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TRANSCRIPT: Yates Discusses Interagency Integration in U.S. Africa Command with Al-Jazeera English
<i>Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, U.S. Africa Command&#39;s deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, discussed the command&#39;s interagency make-up with Al-Jazeera English reporter Rageh Omaar, the lead presenter of the network&#39;s
Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, U.S. Africa Command's deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, discussed the command's interagency make-up with Al-Jazeera English reporter Rageh Omaar, the lead presenter of the network's Witness program.

Yates explained how USAFRICOM's integrated staff structure brings together U.S. military personnel and experts from the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, setting it apart from other U.S. Department of Defense geographic commands.

She emphasized how U.S. military agencies support and implement U.S. foreign policy, but does not create policy.

In response to a question on U.S. Africa Command "militarizing" U.S. foreign policy, Yates said, "I hear that all the time. I actually even like it when people ask me that because I say, au contraire, it is really the opposite. The people who have worked in this command I think have a better understanding of what USAID does, on the continent and elsewhere, [and] now what Treasury does, certainly what State Department does. So I think that the military who are working here instantly get a better chance to understand how we function on the continent."

Al-Jazeera English will air a special Witness documentary on Africa Command sometime this fall.

Below is the transcript of the interview. RAGEH OMAAR: Can I start by asking you first. Ambassador Yates, how big a change for U.S. diplomacy in Africa does AFRICOM represent? AMBASSADOR MARY CARLIN YATES: That's a very good question. I have been inside the command and have not been in a country serving as a diplomat, so probably there would be better people to answer the question with precision. I feel that what we are building in the command -- and it's still very much learning and evolving -- is ultimately going to strengthen diplomacy in our diplomatic missions. General Ward says it every single time he meets with people, that our goals are to support what the foreign policy is, what our country teams want to do. And of course that's music to my ears, having served -- the honor of having served twice as an ambassador. But I see it -- you know, there are still people that don't quite understand it and, you know, even within the Diplomatic Corps there are people who have never worked closely with the military. So we're still in a learning phase, I think. MR. OMAAR: Is it -- I mean, in terms of diplomats and soldiers, I mean, working in the same command together, is it just simply a shift in culture that needs to take place or is it something more profound than that? AMB. YATES: I think that I have witnessed something very exciting in what we're building here. And, again, it's not been easy. But because we work together, because our cultures -- and we do have different cultures -- meet on a daily basis, we are understanding each other more and more. We laugh about things, you know, whether it's phraseology or terminology, and the way we play, which is sometimes different. The cycles are different. But we're learning that and then we're finding better ways to do it. So it's going to be an iterative process, but I think, absolutely, it's the right model. MR. OMAAR: I mean, talk me though what you believe are the positives of bringing these two, you know, sections of the American government under one command, the diplomats and the soldiers. What's the upside to this? AMB. YATES: Well, the upside is that right here in the command, when planning is going on -- and the military are fabulous at their planning but they don't sometimes understand the fuller context, the fuller picture. You know, if they haven't lived in the country and they haven't -- it's understood, some of the hurdles or challenges, so if that can be brought in early then you're not two-thirds of the way through planning, whether it is a security theater cooperation exercise or -- you know, or something else. Also, I think the example to me that is going to prove to be one of the biggest win-wins once we get this constructed is our work in counter-narcotics because it is a number of different U.S. agencies working and we are finding in African nations it's also their interior, their police -- I mean, different agencies there. So when I go in this capacity, or whether I go to Lisbon and I meet with the Department of Justice or the Ministry of Justice there, I can take that sort of group knowledge together -- I mean, how it has to integrate to solve the problem, and it is a growing problem. I mean, it breaks my heart to see what is happening in West Africa. MR. OMAAR: Your critics, or the critics of AFRICOM, say that this is a relationship that, you know, what this represents -- AFRICOM is, in some ways, the militarization of diplomatic efforts, the militarization of aid. The soldiers are running the policy and its implementation. AMB. YATES: I hear that all the time. I actually even