Gen. David M. Rodriguez spoke with members of the British press at a media round table interview highlighting his commitment to working closely in support of the U.S. State Department in executing the command's mission to strengthen the defense capabilities of our African partner nations. Rodriguez emphasized that the command's activities are "led by the Department of State and undertaken in a comprehensive 'whole-of-government' approach with other U.S. government agencies." AFRICOM strengthens the defense capabilities of individual African states as well as regional organizations so that they are more capable of providing for their own security. While acknowledging "multiple challenges" in Africa, Rodriguez highlighted progress with "increasing accountable governance with a new generation of political, social and economic leaders" and "increased regional and international integration and a willingness by both African nations and African organizations...to respond to crises on the continent in places like Somalia and Mali, where African leadership is making positive change possible." See the full transcript of the interview below.
GENERAL DAVID RODRIGUEZ: OK, thank you.
Well, good morning, and thanks for the opportunity to talk to you this morning about the Africa Command. Since my travels brought me here to the U.K., one of our closest allies, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to sit down with you, our friends in the press especially, those of you who are covering events in Africa.
I truly appreciate the hard work you do and the dangers many of you experience as you go about some of the stories that you search in war-torn and volatile parts of the world. And just as you build relationships and partnerships to go after the story and keep the world informed, AFRICOM, since its founding five years ago, has emphasized the importance of partnerships to help strengthen the security and stability of the African nations. I strongly believe that together we’re making positive contributions to promoting peace and security.
AFRICOM’s strategy focuses on developing partner nations’ military forces through a variety of programs, strengthening military-to-military relationships and developing regional cooperation. Our activities are led by the Department of State and undertaken in a comprehensive whole-of-government approach with other U.S. government agencies.
It’s no coincidence that I’m here today visiting with the British armed forces, and for that matter conducting my first press event in the U.K. as commander of AFRICOM. The U.S. forces have a great working partnership with the British armed forces. We have served side by side in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and now our shared national interests have opened the way for greater cooperation and coordination on the African continent. We also look to increase our cooperation with the United Nations, the European Union and NATO allies in African states as they play key roles in helping us to achieve our mission to promote regional security, stability, prosperity and development.
In the five years since its start, AFRICOM has increased its operational capabilities and capacities. Our relationships with our African partners and our security cooperation engagements have matured in both focus and effectiveness, but we have not changed our basic premise that it is Africans who are best able to address African security challenges.
While there are multiple challenges in Africa, I am optimistic about the future. There is increasing accountable governance with a new generation of political, social and economic leaders. There is also increased regional and international integration and a willingness by both African nations and African organizations such as the African Union to respond to crises on the continent in places like Somalia and Mali, where African leadership is making positive change possible.
Africa Command is committed to assisting African partner nations. Everything we do on the continent is in coordination with our State Department and approved by the country team. And of course all our activities on the continent are at the request of or approved by our African partners.
In East and Northwest Africa, our enabling and capacity building assistance has supported the progress of regional partners encountering violent extremist organizations and the extensive networks that support them. With our advice and assistance, regional forces have made gains against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.
Our defense institution-building activities have helped Liberia to build a new military, and we always include activities that strengthen the rule of law. Liberia is a currently a true contributing nation to the United States’ – or United Nations’ stabilization mission in Mali.
In East Africa we have seen progress in maritime security, including a significant reduction in piracy. Maritime crime continues to be a major challenge in the Gulf of Guinea, where our African Partnership Station and African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership programs are encouraging regional efforts and supporting the local navies and coast guards as they address maritime security.
AFRICOM supports peace support operations primarily by working with the State Department on predeployment training for several of the troop-contributing countries. And eight of the 15 current U.N. peacekeeping missions are in Africa, so our efforts to build peacekeeping capacity have major impacts on regional peace and security.
We have supported the training of forces from the five troop-contributing countries to the African Union mission in Somalia, and the nine countries that have participated in the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, which has since, as you know, transitioned to a U.N. mission.
