d have heard a lot about Rwanda. (Inaudible) – and this week, we've really had nothing. Could you explain what has happened in that relationship? The U.S.-Rwanda –
GEN. HAM: Yes, I can. It starts from the understanding that AFRICOM, the U.S. military is but one tool, if you will, one element of a broader U.S. policy with regard to sub-Saharan Africa. In this particular case, in the case of Rwanda, the United States government became concerned, convinced that the government of Rwanda had been providing support to the M-23 rebels.
In a way to convey the seriousness with which the United States takes that concern, some elements of U.S. military-to-military engagement with Rwanda were suspended, not indefinitely. We maintain, you know, a good relationship with Rwanda. Our attaché is there. We have continuing dialogue.
But I think this is representative in a broader sense that one element, one aspect of U.S. foreign policy is military-to-military engagement. And this is how my government chose to convey to the government of Rwanda how seriously we took this matter. I'm convinced that, over time, we'll – the two governments will find a way to work through this. We have otherwise a very good and very positive relationship with Rwanda. And I'm sure that that will endure long beyond this particular matter.
Q: (Off mic.) I would like your comment on the opinion that the mere presence of America in certain regions in Africa might be – (inaudible) – the profile of certain extremist groups will actually sort of fuel the fires rather than forcing them to – (inaudible). Your opinion about that?
GEN. HAM: We have to be a little careful, I think, about striking the right balance. Again, I think if we – again, we don't – obviously, we don't go anywhere – in our normal military-to military engagements, we don't go anywhere or do anything which we have not been invited by the host-nation government.
But I think there is a very real concern that, if we established a large U.S. military presence in some way – somewhere in Africa other than in Djibouti where we do have the one location – but it could have that effect. It could have, you know, the potential rallying effect, if you will, of some of these violent extremist organizations.
So we typically don't do that – don't have a large presence – not so much out of concern for that, though that's...that certainly is part of it. But it's more that we don't need a large presence. It's not appropriate. And as a military commander, I don't think it would be particularly helpful.
I think – again, I think we're best when we tailor our U.S. military presence and support to the specific requests and needs of a particular country or a particular region. Again, I think Somalia is a good example of that where our support is in neighboring countries and the presence is small and modest but, again, appropriately tailored.
When we do exercises, most of the time, our exercises are pretty small. For example, a disaster relief or humanitarian assistance exercise, you know, it may be a couple of hundred people for a short period of time. We occasionally do a larger exercise, usually short duration. An example is an exercise named African Lion which we do with Morocco, which can be a pretty large U.S. military presence but, again, tailored for a specific purpose and for a very limited period of time.
So I think our presence on the continent, rather than being driven by – overly driven by concerns of antagonizing others or provoking a response by some of these extremist organizations – it's more so shaped by the needs of the specific requirement that the country or the region has asked of us.
And if I could just follow on, the other question that we often get asked is well, why is your headquarters in Germany? And why isn't your headquarters in Africa? And part of the answer is practical, and part of the answer is more philosophical.
The practical answer when the command was formed in 2007 and officially stood – organized in 2008, the practical answer was this is – Stuttgart is also the headquarters for U.S. European Command which previously had responsibility for most of the U.S. military activities in Africa, not all, but most. And so many of the staff who formed the nucleus of Africa Command were already here, so it made sense to just continue in that regard.
And continuing today, one of the practical reasons for not moving the headquarters is simply the cost that it would – that would be entailed to try to relocate this headquarters.
On the philosophical side, there are places that – there are countries that are not keen to see a large U.S. military headquarters on the continent. And, frankly, I – for the reasons that I talked about before, it doesn't make sense for us to have a large military presence.
So where there are some countries that would and have welcomed us – and several have invited us to place our headquarters in those countries – others do not.
So I think it's – this is a pretty good place for us. We have – our service members, civilians and our families are well cared for. We have ready access to international airports for travel that supports things.
We're generally in the same time zones as our African counterparts. That helps us just from a practicality standpoint. And, also, it puts us in a place where we can coordinate very easily with the European Union, with the other European countries who also participate in engagements in Africa. And this lets us work closely together with them.
