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TRANSCRIPT: Ward Says U.S. Military will Continue Supporting Security Assistance Activities in DRC
<i>The United States military will continue working with the Congolese armed forces in training, advising and capacity building to support security assistance cooperation activities, but has no plans to put combat troops here, said General William
The United States military will continue working with the Congolese armed forces in training, advising and capacity building to support security assistance cooperation activities, but has no plans to put combat troops here, said General William E. "Kip" Ward, the commander of U.S. Africa Command during a visit to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, April 24, 2009.

"Our activities here will be limited ... involving small numbers of U.S. military from different services to help the host nation build capacity to more effectively conduct its military operations and provide for its own security," Ward said during a press conference in Kinshasa.

Ward's trip to the DRC was the final leg of a three-country, five-day trip to Africa. He led a small U.S. Africa Command delegation to Rwanda and Kenya earlier in the week.

He held a press conference with over a dozen Congolese and foreign reporters. Below is the transcript of the interview. GENERAL WILLIAM E. WARD: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming here today, and allowing me the opportunity to talk about the U.S. Africa Command, and why we here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today is an important day for me. It's the first time that I've been able to come to your country, and I'm here for a couple of reasons. First, to listen and to learn about the country's defense and security organizations, and why it's important for all of us. And to gain an understanding about how we may be able to support the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other organizations and international partners. And how we may be better assured of the synchronization and coherency of our total efforts. Our visit here represents what the United States Africa Command is about -- a major U.S. Department of Defense command that's focused and paying attention to Africa 365 days a year. And listening to our African friends as we coordinate and work together with them, and with our African partner militaries. We are focused on long-term security and stability for the Congo, the region and the continent. Security and stability provide the setting for the Congolese people to benefit from their own resources. Next summer -- in 2010, for example -- we will conduct a medical exercise here called MedFlag. It is a military-training event with the Democratic Republic of the Congo armed forces, focused on medical training and building medical capacity for the DRC military medical personnel. This is but one example of how the U.S. Africa Command partners with African militaries: helping them to build their capacity; strengthening our partnership; and promoting long-term security and stability. Our activities here will be limited to training, advising and capacity-building, involving small numbers of U.S. military from different services to help the host nation build capacity to more effectively conduct its military operations and providing for its own security. We have no plans to put U.S. combat forces on Congolese soil. So I'm now happy to take a couple of your questions. QUESTION: Hi. Joe -- (inaudible) -- from Reuters. If you don't mind, I'll ask a question that's not totally specific on any American duty tour of African countries. Recently, over the last few years -- and even much more recently, with the hostage-taking of an American captain off the coast of Somalia -- the issue of piracy in Africa -- not only in Somalia, but also in the Gulf of Guinea -- has become a serious issue. Not only for the United States, but for the world, at large, and for Europe and North America, and Asia. My question is, this appears to be an increasingly serious problem -- not only for America's commerce security, but also -- as we saw recently, with this hostage-taking -- the security of American citizens working on these ships. Does AFRICOM have any plans to change its strategy, in how it deals with piracy in Africa? If you can tell us a little bit about what's actually being done already, and how you might be tailoring your future measures to deal with this problem. Thank you. GEN. WARD: Yeah, thanks, Joe. You know, piracy is an international concern -- something that the nations of the world all see as counter to the sorts of things that we all want to have occur for our own collective security. The role that the United States plays in that is a matter of our foreign policy, and where that foreign policy indicates military activities, then the Department of Defense comes forward. I would highlight that that's done in a comprehensive way, as a part of a world, a global, effort, as opposed to unilateral nations conducting activities. Currently, the at-sea counterpiracy operations that the United States does participate in -- but, also, other nations, European, African, Asian nations participating in those counterpiracy activities -- I think will continue. And as nations come together, to determine what other measures may be appropriate to deal with piracy, where there are military aspects of that policy, then my command would receive instructions from our president, and our Secretary of State, to conduct those activities. And that's where we are at the current time. QUESTION: (Via translator.) (Inaudible.) So I have three questions. The first one is, I'd like to know exactly what's the strategic significance of the DRC at present. So during the Cold War, so Congo used to be a strategy nation at the heart of Africa. So now what's your assessment of the strategic position of the DRC at present? My second question is about the joint operations against foreign armed groups in Eastern Congo. So these operations have been concluded, so the Congolese -- (inaudible). What's your assessment of these two operations at present? And the last question is, what can the U.S. government or Africa do to really restore peace to Eastern Congo? Because the residual forces of armed groups are still very much active in the East. GEN. WARD: Well, thank you for that. You got pretty long there, with asking three questions. I'll try to give succinct answers to each of them, however. The DRC is a very large and important country here in Africa. And given Africa's significance to global stability, it is important that nations around the world work with the nations of Africa, to include the Democratic Republic of Congo, in helping them to bring stability and peace here, in the country, and, indeed, in the region. And to the second question, the operations in the Eastern Congo that demonstrated regional cooperation I think is something that we see as positive developments. And to restore the peace and stability that the Congolese people deserve talks to the reasons for my being here. And that is how we, as the United States, can conduct our military activities to support the training -- to support the increased professionalization of the Congolese armed forces -- as best we can, as they work to bring and assure security and stability here in the Congo. QUESTION: (Via translator.) I'd like to know exactly what type of training you'll provide for the Congolese armed forces. So the DRC army has been trained in, you know, several domains or sectors by other foreign partners. So I'd like to know whether ethical training will differ, and will be different, from what is -- (inaudible) -- actually. So will it be something that will be very much different from what the DRC is getting these