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TRANSCRIPT - Ward's Interview with Cotton Tree Radio, Sierra Leone
<i>General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, commended the government of Sierra Leone for its willingness to support United Nations peacekeeping missions in Darfur during an interview with Cotton Tree Radio in Freetown, September
General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, commended the government of Sierra Leone for its willingness to support United Nations peacekeeping missions in Darfur during an interview with Cotton Tree Radio in Freetown, September 14, 2009.

"The upcoming deployment of the 150-man reconnaissance element is a significant factor that highlights your commitment to peacekeeping," Ward said. "I think that the work that will be done by your soldiers and your leaders in that commitment is something that will be noted by the entire continent."

Ward explained that the purpose of his visit was to listen to the people of Sierra Leone, and discuss how U.S. Africa Command can assist the nation in its security objectives.

One such program that highlights the cooperation between Sierra Leone and the United States is the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Program, which helps nations in Western Africa improve their maritime security. Ward described a recent event in August in which the two nations partnered to apprehend an illegal fishing vessel.

"Because of our joint work together, the government of Sierra Leone was able to take appropriate action in so far as its maritime security was concerned"

This marked Ward's first visit to Sierra Leone, where he discussed security-related issues with military officials of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and met with Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma.

The complete transcript of Ward's speech is below: Q: First, I want to know more about the United States Africa Command. GEN. WILLIAM WARD: Okay, well great. I would like to start off by saying good evening and I'm very happy to be here. And I just appreciate this opportunity to talk about the United States Africa Command and also to explain why I'm here this week. This is my first visit since our command stood up as a unified command. And as my first visit to Sierra Leone, I want to meet with the leadership to learn about the issues that are important to the nation, to its people. I'd like to begin also by commending the government of Sierra Leone for its willingness to support peacekeeping operations in support of United Nations missions in Darfur. I think that the upcoming deployment of the 150-man reconnaissance element is a significant factor that highlights your commitment to peacekeeping, and I think that the work that will be done by your soldiers and your leaders in that commitment is something that will be noted by the entire continent. It also shows cooperation and understanding. It shows patience. It shows determination, and also the hard work that goes into being ready to do a mission such as that. I have also had the pleasure this day of seeing once again your chief of defense staff, Major General Nelson Williams. And I'm also scheduled to meet tomorrow with His Excellency President Koroma and also the ministers of defense and foreign affairs during meetings tomorrow. I'm here to listen about how we at United States Africa Command can best help you to enhance your own security. We also want to get a sense of the situation from the perspective of you here in Sierra Leone, as well as the entire community, to include my time here with our country team, our U.S. mission here in Sierra Leone. And we want to work with you as a partner, as a friend to continue to do the things that we can do side-by-side as we look at the various challenges that face our nations. And, with that, I'll stop and maybe ask any -- correction, answer any additional specific questions that you may have. Q: All right. Essentially, I think the United States are part of the maritime or navy also. I know -- I mean, operates a naval wing, and the U.S. led a -- (inaudible) -- to capture some vessels which were doing things here illegal. I don't know whether this has always been part of the relationship that you've got with Sierra Leone or the African Continent. GEN. WARD: We know that for nations who have littoral borders on the continent of Africa, maritime security, maritime domain awareness is important. And so the program about which you are speaking is a program that we have begun undertaking with nations on the west coast of Africa, where we are working with them as they attempt to be more capable of first knowing what's happening in their territorial waters, and then, two, when something is detected that is not legal activities, being able to do something about it. This program -- we call it the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Program, whereby we, in conjunction with the nations of Africa, and in this case Sierra Leone, are able to provide the type of training and the type of a platform whereby the law enforcement officials of Sierra Leone are able to go out, see what's going on in their territorial waters, and if something is detected that is not proper, that is illegal, have the capacity to do something about it. And in this case, there was a detection of an illegal fishing vessel that was illegally fishing in territorial waters of Sierra Leone, and because of our joint work together, the government of Sierra Leone was able to take appropriate action in so far as its maritime security was concerned. And we were very happy to partner with the government as it, in fact -- the maritime wing -- as it, in fact, was able to apprehend the vessel, and based on that, hopefully be able to demonstrate that there is a capacity to protect its waters, and when something illegal is detected, have those who are responsible penalized such that the people of Sierra Leone can benefit from that action having occurred in a positive way. Q: So does that mean your presence is already on our waters here? GEN. WARD: Our presence is not on your waters. Our presence is here assisting your forces to provide for their own security. And so it's not -- again, it's not us doing it. We are working with you to give you additional capacity to do those things for yourselves. And, yes, that is already occurring as a result of these increased levels of engagements, and we look to continue that. It won't be all the time, but we look to continue it in a way that is meaningful to the people of Sierra Leone. Q: And now you are waiting to meet with the president and other government officials. Now what will -- (inaudible) -- in there? GEN. WARD: Well, first I will be thanking them for allowing me to visit the country of Sierra Leone; it's my first visit, so I would thank them for the great hospitality that I have received; the ability to be here and meet the people. But my primary message is that, you know, the United States and Sierra Leone are friends. Our nations are friends; our people are friends. And so my visit will reinforce that friendship and to reassure them that where I can be a factor in helping to assure this partnership continues on, then that's what I am committed to doing. And so it will be a message of thanks for what has gone on: the commitment that Sierra Leone has expressed to peacekeeping operations, the commitment that Sierra Leone has expressed insofar as good governance, territorial integrity issues where they are safeguarding their own territories. And then a message that where we can do things in behalf of those objectives, and where those activities are supportive of our foreign policy and national security objectives, that my command, the United States Africa Command, is committed to partnering with the armed forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone and causing their capacity to be as effective as it can be in addressing