Q: General – (inaudible) – from the Mail and Guardian. As far as we know, South Africa in particular, the lead agency and most other countries are hostile politically to AFRICOM because they subscribe to the notion of an African solution for African problems. The former ANC DSG last year told Botswana nation upfront that there are leaders within us – (inaudible) – that want to host people who want to hurt us – (inaudible). In the five years since AFRICOM was founded, have you managed to change that attitude?
GEN. HAM: With South Africa, no, not officially. But I think we do have a good relationship with the South African National Defense Forces. As you know, we've done exercises with them. It was actually very productive and very helpful for us. But just to speak plainly, there remains a high degree of skepticism in South Africa about AFRICOM.
We, too, at AFRICOM – and I certainly feel this way – we very firmly believe in African solutions to African problems. My president has said it. The former secretary of State has said it. I've said it. We firmly believe it.
But we also believe that we can help when asked. And, again, I think Somalia is a good example of that. I think there are other examples in the Gulf of Guinea and maritime security and countering piracy off East Africa, in other – and helping Liberia. I mean, there's many other examples where, when invited by a government to help and to partner with them, I think we can provide needed assistance.
That doesn't mean that we need to be or ought to be every place all the time. We don't – we don't need to go – we don't want to go where we're not welcome or not invited or not needed.
So, you know, we recognize sovereignty. You know, and so, when South Africa says, you know, not so fast, or, you know, we want to keep our military-to military engagement at a low – at a relatively low level, and South Africa says, we think we're more comfortable dealing with military counterparts in Washington, D.C. as opposed to at AFRICOM, that's OK with me, because this – because it doesn't – it's not what I want; it's what's right for South Africa. And only South Africa can decide that. And if South Africa decides that there's benefit to South Africa in having a good military-to-military relationship with us, then we stand ready to do that.
But again, we have no intention of pushing ourselves into any place – where we're not invited.
Q: General, I'm – (inaudible) – from – (inaudible) – Africa. My question – you spoke about the humanitarian exercises that you have. Now, won't – doesn't it seem that AFRICOM is duplicating everything, similar exercises of other agencies that are on the continent, because there are loads of these agencies. So isn't AFRICOM duplicating with planned session of exercises – (inaudible)?
GEN. HAM: I don't think so. We're always conscious of that, and because of the resource constraints, the financial constraints that all of us are experiencing, we cannot afford to duplicate efforts with others.
But what we have found is that in many cases, just as in my own country, militaries often have a significant role in responding to disasters, whether they're natural or manmade, and also to humanitarian assistance missions. Militaries have capabilities that are useful in responding to humanitarian crises: transportation, security, medical systems, engineering and the logistics systems, communications and the like.
So our focus when we participate or host an exercise that has a disaster relief or humanitarian assistance theme to it, it is principally focused on the military or militaries of a region working together and often working together with nongovernmental organizations and others to respond to a particular crisis.
We have found through our own experience and the experience of others that when we practice, when we exercise these types of scenarios, that we are better prepared when a real condition arises, that if organizations – both military and civilian, government and nongovernmental – have worked together in a training exercise, they're much more productive, much more efficient, much more effective when a real crisis occurs.
So we'll always be mindful of duplication. Again, we simply can't afford it in this fiscal environment that we find ourselves in. But I think there is benefit to these – to these types of training exercises. And the exercises themselves are specifically tailored. Sometimes the exercise is what we call a tabletop exercise, so it'll be like sitting like this with a number of participants and maybe with – with a map board or something like that. And sometimes it involves actually – you know, troops actually out on the ground, practicing and rehearsing some of these activities.
So, again, tailoring the training, tailoring the exercise to the specific need of the – sponsoring country or organization helps us get the right mix.
Q: (Off mic.) I would like to know, with all the budget cuts happening in the States, is AFRICOM likely to survive? And isn't this (inaudible) question? Is AFRICOM likely to survive in this mission – (inaudible)?
GEN. HAM: Yeah. I think so. I was just back in Washington last week, and we had meetings with Secretary Hagel and with General Dempsey, who's our chairman of the Joint Chiefs – military chief. And they brought in the combatant – what we call the combatant commanders. There's six of us for geographic regions of the world, and then there are a few who have some functional expertise.
And this was a primary topic, to see, you know, how are – what changes will be necessary for us in this expected financial situation. So AFRICOM – I'm convinced AFRICOM will survive. But like every other U.S. military organization, we're probably going to have to make some changes. You know, we hear sometimes from business efficiency experts this phrase of, you know, do more with less. Well, I don't believe in that. I don't believe you do more with less. I believe you do less with less.