These activities have helped to strengthen partner capacity, bring together regional partnerships, and support security gains that are providing space for progress – democratic progress – in Somalia and Mali. Our humanitarian and disaster response activities have helped to strengthen relationships, interoperability, and coordinated effort among all our partners.
Earlier this year Exercise Shared Accord provided a great opportunity for U.S. and South African forces to learn from each other as the South African partners exercise medical, support and other capabilities. Also this year 13 countries and more than 200 personnel from the Economic Community of West Africa States exercised together in Exercise Western Accord in Ghana.
In many countries in West Africa and other parts of the continent, we have worked closely with partners to help build their capacity to counter the illicit flow of drugs, weapons, money and people. As I travel around Africa I hear consistent refrain from the leaders and from the people I meet. They all long for peace and stability so that their countries and their families can flourish. Africa abounds with possibilities. It is a continent of progress and potential. Africa is a land with many of the world’s fastest-growing economies; rich in natural resources and home to increasingly democratic, stable and capable governments.
We share the optimism of all Africans with respect to each of their nation’s prospects for stability, economic growth, social and democratic development. I strongly believe our cooperative approach and our increasing coordination and partnership with the British military will make enduring positive change possible, and facilitating African nations and organizations to take the lead in addressing African security challenges.
Thank you and I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: I think at this point we’ll just open it up, and then I’ll give you about a five-minute warning –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: OK.
MODERATOR: – when there’s about time. So I will let you all duke it out, though, on who’s going to take the first question.
Q: Well – (inaudible).
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: OK. (Laughter.)
Q: – from Reuters. I believe you’re heading to visit Nigeria before the end of the year, following the listing or Boko Haram as a terrorist group. I just wonder if you could talk briefly as to what kind of support the U.S. can offer the Nigerians and how you see progress against Boko Haram.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, as you know, Boko Haram and Ansaru have been labeled as foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. just recently. And the efforts that that U.S. is supporting Nigerians are – is really about advising upon how that they can best support that effort against Boko Haram. But as you know, the challenge is broader than just the military, so we’re coordinating with our State Department partners as well as many of our international partners on how to best assist them.
The solution there, again, will be a whole-of-government solution, so there’s many facets to that effort. For the military part we’re going to advise and talk to them about how to best handle a raging insurgency up there in the north that has continued to have a negative impact on the people. There is – there is plenty of opportunity for us to interact and share lessons learned as well as information and things like that on how to best handle that type of situation. So that’s what we’re going to do.
Q: So we’re talking about advisory and training rather than drones or any –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Yes, this is all about supporting their efforts and everything, not taking any direct actions.
Q: So no – (Inaudible).
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No. No.
Q: Just the fact that Boko Haram has been listed, does that allow you to do anything different?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, most of the things that that – (inaudible) – about freezing assets and some of those things that – Boko Haram assets throughout the world, and people coordinating and cooperating with them. But for the military, we have no additional change in authorities at all because of that designation.
Q: I’m Mary Harper from the BBC. I’d like to ask you about Somalia, where even though there’s been some progress against al-Shabab in terms of driving them out of some urban centers –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: – they’re still on the outskirts of towns and cities and they occupy most of the territory. Are you – do you have any plans to change your strategy towards al-Shabab?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, again, our major efforts against – or to support the Somali effort is really about helping to prepare the troop-contributing nations who are supporting the AMISOM mission there, and we’ll continue to do that.
We also work hard with our international partners on how to work to coordinate and cooperate on the efforts to build the Somali National Army, which, as you know, has a long way to go. And we’re going to continue those efforts. We are thankful and glad that the U.N. has decided to up the – up the troop levels in Somalia, because we think that was part of the challenge that AMISOM was faced with, as well as provide them with significant enablers, which should help them against – with their fight against al-Shabab.
Q: And what about your grand operations such as the recent one in Baraawe when you tried but failed to catch anybody from al-Shabab?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Again, those are national decisions that will – we absolutely, you know, execute because we’re a – we’re the execution end of that, and the things that – we’ll continue to go after high-value targets that help best support AMISOM and people who threaten U.S. interests and Western interests.