like it when people ask me that because I say, au contraire, it is really the opposite. The people who have worked in this command I think have a better understanding of what USAID does, on the continent and elsewhere, now what Treasury does, certainly what State Department does. So I think that the military who are working here instantly get a better chance to understand how we function on the continent. MR. OMAAR: Why do you think this unease persists then? Is it just ideological, that just people don't like the idea of soldiers, you know, being in charge of a command? It also has a diplomatic and development component. Why do you think that is? AMB. YATES: I think that had this command -- and the concept has been around for 15 years or more. When I headed to Burundi in '99 they were already talking about that the European Command was too large with 90-some countries. Had it happened 10 years ago, prior to some of the more recent U.S. military engagements, I think it might have had a very different beginning. I think some of the challenges have come because of events that have taken place in the last five years. MR. OMAAR: So people are sort of seeing it though the prism of Iraq and Afghanistan and that kind of -- AMB. YATES: I think some people are. MR. OMAAR: So for someone who has heard of AFRICOM but doesn't quite understand how it runs, how does it run? Where does the chain of command, you know, go? AMB. YATES: Well, you had the pleasure of meeting my boss -- my four-star boss -- earlier today. He is the commander, just like there is a four-star commander in charge of each one of the geographic commands. And so -- and usually there is one deputy. Both our command and the Southern Command, working in the Latin American countries, now have two deputies, one civilian and one military, and so -- and then there is -- but our command is actually different from the others because it isn't the traditional division of labor. We have come up with more functional directorates. You know, for example, they put operations and logistics in the same command -- in the same directorate because when you do operations in Africa, it is a huge logistical challenge and they felt that they had to marry up those two functions. So that was designed that way within this command. And it means that that operation, you know, has a lot on it shoulders to maintain 24/7 operations, monitor things with all the nations of Africa and all the things going on. But, I mean, that's just one example. MR. OMAAR: What are the key priorities for AFRICOM as it establishes itself? It has a huge number, a very varied number of programs across many different countries, but in a nutshell, though, what are the key overarching priorities? AMB. YATES: Well, I think -- I invite you to read carefully the mission statement, and the mission statement took a long time to evolve. You know, it started out here. A little bit more came in. We concentrated on those words, and three words in there -- sustained security engagement -- to me are the absolute underpinning that General Ward tells us. We have been episodic partners in the past in Africa. This command is stood up, bringing the three parts that were in other commands together so we can focus on Africa 24/7, and we do. And for someone who has been involved with Africa for 20 years, it makes me proud. I mean, it makes me happy that every morning we listen, oh, here, this crisis is happening here and this is happening here, you know, and that never happened before. MR. OMAAR: I want to pick up on that. I mean, you have a lot of experience as a diplomat in Africa, and the legacy of that previous engagement, as you described it, being episodic. How difficult has it been to overcome that and convince governments in Africa that this is a really new departure for the United States? AMB. YATES: Well, I'm one who -- the reason I ended up working with the military is because I saw how positive the relationship could be in a nation when the U.S. military came and you had -- whether it was training exercises -- you know, I helped develop the State Partnership Program of the National Guard of North Dakota and Ghana. I mean, I could see the real value, when I looked at the priorities I had, in that nation of what we were trying to work with to meet their priorities as well. So I have been a supporter of what has gone on in the past. Unfortunately we are driven by budget cycles, and so, because there are so many nations and because there are crises that have arisen, you know, over decades in Africa, programs start and then they had to stop and start and stop. Now, we can't change the events that are occurring in Africa, but I think by focusing -- and especially the regional focus -- we can have more sustained security engagement with this new paradigm. MR. OMAAR: What happens in a situation where a country asks AFRICOM for a particular kind of help -- it might be with regard to counterterrorism or military training -- and the military, you know, want to respond to that, but you, the diplomats, say, hang on; we're not so sure. There are these caveats, there are these problems; we're not so sure that this is a good idea. Where does the buck stop then? AMB. YATES: Well, we have -- I mean, the strategy of the nations we engage in and the priorities