Contact Us Press Releases AFRICOM Portal
TRANSCRIPT: Moeller Discusses African Security Issues During WTOP Radio Interview
Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, U.S. Africa Command's deputy to the commander for military operations, described the piracy situation in Somalia as "very complex" during an interview with J.J. Green, a national security correspondent from WTOP
Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, U.S. Africa Command's deputy to the commander for military operations, described the piracy situation in Somalia as "very complex" during an interview with J.J. Green, a national security correspondent from WTOP Radio April 14, 2009.

The interview, which took place two days after the rescue of a U.S. Navy captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates, addressed African maritime security issues, among other topics.

Moeller said, "[Piracy] works against everything that ... Somalia is trying to accomplish."

"The solution to the challenge of piracy as it emanates from the shore is to address the challenges ashore that lead to these young men being inclined to take up pirate activity, as opposed to having something else productive to do."

Below is the transcript of Moeller's interview.

MR.: Admiral Moeller interview with J.J. Green, WTOP, 14 April, 2009.

MR.: (Inaudible.)

J.J. GREEN: All right, sir. Let's begin by getting you to give us your name, your title and organization.

ADMIRAL ROBERT MOELLER: Vice Admiral Bob Moeller. I am the deputy to the commander for military operations, U.S. Africa Command.

MR. GREEN: The clear question that's come up in the minds of many people in the last couple of years since AFRICOM has been stood up is, what is AFRICOM designed to do -- what's the plan?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, first of all, going back, since I was asked to lead the mission planning effort for the establishment of the command back in the fall of 2006, two primary missions: First of all, the department's recognition of the growing strategic importance of all things related to the African continent.

And the other principal reason was a recognition that the way we were previously organized at Defense was probably not in a way that would make it as responsive to the needs, priorities and perspectives of our African partners. And so by having one command focused on the work that we want to do with our African partners, we can be much more effective, much more efficient, and again, much more responsive to the needs, priorities, desires of our African partners.

MR. GREEN: -- work between the two of us. So you're one of the architects, obviously, of the command, to some degree, on a number of levels. Let me ask you, what are the major challenges that face AFRICOM today?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, as we continue to develop our headquarters and Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, we face, like the other combatant commands do, the need to have all the personnel resources that we need to do all the work required with our mission set, the financial resources, and then we, you know, continue to need to work very, very closely with our African partners to ensure that they fully understand what our purpose is and -- such that we can consult very, very closely with them across the continent. And so collectively, we can work on developing, essentially, African solutions to African challenges.

MR. GREEN: You know, I've spent a little time reading over some of the material about AFRICOM on your Web site and was interested to find out that AFRICOM wasn't designed to basically be a war-fighting organization, but in turn, it was designed to prevent -- be more of a preventive outfit. Is that still the plan today?

ADM. MOELLER: That is still the intent. When the department gave us the initial planning scheme, the direction to start the planning efforts, our responsibilities would be the same as every other geographic command, however, at the top of our list was working with our partner nations on building their capacity, again, such that we could work with them to help them set the conditions for security and stability in their respective countries and on a regional basis and, as it applies, across the continent overall.

But -- and so that's our number one focus from -- and that has been our number one focus since the early days. That said, we, like every other -- like EUCOM, like PACOM, like CENTCOM -- have our responsibility for the full range of geographic command responsibilities. Nothing was taken off the table.

MR. GREEN: So when something happens like what took place in the Indian Ocean recently, off the coast of Somalia, that's something that you may have some responsibility in, too?

ADM. MOELLER: At specifically some point in the future, exactly, or you know, some other crisis situation ashore somewhere in Africa, that's our responsibility to deal with, assuming that, you know, it becomes a U.S. government policy position to -- that one way or another, that we would be involved in that.

MR. GREEN: Give me what AFRICOM's view on the situation in Somalia and the piracy situation might be at this time.

ADM. MOELLER: Well, it is certainly a very, very complex situation. You know, the fact is, our view with regard to the piracy issue is one that I think is quite frankly shared by the international community, that piracy is a maritime crime. It is -- works against the -- everything that, in this particular case, Somalia is trying to accomplish. It further complicates all those efforts as the new government tries to -- pulls forward to mature themselves as a functioning entity. And so just -- it -- there is no place for this maritime crime on a global basis.