And if we – as we have fewer resources, we and the U.S. government, not just the military, will be driven to make some very hard choices. It will cause us to very sharply prioritize. But the reality is, there are some things we are doing today that we will not be able to continue to do.
For some examples on the training and exercises, we have already scaled back the size, the number of participants, of some exercises. I suspect we will probably have to cancel some exercises. We're being very mindful about travel, because travel is expensive. And we won't be able to travel as much as we would like to, as much as I would like to, to keep us engaged with African partners. So we'll have to be, again, very specific as to –what our travel requirements are.
We have had the opportunity over the past several years to convene conferences of varieties of people, both within government and the private sector, to address some of the –serious concerns that face regions or states within the continent. We'll have to again, be very careful about how we do that. And we probably will not be able to convene as many conferences or as large conferences as we have in the past.
So there will be certainly some effect on Africa Command and on the the rest of the U.S. government's activities in Africa. But I think – we certainly will survive...and the reason for that is, I think there is great value to my country to having a group of people, maybe a smaller group of people than today, but a group of us who wake up every day and the only thing that we think about is the U.S. relationship with each of the 54 states in Africa and with the regional economic communities and with the African Union. I mean, that drives our life. And I think there is benefit in doing that.
And we shouldn't kid ourselves. I mean, we do this because it's in my country's national interest to do this. I mean, we're – that's who we are; we're an instrument of the U.S. government. But it is good for the U.S. government to have strong relations and good – and strong relations with the African countries, and we're a small part of that. So I'm certain that we'll – Africa Command will survive this, but we might be a little different than we are today. If we a one-year reunion of this group, there might – there might be as many of – as you as there are today, but there might be fewer of us.
But I like the idea of a one-year reunion. (Laughter.) Maybe in South Africa next time.
Q: General Ham – (name inaudible). Considering the fact you have a couple of weeks left, would you, in your view, say that the position that you hold was curtailed because of maybe the Libyan embassy crisis, how it was handled?
GEN. HAM: No, it was not. I had had discussions with General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and with the chief of staff of the Army as early as last spring, almost a year ago, about my timing – time to retire. And it was – it had nothing to do – the decision was made long before the – September 11th of last year and the attack on the U.S. consulate.
It's just – it's time for me. And our system is such that if us – if some number of us old guys don't leave, then the young people can't get promoted. (Laughter.) And so it's time for me to move on. And I do so -- actually I'm pretty excited about what the opportunities might be. There is a part of me that will certainly miss serving in uniform. I mean, this is a family – this has been my family for nearly 40 years. And so I'll miss that aspect of it.
I will most certainly miss the people not only here at Africa Command but the – many friends who I have made in Africa. And it's my hope that many, both military and civilian, will be able to sustain our friendly relations in whatever happens to me next.
And then lastly, I will very joyfully tell you that I'm looking forward to spending time with my grandchildren, which is – which is always a good thing for a grandfather to do.
Q: General, if I may ask, as you leave, your assessment of how much better prepared Africa forces are across the continent to deal with crises. I mean, if one looks at the standby forces, for example, within the African Union, I mean, they seem to be in a state of –
GEN. HAM: Right.
Q: – semi-preparedness and with no immediate prospect of being much more than that.
GEN. HAM: I think it's very mixed. I look with – in some cases – again, I'll focus just on Somalia. And just in the time that I've been here, just in the two years, to see the development, the growth in capability of the African Union forces that are operating in Somalia today – they're much better today than they were a year ago or two years ago. They're much more experienced. They're better led. The soldiers are more disciplined. They're much more effective. And that will carry on for years. And then there are – there are some other countries, where their militaries are growing in capacity.
But there have been setbacks as well and most notably in Mali, where the military collapsed under pressure and then did – you know, performed the most unacceptable activity for any military to perform, and that's to displace a duly elected government. And so that's an unacceptable outcome of an African military.
I think you are right to question the capabilities of the regional standby forces. There has not been much progress, in my view, in that area. There needs to be. It's my hope that perhaps Mali might be the catalyst to demonstrate to the political leadership across the continent of why they need to invest in a standby capability. If you think about – just putting Mali under a microscope for a moment and how different things might be if ECOWAS had been able to assemble a capable, rapidly deployable African standby force within a few weeks of that situation, then my guess is that Mali might be in a very different place than it is today.