Q: David Blair from the Telegraph – also on Somalia. Can I ask you how you assess the overall strength of al-Shabab as it stands today? And secondly, very specifically, I’ve seen a report that al-Shabab had forged links with a particular rebel group in Eastern Congo in the last few months. Can you tell me whether you’ve heard that and whether that’s correct or not?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We’re not sure whether that’s correct or not. We’ve heard those reports and everything, but it’s very, very hard to confirm that – those type of reports because of the coordination that goes on between them and how those – they used the networks to forge those partnerships.
As far as the strength of al-Shabab, as you mentioned, AMISOM has had some significant success over the last two years pushing them out of several of the cities and some of the areas in and around Mogadishu and down through Kismayo. And al-Shabab has responded by going after the – you know, the asymmetric attacks both in and around Mogadishu to threaten the international efforts that continue to build the Somali government. And then of course the last one where they struck out at the troop-contributing nations, in this case Kenya, and have threats to do that to other troop-contributing nations.
So I think that, you know, the AMISOM countries and the whole international effort will be to support them to continue the pressure on al-Shabab, because I think that if we give them too much space to operate they’ll continue to do those kind of things.
Q: Jonathan Marcus. I’m one of the diplomatic correspondents from the BBC.
General, AFRICOM is a little different to some of the other major American regional commands in that your stress is almost entirely on building capacity and the sort of interagency process. I was just wondering, I mean, why is it that a military command seems to be in the forefront?
And there was an interesting piece I’m sure you saw – (inaudible) – in the Washington Post recently, you know, worrying about kind of the militarization of American policy towards Africa. And they kind of fear that perhaps we’re at the start of a process now akin to where we were some decades ago in the Middle East. And by most standards American policy in the Middle East has not exactly turned out very well, although it’s clearly not entirely your fault. But, I mean, are you worried at all that there is a – that the military cart is being put before the diplomatic and economic horse, as it were?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, I’m not worried at all. Again, as I mentioned, the State Department is the lead in every single thing we do in Africa. And the country teams and our representatives in those country teams from the military are really the lead coordinating effort on everything that we do. So I don’t think there’s a militarization of the foreign policy in Africa at all.
Q: (Inaudible.) I’m sorry if you covered this in your initial remarks. The British military has sort of talked about it changing the formation of post-Afghanistan; you know, aligning different brigades with different regions across the world, including Africa.
I was wondering whether, during your visit here, you’ve been having talks with your British counterparts and whether you have an opinion about the strategy that they’re going to be employing in terms of – it’s the same as what you’re doing; you know, capacity building, training, gaining intelligence on the ground – what you think about strategy and whether you think it needs more resources into it, or do you have any opinion on that? Have you given any request?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, we’re thankful for the British efforts to align those organizations to those areas. You know, one of the things all of us have learned over the years is the understanding of what goes on in each of those areas is very, very important. So we have done the same thing in the U.S. military, where we have aligned units to Africa so that they can better prepare themselves, whether it be an exercise, whether it be training, whether it be capacity-building or anything, so that they can most effectively address the situation that they’re involved in. So I think that that’s a great plan.
And yes, we’ll work with that one. I talked to them this week and everything, and again, I’m up here to, you know, better coordinate our efforts so that, you know, we can work together.
The multinational efforts that go on in Africa are usually important, and it’s very important that we all work together and everything because, quite frankly, nobody can do it themselves. So that’s what we’re doing, coordinating those multinational efforts.
Q: So do you mean that, whatever units are sort of allocated (sections of ?) Africa on the U.S. side will work with (the Pacific ?).
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. We would like them to coordinate and cooperate so they’re all together, because as I said, the closer that we work together, the more effective we are. And then, like I said, the closer and better understanding we have of the situation on the ground before we do anything, the better it is.
So yes, ma’am.
Q: Can I ask a completely different question?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Sure.