come out of the National Security Council. They come out of our State Department through the National Security Council. Then it comes to the DOD (which) will prioritize which countries, and it works with the State Department. So we can't work with all the nations, you know, so there are certain criteria which are met, and then we go and listen to the Africans and what is that they need or they want to do. And when you think of peacekeeping, I mean, the State Department has the lead in the peacekeeping training but many times we're the ones that have to come in and assist, whether it's with mentors or, after the peacekeepers are trained, the lift to get them to where they're going. So, I mean, I think it's very much a -- within our government we work together but we listen to what the Africans want, but then we have to prioritize, for our own national interest as well. MR. OMAAR: So, it is interesting that the State Department effectively seems to be -- I mean, it is in the driving seat with regard to training of military, isn't it? AMB. YATES: Mm-hmm. MR. OMAAR: That would seem a bit odd, given -- AMB. YATES: No, I mean, that's the way it's been for a long time. I mean, they work very closely with the Department of Defense but, I mean, security sector reform is primarily, I mean, funded through the State Department, you know, for those programs. MR. OMAAR: I want to come and focus on specific points the critics of AFRICOM point to as the kind of dangers -- and I'm sure you sort of heard them all before -- AMB. YATES: Many times. MR. OMAAR: -- but I do want to run through them. One is of course Sudan, where on the face of it, it seems that there's two different -- broadly speaking two different sort of thrusts of U.S. policy. One is focused obviously on Darfur and the conflict there and the humanitarian consequences, and the Sudanese government's alleged, you know, participation in that. But then there is also a very important security and intelligence relationship with Sudan on the point of the threat of al Qaeda terrorist groups. It would seem that that's the sort of -- that's an indication of the kind of, you know, battle between aspirations of principles and pragmatism. AMB. YATES: Well, I would even throw the third in, which is Southern Sudan and the CPA, which took 30 months for diplomats and others negotiating. What I find interesting from this position, working in a military command, is when they say they take their instructions from our foreign policy, that's exactly what they do, you know, and up until now we have been asked to participate and work with almost in all three of those sectors -- you know, we have some security -- we have some mentors doing the security sector reform in Southern Sudan. With Darfur we have worked to help lift, as I said -- in fact, one of our components, Air Force Africa just finished a lift in January of some Rwandans rotating into Darfur. We are not making the policy. You know, we are playing the role that we're asked to by our headquarters in Washington. It is my understanding -- we have a brand new administration -- the Sudan policy is under review, Somalia policy is being re-looked at. It doesn't mean -- I mean, I have 20 years in Africa and many of our policies are quite consistent because we support democracy, we support economic growth, we support, you know, good governance for the people, et cetera, et cetera. So I don't see the basic tenets changing, but certainly these specific policies will be under review. Maybe we will be assigned -- we, as I speak now, as a military representative -- will be assigned something else to do. But we are not the makers of policy. MR. OMAAR: How important is the resources of Africa -- be it oil, be it minerals -- in guiding diplomatic and military policy with which AFRICOM deals? AMB. YATES: Well, that's a huge question, and we could sit and talk about what the resources have done for or against Africa for absolutely centuries. You know, sometimes it breaks my heart. I think that what we need to do is be very cognizant -- I mean, we have our own interests, of course, but we need to be very cognizant of trying to keep the natural resources so they bring benefit to the people. If our number-one goal is to sustain a security engagement and working on programs with countries and regionally that help bring more security and stability, we have to be sure that we're not allowing resources -- natural resources or factions protecting those resources to stand in the way of those who are really trying to bring stability, you know, to their nations. MR. OMAAR: But in terms of the broad criticism that some people have made, which is that the military training, as it's sort of given to various, you know, countries and areas of Africa, it's all about protecting, you know, supplies of oil, you know, from Africa to the United States, Nigeria for example, Cameroon. What's your reply to that? AMB. YATES: Well, I would say that is not what I've seen, that's not what I've observed. I think that our natural interest certainly has great interest in having oil resources, energy resources reach the open market but not for our sole benefit. So it's on the market to be used, and that the resources pour back into the country so the indigenous people profit from those