But they – but the region did not possess that capability. So perhaps maybe one of the outcomes of the current situation in Mali is a commitment by Africa's political leaders – and I think certainly – would hope that the African Union would champion this effort, to say, let's get serious about developing capable, credible, rapidly deployable regional standby forces that can respond appropriately when the political leadership so requires.
And it goes back, again, I think, to the issue of, you know – wouldn't it be better for all concerned if that rapid response force was an African force, not a force from outside?
Q: You mentioned in your speech before that the Senate committee – Senate Services committee – you had explained about AFRICOM becoming the first combatant command to be supported by a brigade. Exactly how do you see the application of this brigade?
GEN. HAM: The Army calls this the regionally aligned force. One of the challenges that we have had at Africa Command is under the U.S. military construct, we don't have any assigned forces. There aren't divisions or brigades or ships or airplanes that are assigned to me that I can use basically as I wish.
Instead, I have to go back to the Pentagon and request forces. What the Army – what the U.S. Army has done in this case is that given the already achieved drawdown and the expected reduction of forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has said, hey, I have forces that are available for employment worldwide, and they chose Africa as the first place. And so the Army said to me, we'll make this brigade available to you for about a year, and you can essentially use it in any way that you – that you'd like to use it. There are a couple of constraints, but basically they've said this is available to you.
What it affords me that I haven't had before is the predictable availability of forces. It has allowed us now to in our interactions with African leaders, with military leaders, as we plan training exercises and other kinds of engagement, we now know that we have this force available. So we can solidify our plans.
Previously, we'd have a discussion with an African Army about a training exercise, and then we would say, OK, that's a good idea; let me go back to Washington to see if I can maybe get the forces to do this. Now I don't have to do that, because I know that the force is available.
And just to be a little clearer, although it is a brigade, which is a big organization, the brigade won't ever be at one place at one time. Again, we're better when we apply tailored application of forces. So in some cases, the element from the brigade might be something so small as a you know, a five- or a 10-person medical team. In other cases, it might be an engineering company helping with a small construction project. Maybe it'll be an infantry platoon training alongside an African force in the mountains or in harsh terrain.
So it'll be, again, tailored for the specific purpose. And I think probably the largest grouping we would see at any one time would be a couple of hundred, again, for a short period of time.
Q: OK. You mentioned, sir, that you you'd been to South Africa in 1997 and that since you took this command over two years, you've been to 42 African countries. And to an outsider, it would seem almost incredible that those 42 countries have not included South Africa.
Can you explain why that is the case?
GEN. HAM: I can't firmly define why. I would love to go to South Africa and would welcome the opportunity to do so. I have two deputies here, a civilian deputy and a military deputy. The civilian deputy, I think, is still today in South Africa. And the military deputy has been as well.
But I think it –part of it is, as the – as the guy who sits in this chair and kind of embodies AFRICOM, I think there is some – again, some concern that if I were to go to South Africa, they – if the South African military leaders, civilian leaders, were to meet with me, that might be inconsistent with a view that says, well, maybe, we really want to deal with people at the national level; we want to deal with people in Washington as opposed to a regional commander.
I don't know that. I'm speculating. But I would most heartily welcome an invitation and would like to travel. And I'm hopeful that my successor, General Rodriguez, will find an invitation and an opportunity to travel. South Africa is South Africa. So, you know, it's a large and powerful and influential country and a country with which the United States has and wants to continue to have strong relationships. And one element of that is a strong military-to-military relationship. And we'd like to continue to foster that.
Q: General, has AFRICOM been in talks with Botswana to set up a military base there? And if you have, are –
GEN. HAM: Can I just say no? No. No, we have been in Botswana, for sure. And Botswana is a very good partner, hosted a wonderful exercise last year and has been a good partner. But absolutely no discussion – I can't say it strongly enough – no discussion whatsoever about establishing a U.S. military base in Botswana. They don't need us. They haven't asked us. They have their own great military bases. So no. (Chuckles.) I don't know how to say it other than that.
Q: General Ham, everyone up until this point – obviously all the people that work under you have spoken very highly of you, and there's been quite a buildup to this interview –
GEN. HAM: I can – I can find some people who will give you different opinions. (Laughter.)