Q: Just on the Westgate Mall attack and the operations – the tactics used by the attackers. In your assessment and analysis afterwards, did you see that they were using more sophisticated means of communication, like SIMM cards, unique SIMM cards that were impossible to track? Are you seeing an evolution of those sort of tactics by terrorist groups? And I guess the obvious question, is that linked to sort of the Snowden leaks and sort of a greater awareness of the need to sort of protect communications?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I think that the tactics that we saw in many places, whether it be Mumbai or whether it be the Westgate Mall and what happened in Kenya, is the way that those terrorists adapt to the situation, and I think that they’re all doing that. I don’t think it was tied to the Snowden leaks. I think it was just tied to adjusting to the situations and the challenges that they see. And they’re very adaptable and very quick to adjust their methods to, you know, increase their effectiveness.
Q: I’m talking about the way they communicate with each other; not the actual attack itself, but when they used –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I was talking about – when I said the Mumbai, they did the same thing. I don’t know whether – you know, they used the same type of communications. They adjusted all their communications equipment to change so that they stayed ahead of anybody able to collect on them. And they also, you know, used everything from video and everything else to move it over, you know, the normal phone system that everybody has.
Q: Can I ask about the counter-LRA operation in this, with the state of operations in CAR, where you (stopped off ?) the coup; and also to ask, on behalf of my Africa colleague, why it’s taking so long to produce what – sort of meaningful results in terms of catching Kony or those closest to him?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I think the challenge in, you know, capturing Kony is just the vastness of the terrain and the jungle and how tough that terrain is, with all the interlaced jungles and waterways and things like that. So it’s pretty tough to move up there. I think that the African Regional Task Force has continued to make progress. And that’s another example, though, and I really want to talk about more than just the military effort against the Lord’s Resistance Army. But all the government efforts, the nongovernmental organizations’ effort has continued to improve the security for the people in the region there. And now Kony and his army are having a less negative impact on the people than they have had before.
So I think it’s just going to be a long, sustained effort to continue to limit his ability to operate, but right now it’s moving in a very positive direction, in that the attacks, the kidnappings – the defections are up and the violence against the people is down right now. So I think it’s just going to take a – you know, a long-term effort because of that tough terrain up there and his ability to move through about four different countries and cross borders that’s hard to get at. But like I said –
Q: Do you have an assessment of the strength of the LRA at the moment?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We think it’s only about a couple hundred now, down from about 700. So it’s significantly less than it has been. And like I said, they’re having a tougher time operating.
Q: And you’re operating, again, in CAR now?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We support the African Regional Task Force to operate where they do, and they are operating the CAR right now, yes.
Q: That includes your people?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. And we’re just advising and assisting and everything.
Q: Do you think that most of the remaining LRA fighters are in CAR?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: When you say most, I couldn’t tell you the answer. They’re in multiple places. So I’m not sure where the majority of them is right now, between two or three countries, because of, like I said, the terrain. There’s no boundaries out there, either. It’s just in the middle of the jungle. So it’s tough to tell you that. And again, they go to places where it’s hard to get at and where there’s, you know, ungoverned spaces where they can continue to operate.
But as I said, it’s been a good-news story overall because of the government’s efforts, the public efforts, the nongovernmental organization efforts. All those have helped to decrease any ability for, you know, Kony to continue to operate like he was, which was, you know, so bad for so many years.
Q: Drones have become a prominent element of your operations in Africa, I mean to a large extent for intelligence gathering rather than strikes at the moment. And obviously, these are a resource that’s in relatively short supply. After the Afghan mission draws down, are you likely – are we likely to see any significant reinforcements of drone operations in your region of responsibility?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I think, you know, that will – it’s – the whole intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission is much, much broader than just the drones. And again, our efforts support our African partners, and that whole decision on the prioritization of efforts will be a decision for the U.S. policymakers to make. And I think a couple of things. One, it will come a little bit slower out of Afghanistan because as you reduce the troops, you know, you want to continue to keep the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance up high. And I think that, – you know, I hope that we’ll get some benefits from that and everything, but that remains to be seen.