MR. GREEN: So you talk about your international partners that you're working with out there, who very clearly have the same view that you've just told us about here; who are some of your international partners when it comes to dealing with that particular issue out there in the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa, specifically?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, in working -- and, of course, the responsibility for the maritime piece is, where these events have taken place, is U.S. Central Command responsibility, but there are ships from a number of European countries that are involved in this activity as well -- certainly, a number of U.S. warships. And there's also participation from navies from the Pacific.

And so all of them are working very, very closely on trying to improve the security in the Gulf of Aden region and the immediate region off the coast of Somalia. Now ashore, on the continent itself, in all of our consultations with our partners, I mean, to a country, all recognize that this is a significant problem that needs to be addressed, and not only addressed, but a challenge that needs to be resolved and dealt with and made to go away.

MR. GREEN: An intelligence -- a former diplomatic security intelligence official, who now works in the private sector, I spoke with him earlier. And I also spoke with a U.S. intelligence counterterrorism official and they both seemed to -- they both said the same things you're saying: This needs to be fixed. A couple of the things that they mentioned that needed to be dealt with is to, one, figure out who these pirates are, what their connections are, where they're getting their weapons from, where the money's going.

And it strikes me that much of that may not necessarily be out there on the water; a lot of it may be on the ground as you've alluded to, there -- there's some connections to the ground. So has a strategy, to some degree, been put in place already, or is this where we are now -- putting one together?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, we are -- you know, kind of where we are now, it is widely recognized that ultimately, the solution to the challenge of piracy as it emanates from the shore is to address the challenges ashore that lead to these young men being inclined to take up pirate activity, as opposed to having something else productive to do.

MR. GREEN: Basically, something where they can make a living -- a good living -- and feed their families?

ADM. MOELLER: Absolutely, exactly. And of course, to do that requires, in whatever particular country, you know, the conditions of good governance, a stable economic foundation, et cetera -- all those things that we know constitute, you know, a functioning country.

MR. GREEN: Hearts and minds, basically, is what I'm hearing here -- winning them before they get to this point where they resort to doing something like that -- and a number of these people that have been engaged in these activities have been pretty young. I think one of the people that was taken -- of the surviving pirates on this recent situation was a 16 year-old, which is really interesting, when you start thinking about making that decision, or maybe not even having one.

So as you move forward on this, does the U.S. have to take the lead on developing -- or does the U.S. military have to take the lead on developing some kind of strategy to deal with this, or is this some kind of political thing that the military works along with, or is it an intelligence matter? Where does it start?

ADM. MOELLER: Ultimately, sir, it's a political issue. And it's one that the international community clearly recognizes by virtue of the U.N. Security Council resolutions that have been adopted over the last several months that speak to this issue. That said, and we've been part of that, there's going to be a military component to it, and at that point in time, then the military will become involved. But first the -- you know, the political calculus and all of the work that needs to be done by the international community with regard to, again, the conditions that may be set and created ashore such that these young men are encouraged to do productive things as opposed to undertaking these kinds of activities.

MR. GREEN: Your partner navies and you, like everyone else in the Navy and indeed, in the rest of the country at this point, have to be tremendously proud of what took place the other night, which I think highlights the tremendous amount of skill that the Navy personnel have in order to do what they did, but one of the most interesting developments on that front was, I was talking with another gentleman of the Navy -- member of the Navy -- and he said this stuff happens all the time; you just don't see it, you just don't hear about. So just talk to me a little bit about what we saw and why we shouldn't be shocked.

ADM. MOELLER: Well, I mean, those forces that participated in that particular action the other night are very, very well-prepared to do those kinds of things if and when called upon to do so. I don't know that, necessarily, that kind of, you know, happens, certainly, at sea all the time, but they are very, very well-trained and prepared to act, should the decision be made, as it was the other night, to do so.

MR. GREEN: One of the things that -- and I'll leave you alone with this particular question -- one of the things that was particularly of interest to me was the skills that was involved in, it being the dead of night on a very turbulent body of water and being at a very good distance with all the limited amount of visibility -- limited range, shall we say, of your target pretty small. Is that more of a tribute to the weapons and the visual aids -- the night-vision aids -- or was that a combination of the skills and the weaponry and the visual aids?