Q: So as you leave, what is General Ham's legacy, as you view it?
GEN. HAM: Oh – hmm – well, I think like all of us, my real legacy is my children and my grandchildren. But from a military standpoint, what I would be so bold as to say "legacy." What I've tried to do in this job particularly is to realize, you know, who we are – as a command and what we represent and to listen and to realize that when we seek to partner with Africans across the continent, that our first responsibility is to recognize it's their country; it's your country, it's not ours. And if there are ways that that country would like to explore some opportunities where we might be able to help, then I think we should explore that but to be respectful of governments and of people. I think that's where I would start from.
Within the organization, I think I would say that, you know, sometimes the very best ideas come from the most junior people in the organization. And I – we're probably – within the command, we're probably a little overly hierarchical. And sometimes it's tough for the people who are dealing with issues, you know, day to day – sometimes it's tough to get those good ideas up to me and to others at the senior level. So I think that's something we need to continue to work on.
And then lastly – again, not in terms of legacy but in terms of how we do business – in addition to listening first to the Africans with whom we interact, we also recognize that in every country in Africa there is a senior American. It's never me; it's always a United States ambassador or charge d'affaires or deputy chief of...(mission)...one of them sitting right behind you when she was in Mozambique, you know, she was the representative of my president and the representative of the people of my country to that country.
And so the other – in addition to listening to Africans, we also have to listen to our ambassadors, because that's who's really in charge of U.S. activities in any particular country. And I think that is an area where we've improved over the past couple of years, is strengthening our ties with the U.S. embassies and particularly with the ambassadors.
That's a hard question. Now, if I had brought my daughter in here, she would – she could give you a different answer.
Q: General, to what extent is the U.S. competing with countries like China for a military presence in Africa?
GEN. HAM: In my view, not at all. I think we are competing for economic position. I think we're competing for influence, if you will, more broadly – you know, the U.S. government – diplomatically. But I don't see in any way and I have not experienced in any way any military competition between the United States or China or any other country in Africa.
We have a significantly different approach, I think, as to how we think about interacting with African countries. You know, our U.S. government focus tends to be on human capital. I mean, overwhelmingly the U.S. spends money in Africa on health care, on education and agriculture and a little bit, frankly, on defense and security. Other countries have spent in different proportion.
China, as you all know far better than I do – you know China invests a lot in physical infrastructure – roads, bridges, railroads, airports – you know, government buildings – the African Union headquarters – a great example of that.
And so we've kind of chosen different paths to achieve our goals. But, again, I would not – I wouldn't characterize it certainly in – as any type of adversarial relationship but rather I would say competition for economic purposes and probably some for diplomatic influence as well.
Q: OK, one last question –
GEN. HAM: Sure, go ahead. We'll take – we'll take – we can take two, OK? We're getting ready – and I will do two, all right? Is that OK?
Q: (Inaudible) – health and humanitarian missions that some – (inaudible) – has been used to support – (inaudible) – individuals, specifically accused of crimes against humanity? I'd just like to know, with the – with what is happening in Kenya right now, the new president coming in, (inaudible) – that he is being accused of crimes against humanity.
GEN. HAM: Yeah. To the – specific question, I don't think that there'll be any significant change in our military-to-military relationship with the Kenyan defense forces, which is a very strong relationship and one that we would very much like to sustain. So I don't think that – we'll see how the system eventually reconciles itself. But if Mr. Kenyatta is proclaimed the president and is – you know, remains under international criminal court indictment, I don't think that that will have any significant impact on the military-to-military aspect of the U.S. relationship with Kenya. So we'll have to watch that.
But having said that, the element of militaries operating under the rule of law and respectful of human rights, is an important tenet for us. And so we are very careful – and some countries, with understandable reason, question it. They don't like the fact that we require if we're going to engage in a training activity with a nation's military, then we do subject that organization to an examination of individuals and of the organization's adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights.
And the reason for that is, you know, my country doesn't want to fund, does not want to contribute money or training for those who are not respectful of human rights. Now, some – you know, a country could look at that and say, well, you're intruding into my prerogative; what business is it of yours of what our people are doing?
And my answer to that is twofold. One is a simple answer. There's a U.S. law that says in order for the U.S. to engage, we have to do this kind of background check. But secondly, I would say, wouldn't you want to know that? I mean, wouldn't you want to know if you – if you had people – who have participated in wrongdoings in violations of human rights? I think the country would want to know that.