Q: How much confidence do you have in the relatively new Somali government as being capable of doing anything about improving its security forces or being a partner in which you can have confidence?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, just like, you know, most of the challenging nations, the institutional build that has to get done is significant in the Somali military area. And we continue to work with both the AMISOM partners as well as some other international partners to help build that capacity. And, you know, the army and the people that are operating out there from – (inaudible) – they’re a lot easier to build than the institutions, because the institutions need to be able to, you know, promote, manage personnel, pay personnel as well as, you know, logistically sustain it, and those are some of the tougher things that take a longer time to develop. And the nascent nature of the whole Somali national government is – you know, is going to be a continuing challenge for the international community to build and develop.
Q: How would you rate the strength of groups such as AQIM, Boko Haram and al-Shabab in terms of just numbers of men? And also, what kind of practical connections do you see between those groups?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The levels of the numbers of people is hard to estimate and everything, but we worry mostly about al-Shabab because of its, you know, intent to disrupt Western interests than AQIM. And, you know, Boko Haram has been mainly a local insurgency, so that piece has less of our attention. And that’s how we – how we look at it.
As far as the connections and the growth of those connections, those connections continue to operate, but they’re not – they’re not as easy to understand or clearly track because they have, you know, networks across the region that are tied to multiple things, whether it’d be the list of movement of goods, whether it’d be drugs, so there is obviously the significant drug network that comes from South America up to West Africa and into Europe. You have now the drug network that comes from Southeast Asia across Africa that goes both up into Europe, into the United States. Then you have the terrorist network that works mainly out of the Middle East and across North Africa as well as into East Africa. And then those are the networks that we watch. And the coordination that gets done about moving arms, ammunition, explosives, the most challenging one right now is the one from Libya that goes across northwest Africa, that movement.
Q: Do you feel that the appeal of these movement to young men in that part of the world isn’t diminishing at all?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think that that’s pretty uneven. It depends really on the ability of the host nation government and how they, you know, provide services and all those things, so it’s a pretty complex question. But in areas in, again, where they are able to operate the easiest, in the ungoverned spaces, what we, you know, worry about most is those areas in East Africa, you know, around Somalia where they don’t have any government control. And then the next challenging area is, again, in the Sahel between Libya and northern Mali because there is not much ability for those governments to get out there.
Q: (I want to ?) ask about Mozambique. We had a flare-up of violence in central Mozambique. Are you involved in giving any greater advice or support to government, or there’s been no change?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, not right now. No, the – again, our State Department is leading that effort, diplomatically and everything, and we’re not doing anything differently, no.
Q: Overall, would you expect to have more people on the ground next year doing more things? What’s the general trajectory of AFRICOM’s operations at the moment?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We probably haven’t had a huge increase in people, but probably we’ve had over the last couple years an increase in activities, such as the exercises or the – or the small training missions that go in and out. And we’ll probably see those stay about the same I think based on the situation as well as the budget.
Q: (I was going to say ?), how much impact is sequestration having on AFRICOM?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The impact thus far has been we will be reducing the headquarters by about 20 percent, and then about $50 million has been, you know, adjusted from our budget. And those have decreased some of the size of the exercises.
But we’ve also changed the nature of those exercises. So we really worked hard at getting more regional participation and higher-level command post-type exercises, which don’t cost as much but includes a command-and-control and intelligence sharing and some of those that are usually important to build those regional organizations capacity to handle the situations – (inaudible).
Q: So what kind of percentage – (inaudible)?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I’ll have to get that for you – (inaudible).
Q: So you’ll have less money but do the same – do probably the same level – (inaudible)?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: When I (say ?) level – yeah, but it won’t be the same, you know, type of activity. It’ll be just, it’s like I said, for a command post exercise relative to a full-scale exercise, it’s significantly cheaper, but we think we’re getting some high payoff in – especially with our efforts to improve interoperability and those things. And that’s usually important in both the AMISOM mission in Somalia, which, again, has the five nations working together, or the U.N. mission in Mali, which now has nine African nations contributing.