ADM. MOELLER: It's a combination of all those factors -- you know, the capabilities that they had led them to conduct that mission -- but very, very much, also, the training. The training for them to do what they did the other night is very, very intense, and so it's a combination of all those factors.

MR. GREEN: Sir, let me just move on to other parts of your mission; you talked about some of the African partners that you have to work with, you know, on a regular basis. But a lot of things that I'm sure you're responsible for don't take place in that particular region -- there's North Africa, there are other parts of Africa -- but I'm not sure how broad the participation is amongst African countries. So could you give us an idea -- I know there are 50-some countries; are they all involved in the process?

ADM. MOELLER: We are working with a large number of countries across the continent in each of the five regions that the African Union has basically divided up the continent -- so in the North, in West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and in South Africa. And the range of activities differs on a regional basis across the continent. And so, but we are working to, again, increase our level of activity with our partner nations because one of the things that matters most to us, and it's kind of captured in our mission statement, is sustained security engagement -- working very, very closely with our African partners on a continuous basis, again, to give them -- to work with them, to help them develop the capabilities and the capacity to be able to deal with their respective security challenges.

MR. GREEN: And how would you reflect that training that is going on between the U.S. and some of these nations?

ADM. MOELLER: I think it's progressing quite well. I mean, one of the things that has been doing on for quite some time is the training of forces in a number of countries to conduct, particularly, U.N. peacekeeping operations. That has been going on for tens and tens of thousands of forces around the African continent that have been training for that. We support that effort very, very closely. And we look forward to continuing to do that in the future and expanding that.

MR. GREEN: Okay. As we look at the function of the Africa Command, why is it not based in Africa, if you haven't already answered that? I know that some time ago there was some concern about the U.S. military putting a footprint there and thinking it may put, some folks think, back to the Cold War days. But what's the plan toward that?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, for the foreseeable future, we are going to be where we are at our headquarters at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. From there, we believe that we can be very, very effective. We're largely in the same time zone with the entire continent, which matters a great deal from the operational standpoint. Ultimately, I mean, a future decision to go to the continent would follow an invitation from one or more African countries to consider that. The reality is, today, though, we have existing presence on the continent in the form of Combined Joint Taskforce Horn of Africa, which is headquartered at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and then, throughout the continent, we have military representatives working with our partner nations from their stations in the respective embassies around the continent.

So we already have, you know, a fairly substantial presence on the continent in the form of those offices and that command that existed even before the establishment of U.S. Africa Command. So as I say, from where we are today, at our headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, we believe we can be very, very effective in terms of working through our representatives in the embassies such that we can work very closely with our partners. In addition, being where we are in Germany, that allows us to consult, also, with our European partners, who clearly have significant interest in all African affairs.

MR. GREEN: So what happens if something takes place -- a natural disaster or an attack on the U.S. interests in some parts of Africa that are fairly remote from Germany? Is that a situation where, maybe, some other U.S. command, say closer to Southern Africa, would respond? And would they have, let's say control of the situation, or how would that work?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, we would have responsibility for responding to whatever the issue was across the continent. And then depending on what the situation was, we'd then request that forces be brought in to be able to respond to the particular situation, be that a humanitarian disaster of one sort or another, some crisis -- whatever the situation turned out to be.

MR. GREEN: How quickly could you respond to anything, anywhere on the continent?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, it kind of -- it, to some degree, kind of depends on the nature of the situation. In some cases, you know, almost instantaneously -- in a very, very short time. In other cases, it would, you know, take probably a little bit of time to bring the respective forces to be able to deal with whatever the particular situation is.

MR. GREEN: Let me just give you an example: Let's say this is a very clear military situation. We know, for instance, al Qaeda in the land of the Maghreb in North Africa. You have al Shabab and that organization in the Horn of Africa and you have other al Qaeda forces that's more southern in other situations that are fairly volatile. Well, say it was a military situation where U.S interests were at risk: That kind of response is what I'm looking for.

ADM. MOELLER: Right, well that could be -- in some cases, it could be very short, with available forces that are, if not immediately in the vicinity, are relatively close to the vicinity. And in some cases, though, depending on the situation, other forces might have to come in from greater distances -- it will take a little bit more time. But the first piece, of course, would be a U.S. government decision that military action of one sort or another was warranted.

MR. GREEN: So basically, I'm thinking Washington -- the president would have to make a decision on what happened initially.