resources. (Direction.) MR. OMAAR: I mean, I can see quite clearly the importance that AFRICOM lays, you know, in security sector reform and in terms of helping African countries with regard to their own security forces, not just only for their own security but involvement in peacekeeping and so forth. But there is a danger, and there have been examples -- Cameroon comes to mind -- whereby military units that have been trained by AFRICOM, like the BIR in Cameroon, have been used to suppress protests against the president of Cameroon's attempts to change the constitution, and, you know, a lot of innocent people died as a result of the actions of those commander forces. That's a problem for the United States and its image, isn't it? AMB. YATES: Well, I think I would look at it maybe in a little different way. Those are unfortunate circumstances when they occur and one can't deny historically that they have occurred, but our military are so professional and they swear to the Constitution their respect for civilian authority. To me that's the example that we need to be spreading, and there are other nations in the world who can provide that example as well. We have a very sort of thorough process of deciding which nations with whom to work to do security sector reform, and that's one reason it's in the State Department's hands. You know, we don't just decide, oh, well, this nation would like to do this and have this kind of training, it is all part of a process driven by our policy, and there are some nations in Africa that we don't have relations with. Other times, when coups occur, by our legislation, we stop all sort of military assistance and training, and often the only assistance that continues at that time is humanitarian assistance. So -- but, I mean, depending on where it is in the training, yes, people could have benefited from it and then a coup could happen in the country. But when you look at the map of Africa and you look over the last 20 years, what makes me happy is that there are fewer and fewer coups. I mean, there have been some unfortunate circumstances in the last, you know, four to six months, but by and large, more countries are going for multiparty democracies or representations of their people. The economic situation is growing. The AU is getting stronger. They've got (inaudible) that, you know, looks at their own corruption. So, I mean, for someone who has been watching Africa relatively closely for 20 years, I'm greatly encouraged. MR. OMAAR: I'd like to talk about Somalia because, in the area of terrorism and radicalization, it is a major focus, especially because of what's happened in the last two years and three years. It's pretty obvious -- I mean, and most people would say that Ethiopia's decision, you know, supported by the United States, to invade and occupy and overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts was really a terrible decision, wasn't it? AMB. YATES: I think that's a policy question, but what I think I've observed is at this point we have supported, for a long time, the political process. You know, we have three parts of our policy, which is working to build a political process so there is a governance in Somalia, to work for the humanitarian relief of the suffering people of Somalia, and thirdly, counterterrorism. So we stand with all three of those, but I think the progress that's been made on working in the Djibouti process, where they have been working on helping the Somalis to build a government right now -- I mean, I have a ray of hope; I hope you do, Rageh -- but I think that what we need to do now is let the Somalis decide where they can best make progress inside Somalia on the land to help build more security and stability. MR. OMAAR: But is the Djibouti process, which is effectively backing the current new government of Somalia, is that something that the United States is engaged in and wants to be engaged in, in some way? AMB. YATES: Well, again, I am working for the U.S. military, and that policy question really needs to go to the State Department, to the NSC. What I think the U.S. military has done is worked with those peacekeepers who wanted to go in and work with the forces to bring stability -- the Burundians, the Ugandans. We assisted the ACTOA training, we assisted in the train and equip and moving some of the forces in there. That's the role we have right now and, you know, we will continue to evaluate that and take on any other role that our policy-makers decide we should. MR. OMAAR: But if I ask in a general way, then at the moment, with all your experience, you are hopeful with regard to Somalia today. AMB. YATES: I am hopeful. MR. OMAAR: Can I ask you about the roll-out of AFRICOM? A lot of people sort of pointed, who were the cynics in some ways. They said, you know, look at the reaction in Egypt. The defense minister, you know, had some pretty harsh words and the ripple spread. Was that a knock-back, do you think, for AFRICOM? AMB. YATES: I spent a lot of time the first year and I traveled a lot of miles to talk about this, and I think what happened was it had been considered -- the idea of an Africa Command had been considered inside the Department of Defense for quite a while. They pulled together a group from other parts of our government to talk about it in Washington