Q: Can you give an idea of the scale of how many U.S. military personnel actually on the ground doing stuff?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, there are about 5,000 total throughout Africa at any one time, you know, give or take. And the majority of them are in Djibouti, where we have our support there, and that’s about – probably about 3,000 there, so – but that includes – again, in the embassies, we have, you know, a couple people in every embassy that we have, you know, anywhere from three or four to, you know, 15 in each of the embassies and everything. And then the rest of them are all moving in different places.
Q: And that figure you reckon will (stay ?) about the same?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Mmm hmm. Yes. Yes. Mmm hmm.
Q: Can I just ask, in terms of kind of, like – (inaudible) – you know, attack, do you work on the assumption that there is going to be another one in a matter of time? And do you have ideas as to where – (inaudible) – areas are that can be targeted? Obviously, we had In Amenas and then Westgate over the last few months.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, the places that we watch carefully and the threats that we watch carefully are the ones in the troop-contributing nations who are supporting the efforts in Somalia, as was the issue with the Westgate mall in Kenya, and then the same in Mali, so those nine nations are certainly a – in a high-threat location. Plus for the – for the U.S. facilities and personnel that we have in our embassies, as you can imagine, we watch that very carefully because we have a significant number of high-threat embassies in the world, in Africa, so we watch that very carefully. And then, you know, again, we monitor the threats everywhere to both, you know, Western interests, the U.S. as well as the host nation governments, and we share that information with them as best we can.
Q: How confident are you in your ability to respond to those kind of threats in a hurry? We saw in – you know, Libya should be the easiest country to get at in Africa for AFRICOM, given the – got forces just across the Med. I mean, how much time do you spend worrying about your embassies in other places?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, we worry about all of them – (chuckles) – and we look at all of them very carefully. And again, you know, based on the Benghazi lessons learned, some of the information-sharing as well as some of the reinforcement piece is usually important, so we clearly believe that the indication of warnings and understanding that are most important. And then the second thing is to reinforce, restrengthen before.
Q: So you’re in a better place than you were – (inaudible)?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I think we’re a better place than – there’s been a huge effort by both the State Department in the diplomatic security arena to reinforce where they need to as well as the military – the Marine security guards. So they reinforced in several places already based on the situation. And then we have also supported the reinforcement of a couple embassies based on the threat there. And we’ll continue to watch that very carefully. And I think that Benghazi has raised both the awareness and the threat understanding throughout Africa, as well as our ability to respond has increased in the past year.
Q: Are you able to say which embassies you’ve reinforced recently?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we’ve reinforced both in Tripoli and in Tunis are the two places that we reinforced. I couldn’t tell you all the ones because there’s been several that the diplomatic security of the State Department has reinforced. You have to ask them. And they also handle the Marine security guards, who have reinforced several. But they keep us informed of that, and so we understand where they reinforce and why, and then we continue to build contingency plans to respond if we need to.
Q: In the aftermath of the French intervention in Mali, how do you assess the strength of AQIM as it stands today?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: AQIM, the strength of AQIM has been disrupted a little bit and taken – you know, decreased in the – as the result of the operations in Mali. The challenge is that, you know, they are able to move a little too freely up in that area, so nobody, or, you know, all the efforts there weren’t able to decrease the strength to a huge significant effort. Now they’ve got them out of there – out of the area more than, you know, decreased the numbers.
Q: So they’ve moved them rather than destroyed them.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. And they’ve had an impact on them. I mean, they decreased their effectiveness. But it’s long from being destroyed and everything. And again, that area between Libya and Mali is, you know, one of, you know, where they don’t control the borders very effectively in those countries or – so they moved rather than, you know, fight – (inaudible) – just like you would think they would do.
Q: Overall, do you think you’re making – you’ve made progress in the last year, or you and your partners have made progress in the last year, against al-Shabab and the rest of the – the rest of the Islamist movements in Africa, or do you think you’re roughly in the same place?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think that, you know, a couple things have been very good. You know, the effort in Somalia to dislocate al-Shabab has decreased some of their revenue stream, so that’s moving in the right direction. But they have a long way to go because as you saw, as they struck out asymmetrically against both the government in Mogadishu and Kenya, that that’s, you know, going to continue to be a problem, and it’s one where if, you know, AMISOM is – has to really keep the pressure up. And then of course, that’s just the military pressure. There’s a lot of other things that have to get fixed, though, to solve the challenge long-term.