ADM. MOELLER: Most likely, it would be a presidential decision, yes.

MR. GREEN: Okay, a few more things I want to ask and then, maybe, you can, if you'd like to, tell me about some of the things that may be on your mind. Productivity, since AFRICOM has been set up, has -- how many of your goals have you achieved, or how close to achieving them have you gotten?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, we've really only begun that effort of, again, working with our African partners to work toward, again, building their capability and capacity that they need to establish the conditions of security and stability. These are, actually, very long-term goals -- not something that we could just accomplish in a matter of a few months or even, in some cases, a matter of a couple of years. These are -- that's why I go back to saying sustained security engagement is absolutely critical to what we're doing. We need to be there with our African partners on a regular basis to be able to, in fact, accomplish what we collectively agree that we want to accomplish.

MR. GREEN: How critical is it to U.S. national security for AFRICOM's mission to be successful?

ADM. MOELLER: Well, I think it's very, very important. Again, you know, going back to the establishment of the command and one of the primary reasons was, the recognition of the growing strategic importance of all things having to do with Africa. There are, without question, some strategic threats there -- you've already alluded to some of those in North Africa and East Africa. We are very, very mindful of all that. And we -- the role that Africa plays on the world stage continues to increase, and so working with our partners to put them in a strong position to be able to deal with their challenges is, you know, absolutely essential to U.S. interests, as well as the interests of our African partners.

MR. GREEN: Okay. Well, I think I'm probably going to ask, now, if you have anything that you want to add that I haven't asked you about or any area that we should probably get into that you'd like to.

ADM. MOELLER: One thing that I would like to really underscore and emphasize is, we describe and characterize ourselves as a learning and listening organization. We are very, very interested in spending as much time as we can going around the continent and sitting down and consulting with our African partners to make sure we fully understand their perspectives, their priorities, their needs, such that, when collectively, we design a security cooperation programs that best support them, we're doing it from, again, the perspective of our African partners, who clearly are in the best position to really understand what their needs are. And so that is something we are very, very mindful of, and it's why General Ward, Ambassador Yates and I spend as much time as we do on the continent discussing these issues with our African partners.

MR. GREEN: So do you go to each country, or by invitation or by asking, maybe -- (inaudible) -- or is this a situation that is kind of yet to be -- the process, the protocol -- yet to sort of fall into place?

ADM. MOELLER: We do a little bit of both. In a number of places, we've received invitations to come down and have these kinds of consultations. There's other cases, we contact the particular military in a particular country and suggest that we would like to have these discussions. And so we've -- there have sort of been a number of both situations.

MR. GREEN: How would you describe the security situation on the continent right now?

ADM. MOELLER: I would say there are, you know, again, there's some significant challenges in North Africa and East Africa. But I think collectively, our African partners, particularly as they continue to develop the brigades of the Africa Standby Force, which is a part of what the peace and security construct of the African Union is putting -- has put in place and is maturing. I think the overall trend is in a positive direction. That's not to say that problems solved and we don't need to pay attention; there is a great deal of work yet to be done. But I would say overall, it's improving.

MR. GREEN: All right. I think the very last thing I'll ask you is to give me, if you will, a headline for this situation in Africa right now -- good and bad, everything in between -- and how that affects AFRICOM's mission, how it affects your job from day to day. Basically, boil it down -- boil the situation down as it involves you and your organization in a couple lines for the American people to sort of metabolize as we go forward, because the situation, very clearly, in Somalia, has brought a lot of attention to Africa. And as someone who's covered Africa for a long time, I know that it's not all negative -- there is good -- but things like this tend to put a lot of immediate focus on the situation and later, it will kind of melt away. But give me a headline on just, where we are with Africa.

ADM. MOELLER: I would say that the way we would characterize this would be meeting the challenges or addressing challenges and taking advantage of opportunities to work to improve the overall security situation with our African partners.

MR. GREEN: Admiral, thank you -- appreciate it. You've been very kind in giving this time.

ADM. MOELLER: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity to have this time to address all of those who listen to WTOP radio.

MR. GREEN: Thank you. I'm hoping next time, though, we can do this on your turf.

ADM. MOELLER: Great. Yeah that would be terrific, yeah. Yeah, absolutely, yeah.

(Cross talk.)