and there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. But you know Africa. You needed to consult the Africans. You needed to go and listen to what they thought about it and explain that it was bringing the three commands that are already working in Africa together and why. I think that step got, you know, skipped and I think it led to a lot of misunderstanding. So the first year it was hard and it took a lot of explaining, and there are still people whose memory -- that digital memory is back there in the first part of it, or they go pull it up on the Net and they're stuck back there. General Ward has taken us so far beyond that about, it's not the why anymore; it's what. What are we doing? What are the programs? What benefits do they see? You go to the Web site. You see it. MR. OMAAR: But yet there are some governments who, whilst on the one hand are, you know, a bit lukewarm, shall we say, in working with AFRICOM, but behind the scenes play a very different tune. What do you think that's about? AMB. YATES: I don't know exactly who you're referring to but, you know, we go and we listen and we try and understand what their misunderstandings are, what kind of programs they want to have. I think the African Partnership Station -- and I think General Ward may have talked about that -- there were some nations in West Africa that didn't think they wanted to participate. It's now in the second -- closing up the second year and we'll be going into a third year with more and more partners -- you know, 17 nations, 10 African nations. You know, it's wonderful. And so the countries who first didn't think they wanted to be part of it, many of them now want to be part of it. Again, it's what we're doing, and is it something that would be beneficial for you to understand more about illegal fishing, to understand more about illegal trafficking, to understand about surveillance techniques so you know how to look for the ships that are out there doing pair fishing and trawling and taking your fish away. So we're building a lot. MR. OMAAR: … what was the catalyst for the formation of AFRICOM? You said, you know, that intellectually the idea of bringing together these three commands that had been there for a while, what was it that kick-started the process that now we've got to actually deal with it? AMB. YATES: Well, this is bureaucratic and so it's not too interesting to the outside world, but when you have an area of responsibility, as the European Command had, for 92 countries, you can't have all the expertise, you can't have the focus, and if there is a crisis, you know, in Western Europe, in Israel, some of the other parts of the European Command's AOR, then programs -- you have X number of people doing these programs in Africa -- seemed to fall behind. And certainly with the Central Command, who was working in the Horn of Africa, it had some other priorities. The Pacific Command, you know, rarely got to the islands of Madagascar. And so the idea of building a command that focused -- I think really ultimately it showed the growing importance of Africa in our own national strategy. So we needed a command to bring these elements together. (Direction.) MR. OMAAR: So AFRICOM is nation-building, democracy building, helping with economic development, helping with all these things. Isn't that a State Department job? (Cross talk.) AMB. YATES: Well, sure, I'll correct that statement if you want. MR. OMAAR: But it's the whole sort of State Department, Pentagon -- okay. If I could ask in another way, that one of the criticisms about AFRICOM in how it has been structured is that the military seem to be, to the outside observer, in control of not only all policy but in terms of what the State Department should be doing. What do you do to correct that misconception? AMB. YATES: Well, I think our deeds are showing that our job is to work with security and stability and programs that work for this goal. From that, greater prosperity will come. But I also think that with the new paradigm that we have, and having the USAID people inside the command, we are creatively finding new ways to -- I think to better support each other in what we want to do. If a country team comes up with a goal that they want to address a certain audience because that will help bring better stability in that country, well, what do you bring to the table, Department of Defense? What do you bring to the table, Department of State? How can we work together? How can we work with USAID to do this? And I think that that's what we're learning here, but I do think that misstatements were made and then repeated or exaggerated. We are not about development. We are not doing development. We're trying to help USAID do the job that they are doing so well. The same with the Department of State. I mean, they basically are telling us what the policy is; then we're figuring out how we can support that in the security sector. MR. OMAAR: So no one is overtaking ... nobody is ... what you're saying. AMB. YATES: You can summarize it that way. That is not our job. And I think I explained before, I think if anything, we are helping the military understand, you know, the larger role of the rest of our government. (cross talk) MR. OMAAR: Thank you very much, indeed. AMB. YATES: You're very welcome.