And I think the partners in the efforts in Mali have decreased the level of effectiveness of AQIM and made it harder for them to operate. But again, that’s going to be a long-term effort amongst about five or six nations to really solve that problem long-term. And these are – you know, these are long-term challenges that require a whole-of-government effort and a coordinated multinational effort, which was why in Mali it was, you know, a grid effort by the African Union and ECOWAS to see all those nine nations come together to help from every different direction. But you know, they still got a ways to go.
Q: Is there pressure on the U.S. military, like there is on the British military, to kind of justify your existence post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq? I think that here there’s this real sort of sense that – a need to demonstrate to the public why we spend – (inaudible) – billion pounds a year on defense. And you know, these kind of training missions and engagement in places like Africa are seen as the military showing why they’re needed. Is that the same in the U.S., or do you not have that challenge?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, the – you know, we don’t have to justify why we exist very much. But you know, but we all have the budget challenges, as you know, with the U.S. budget, and that’ll continue and everything. And you know, we’re not – we don’t – we don’t do things – the military doesn’t do things by themselves. We do what we’re told to do. So, you know, that’s up to the national policymakers, and our – what we’re doing in Africa really hasn’t changed much in the last two years based on the budget challenges. It’s – again, it’s about how we beset support the U.S. policy, which is clearly and very effectively led by our State Department, and it’s – you know, and the country teams, not the military.
Q: Have you suffered casualties in Africa since AFRICOM came into existence? And I realize you’re not doing much in the way of major war fighting, but – (inaudible) – there’s all kinds of dangerous things in Africa. I just wondered how many people you’ve lost.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Only ones from nonbattle injuries, you know, from accidents and those things. That’s what we’ve lost in Africa since I’ve been here.
Q: And are we talking sort of low – almost – (inaudible) –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Oh, yes. Yeah, just onesies and twosies here based on accidents, and that’s all.
Q: How – (inaudible) – has been the impacts of the outflow of illegal weapons from Libya since 2011?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It’s had a negative impact on security in many countries in that region. The flow of weapons across those – like I said, those smuggling routes and drug routes and all that has had a – you know, a negative impact on arms, ammunition, explosives that have – that are flown across North Africa. That was part of the contributing efforts to what happened in northern Mali, and it’s the challenge between Libya and northern Mali in both ways around that area.
Q: Between Libya and northern Mali is Algeria. Are they not – are you saying they’re not doing enough, or is – (inaudible) –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, I said that – I said that the flow of weapons across boundaries and networks in that area is very challenging, and the terrain. And again, these are – this is at the far end of their – the – all those nations’ ability to secure their borders and everything, so Niger, you know, Chad – I mean, it’s a – it’s out in the middle of the desert, and that’s why all those countries are trying their best, and they’re coordinating, again, across those boundaries with each other more than they ever have to try to solve the problem. But it’s a tough issue because of the terrain.
Q: To what extent do you get involved in issues in eastern Congo and – well, we’ve seen – (inaudible) – flare-ups – (inaudible) – but how is AFRICOM involved with those countries?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We have no direct engagement in that. And again, our State Department leads those efforts, and the U.S. is putting a huge diplomatic effort to help solve those issues there.
Q: So there’s no – none of the sort of information-sharing or training relationships you have elsewhere?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We do support some of the training of the – you know, the nations that are contributing there from outside the Congo, not anything direct.
Q: Is Niger a country you’re particularly worried about at the moment? It falls in the geographical belt that you talked about, and it’s a country where there’s no French troops as there is in Mali and no great expertise – (inaudible) –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: When – yes, again, because of that situation I talked about across those boundaries and everything, one of the challenging areas is across that northern area in Niger, where many of the infiltration routes go. So yeah, we worry about that, and we also work hard with the military of Niger to strengthen its capacity as an institution to be part of an improving – you know, improving the stability in Niger, which is important based on their history.