So I understand that – the broader tension. I think, we'll continue to have an internal debate in the U.S. about this matter. But in principle, I think we want to engage with military organizations that are committed to doing the right things, that see themselves as truly subordinate to legitimate civilian control, that see themselves operating according to the rule of law, are respectful of human rights; and perhaps – most importantly, they see themselves as servants of the people of that country. And if we can foster those kinds of values and principles, then I think we're probably all moving in a good direction.
Q: This is probably just to add onto what he has asked, and that is to take your crystal ball and look into the future and if – specifically for southern Africa – (inaudible) – what would you like to see your – General Rodriguez achieve AFRICOM – (inaudible) – in the – in the years to come?
GEN. HAM: In southern Africa – let me start specifically with South Africa. I would like us to sustain what is an already good relationship with the South African national defense forces. I would like to see it grow and strengthen even further. I have had the opportunity when I am in the United States, I often go to some of our military schools and our military academies, and there's almost always South African officers who are in those programs there. They're almost always at the top of the class. They do – they're extraordinarily talented and dedicated. And I think that's perhaps a building block on which we can build a very, very strong relationship with the South African national defense forces.
More broadly across the region, closer cooperation with SADC – that's tough for us right now, principally because of Zimbabwe. But again, for SADC to have a – you know, SADC used to be SADC. SADC is – SADC is SADC for Southern Africa, not for the United States. But I would like to see a stronger security relationship between SADC – between the SADC members. And if we can help in that regard, if there's ways to do that, we certainly would like to do it, again, under the premise of African solutions for African challenges.
And then lastly, I think because there is such great capability in South African and Botswana and Angola, it would be very rewarding to see SADC and some of the SADC members take a more active role in supporting African Union and United Nations activities across the continent. There's great capability in Southern Africa that could work to the benefit of others across the continent. And I'm talking about maritime security, airlift, certainly capable military forces that could contribute in a very meaningful way to African Union or United Nations activities more broadly across the continent.
Having said all that, I think we're on a pretty positive trajectory in our engagements with most of the Southern African countries; again, I – you know, Zimbabwe probably a notable example or notable exception to that for reasons that are understandable to you. But, again, I think our focus here will be increasingly on the regions because the security challenges that present themselves in Africa generally don't lend themselves to a bilateral solution. It takes a – it will require a regional solution. And that requires strong regional organizations. So I think we'll see in the coming years more and more focus on that aspect of our relationship.
OK. Colonel Davis is nervous now, but, again, I would just reiterate that this is a real treat for us to have you come here. I hope that this has been – this week will have been useful to you. I know it's useful to us. Ambassador La Lime met with me this morning and talked with me in very positive terms about the engagements that you have had. We learn as much – at least as much from you as you learn from us. So we find these, again, to be very, very helpful.
And I guess my parting hope would be that this is the beginning of what hopefully will be an enduring relationship – you know, you now can put faces with names; we can do the same – and that hopefully we'll be able to maintain this dialogue over time, whether it's directly with us or it's through the embassy team or however this works out well, I think as we get to know each other a little bit better, I think this works to the benefit, again, of both countries.
We won't always agree on everything. I mean, you know, these are two big and powerful countries. We're not always going to agree. And that's OK. But we should always insist upon that the fact that we have an open and honest dialogue. And you all play a very important role in that regard. So even when we have points where we disagree, that's OK because I think in the end we will – the United States and South Africa – we will always agree on the big things. You know, we'll always agree on representative government, we'll – respect for human rights, dignity for all people. I mean, all those – the big ideas, we will always agree on. And we'll probably always disagree on some smaller things. And that's OK.
But, you know, the best way I can say that is I have three sisters and a brother, and I love them dearly. And I sure don't always agree with them. But I always love them, and I think that's kind of what we have here. We'll always agree on the big things, maybe quibble about some of the small things and get mad at each other for a while, and then we'll find a way to work through it. And your role in that, in helping share and – ideas and thoughts, I think, is a very, very powerful role that you play and, frankly, a pretty heavy responsibility to get it right.
So, again, thanks for making the long trip up here. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. And again, I hope that Colonel Davis is already planning the one-year reunion. .