days? GEN. WARD: Thanks for that, and that's an excellent question. One of our primary concerns is to first ensure that our training programs complement the work being done by other partners that are assisting the Congolese armed forces. So we look forward to coordinating with them, so that our efforts are, in fact, aligned and produce a coordinated and effective end state, as it pertains to the increased professionalization of the Congolese armed forces. There are training activities that the United States already conducts on behalf of the Congolese armed forces. It includes the staff training being performed by the Camber Group, under the direction and work of our Department of State. I mentioned the medical-proficiency training that we will do with an exercise -- the MedFlag exercise. Other examples of the type of training that I'm talking about include leader training at various levels -- noncommissioned officers, as well as officers; it includes maintenance training, so that the equipment that is held by the armed forces can be maintained in ways so that it is available when needed; it includes communications training, so that command and control can be more effective within Congolese military units. The exercise Africa Endeavor is such a communications-proficiency exercise that the Congolese participate in. QUESTION: Franz Wild, from Bloomberg (in French.) Well, I'm going to come back to the subject of piracy, if that's okay, given that's such a big subject in the international media at the moment. I was wondering whether you could tell me, given the commando operation to free, I think it was, Captain Richard Phillips, if I'm correct, and the death of some of the pirates, do you think that U.S. ships may be an increased target because of that? Is this something that you're noticing? Also, I mean, given that there's an increased naval presence in the area, why is it that piracy is still on the up? And just one last angle on that. â?.. the focus of pirate attacks has shifted towards the Indian Ocean. Is that something you've observed? And, if so, are your naval ships moving in that direction, as well? Thanks. GEN. WARD: First, the naval activities that occur in the Gulf of Aden and in the Indian Ocean do not fall under the purview of my command. We do pay attention to that, and so we see what's going on. Shipping for all is threatened in the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden by acts of piracy, of all nations. And so, therefore, those activities being conducted by the international community to combat that piracy -- to counter that piracy, I should say -- are activities that all nations do because of a concern that is present for piracy. I would not ascribe any particular meaning to one or another nation insofar as that role. This is a global effort to counter piracy. Many nations are, in fact, participating. And I think, you know, thirdly, the naval presence, while it is increased, the Indian Ocean is a vast, vast body of water. And so the increased presence makes a difference. Is it sufficient to totally stop it? That's to be seen. But that is a reflection of the concern that nations have about piracy being conducted by increasing the presence of navies from around the world to participate in counterpiracy activities at sea. QUESTION: (Via translator.) There are two questions. The first one is, so we know that the U.S. government is providing significant military assistance to countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, but the DRC doesn't receive such kind of military assistance. And I would like to know exactly why. What are the reasons behind this apparent lack of interest for the DRC? And the second question is, I'd like to know if, in the near future, the U.S. government will sell U.S. weapons, American weapons, to the DRC government? So can we expect to see that in the near future? GEN. WARD: The purpose of my visit here is to coordinate with the DRC government, to get a clearer understanding of the sorts of military-assistance activities we can conduct with the government, working with the embassy. And so as we continue our work -- our collaboration, our dialogue -- with the military and civilian leaders here in the Congo, we can move forward in developing the sort of plans that you have, in fact, talked to. But the United States is providing substantial support and military assistance to the Congo as we speak today. I mentioned the Camber leading training. There are equipment activities being conducted with the provision of equipment to the Congolese military. And, very importantly, the United States is the largest supporter of the MONUC mission here in the Congo. And so we are concerned. We are looking to ways to enhance what we do. But we are here, today, involved in providing substantial support to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. QUESTION: (Via translator.) AFRICOM is currently -- (inaudible) -- and over the past two years sought to settle in one African country. But you received some mixed responses to your plans -- your willingness to settle in Africa. So I'd like to know whether you discussed this issue with the DRC authorities. GEN. WARD: First of all, let me set the record straight here. I, as the commander, never looked to place the headquarters on the continent of Africa. The work of the command is not in its headquarters location, but in how it assists the nations of Africa in increasing their capacity to provide for their own security, through our programs that we conduct with them. And so our focus is on the programs that we are able to conduct with the nations of the continent. And those activities are performed through our security-assistance offices that are located with our embassies around the continent. The United States Africa Command is a staff-and-planning headquarters only. So the location of that staff is not important to our ability in delivering effective programs in support of our Africa partners, who ask us for assistance in increasing their capacity to provide for their own security and regional security. And so, no, I did not talk to the Congolese about bringing my headquarters here to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As I have not talked to any African nation about that. MODERATOR: One last question. QUESTION: (Via translator.) One of Africa's goals is to help African nations to establish a secure stability environment in terms of military issues. The DRC is currently affected by an arms embargo. Consequently, the country cannot fight effectively against various armed groups in the East. So what can AFRICOM do to help the DRC be efficient in its efforts to defeat local or foreign -- (inaudible)? GEN. WARD: Well, as I mentioned we are here to listen and to learn from the leaders of the DRC about those things that are important for their country's defense and security organizations. Through that dialogue, we will have a better ability to determine what we can do in support of those objectives. Matters of embargoes and such are not decisions made by United States Africa Command, or any military entity in the United States. Those are policy decisions that are made by our policy-makers, as opposed to military organizations and units. I am not particularly aware of an embargo as you described. But where there are foreign-policy decisions that are made, then we conduct ourselves in accordance with those foreign-policy decisions. But as I've said, I am not aware of that embargo that you have alluded to. I'm not sure about that, so I can't speak to that at all. But I would reinforce that we conduct activities based on the criteria of listening to our partner nations -- what their desires are -- and to the degree to which those activities are aligned with our foreign-policy objectives. (END)