Q: The U.S. Marine Corps, and to a lesser extent the British Army, have got slightly obsessed with the idea that all – that future conflicts are going to take place in coastal megacities and – because that’s where most people are going to live. And I wondered if you thought that that was borne out by what you’re saying at the moment in Africa, because it sounds like a lot of the actual operations are taking place in fairly bare scrubland – (inaudible) –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I think the – yeah, that’s a great question. I think it’ll impact, you know, around those megacities, as everybody – you know, and the majority of the people live there, but the support and where it operates is in places that are hard to get at. So I think that that will the real issue in the long term for everybody.
Q: Given the flow of weapons that you described from Libya to other parts of Africa, do – have you ever kind of wondered of the strategic wisdom of getting rid of Gadhafi in the first place because the weapons seemed to be reasonably secure under him?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think – you know, I have no – that was – all that was done prior to me getting there, so I don’t look back at it, and I just try to figure out how to move forward and figure out how to best handle it. But you know, the Gadhafi regime and what they were doing was, you know, usually negative to the people of Libya and everything, so I’m not sure I’d, you know, say we shouldn’t have done that – (inaudible) – but really, what’s really important is the ability to suspend that flow, to prevent that from happening and continue to make it harder and harder for them to operate throughout those regions.
Q: What are you doing in West Africa about drugs and also maritime security? You mentioned the Africa Partnership Station from the U.S. Navy. Just talk a bit about what kind of – what kind of efforts – (inaudible) –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: And we have legal enforcement programs also, and the challenge for piracy right now is in Africa. The biggest challenge is now in the Gulf of Guinea, from our perspective. So we do capacity-building, for example, building maritime operations centers that –
Q: Where are those?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: In several of the regions down there. I couldn’t go through all the countries because there’s a – there’s several of them. But that – and then we’re really working with them hard. They just did a great maritime security of the Gulf of Guinea where they adopted a code of – Gulf of Guinea code of operations that, again, are bringing the nations together to try to cooperate and communicate, and then we’ve got some capacity-building programs to help build the navy and everything and providing some coastal craft there that can help them. So those are the type of things we do. And then for the maritime legal enforcement, we do a lot of training with their coast guards, which in some cases are their navies, but how to better enforce things.
Q: Are they overlapping problems? Is drug money fueling – (inaudible) –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, all of it is overlapping. They have – again, you go the drug network that comes up from – you know, from the – South America and the Caribbean. You have the arms network that, again, is – crisscrosses Africa. You have challenges with theft and the oil bunkering that – mainly out of Nigeria that’s a challenge. And they overlap, and they support each other at different places that, again, is very, very complex and hard to –
Q: Is that getting better or getting worse?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I think in the Gulf of Guinea, it’s not getting any better right now. So we have – and the international effort, though, on the other side of the continent has made a huge impact – (inaudible) – positive.
Q: Are you swapping resources from one to the other?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It depends on the international efforts and everything. You know, most of – as you can imagine, most of the international efforts are focused on the east coast, but piracy in the east coast has significantly decreased. I think there’s one ship that is still held against its will, and –
Q: You’d like to see a similar effort on the west coast, or you –
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Yeah, we’re encouraging people on the west coast to do that. But on the – it’s a little bit different because of the challenges with the number of nations in the Gulf of Guinea region. So that’s making it a little bit harder. And then the impact –
Q: What kind of challenges?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, for the – one of the things that helped out significantly was the – was the arming of private security guards on many of the ships and everything. And to get that agreement on about 14 nations in the other side is a lot tougher for the companies to do. So again, that’s not a military solution, but it was a huge thing that made a positive contribution in – over the east coast. So we work with nations on, you know, programs like that and everything, but to date they have not all agreed to do that. So hopefully we can, you know, move that forward in the future.
STAFF: We have time for one last question. About five minutes left.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: All right, good. All right. (Laughter.) Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. (Cross talk, laughter.) All right. Thank you.
Q: Thanks very much.