those security challenges and issues. Q: Okay. Now, looking at, again, the naval or the maritime aspects of your relationship with the Sierra Leone army, it's like we all have some records that Sierra Leone is losing so much from its seas, especially when you talk about these illegal fishing practices that are being undertaken, especially by foreign vessels. Now, this has always been a problem. I don't know if there are any commitments that you are going to make, especially with the government, in trying to address some of these issues. GEN. WARD: Well, our commitment is a commitment of working as best we can with the armed forces of Sierra Leone, their maritime wing, so that those things that Sierra Leone wants to do to secure its maritime domain to have a greater degree of maritime security, we can help them do that. Those endeavors may be modest. They would involve training. They may involve providing some degree of maintenance support to equipment. In some cases it may lead to eventually some equipment support. I don't know that just yet. We have to work through the various programs that may be available. But coming here, listening to the government, listening to its leaders, both military and civilian, I get a better understanding of what the requirement is and then therefore may be able to work with our various other partners as well, the international partners who are here, the other folks who are here working with Sierra Leone, attempting to help Sierra Leone provide for its own security. And I think that's an important distinction. It's not that we are here to do this for Sierra Leone; we're here to work to help Sierra Leone do this for themselves. And I think that's our primary purpose. And our ability to do that is enhanced when we understand better what those requirements are from the perspective of the officials who are here. Q: Okay, now, I want us to look at -- take a general look at the United States Africa Command. What is this all about? GEN. WARD: It's about an organization -- you know, in our Department of Defense, we have geographic responsibilities whereby the national policies between our two nations -- when there are military aspects -- those military aspects are performed through geographic commands. And in this case, prior to the creation of Africa Command, there were three commands working on the continent of Africa. There was the European Command, which I was a part of before the creation of Africa Command, but also Central Command and Pacific Command. And so this restructuring, if you will, was a restructuring of how the Department of Defense viewed its military activities and worked with our partners in Africa. So it symbolizes a redesign, a reorganization, so that when we work with our friends in Africa, our partners in Africa, we can devote our full attention to it. It's not competing with other geographic areas of the world that the previous construct did. And so our primary focus is to work with our partners and friends through our military-to-military activities so that those programs are aligned with other things being done by other parts of our government -- the Department of State, USAID and other governmental agencies -- but also our international partners who are doing things, so that together the efforts can be as coherent, as synchronized as they can be, hopefully in achieving things for our partner nations that lead to their increased ability to provide for their own security. And that's what this command does. Q: Okay, so the command is for Africa but I understand you are based in Germany -- Stuttgart. GEN. WARD: Yeah. Q: Why is that? GEN. WARD: Well, because the work of the command has nothing to do with where its headquarters is located. The work of the command is a reflection of our programs that we do across the many nations of the continent. And so in the case of Africa, there are 53 nations, and including its island nations. So any one location is only a planning headquarters. The work is done out where we have our country teams, our security assistance offices, the defense attachés who work on military programs in each of those countries. And so, for us, where those efforts are planned is not the point. We travel -- wherever my headquarters is, I would be traveling around, so that is not the important point. The essential point is that we are spending time with our friends on the continent; not just me -- other members of my staff, traveling around spending time; and then where we can, having enough of our personnel who run the programs working with our country teams and the embassies such that the programs that we are delivering are producing the sort of effects that make sense for our Africa partners and ourselves as Americans. The headquarters planning effort can be done from any place. It just so happens, doing it from Stuttgart makes sense for us, did not involve a lot of additional movement, and we were able to continue our programs most effectively this way. Q: Of course you've already said your work involves movement, moving from one country to another, especially in the areas you command in Africa, but I don't know if -- whether you've been getting the cooperation that you need, especially when probably there are -- (inaudible) -- countries in Africa that might not be willing to work with you, especially your command. Probably they will see it as probably interfering with their sovereignty. I don't know if you've been getting that cooperation or some of these challenges. GEN. WARD: No, the nations -- first of all, we don't go where we're not wanted. So the nations that we work with are nations that know that what we do helps them. It's no different than before. The fact that the command exists -- the same situation existed when there were three different commands. So the fact that U.S. Africa Command stood up didn't change any of that. We absolutely respect the sovereignty of every nation, as we respected it before, as we respect it after the command is stood up. We have partnerships where nations value the reciprocal progress that we can make from working together, and by and large across the continent, most nations want that. And, quite frankly, there is more that we are being asked to do than we can do. So there is no problem with having nations who want to cooperate with us. In fact, the situation is the other side; we are being asked to do more than we can do just because there is finite amount of resources available to do the partnership work that many nations want us to do. Q: And there has been a debate -- (inaudible) -- there was a debate before, especially at one time when you started talking about getting a place in Africa, probably to get some of your troops or equipment. I don't know whether you think that will ever happen here in Africa. GEN. WARD: No, well, what you heard before about us trying to get equipment and personnel in Africa was never the case. Q: Okay. GEN. WARD: It was speculation; it was never the reality. And so we have never set out to have equipment, to have bases and garrisons of forces in Africa. That was never the objective. And it still is not. And so as we have now been operating as a separate command for now this past year, people realize that that in fact is the case because we haven't gone around asking the established bases, asking to bring in large numbers of soldiers and troops. And so the reality is now being understood as opposed to a perception that was an incorrect perception almost 2 years ago. Q: Tell me about Sierra Leone. And now, based on your work in Africa, let's look at Sierra Leone. Are you aware of some of the challenges, especially challenges in the military here, or the army? Talking about the naval wing of the army, are you aware of some of the challenges it is facing, especially when now we talk about global security? Are you aware of some of the challenges our military is facing? GEN. WARD: Well, I've been made aware of some of the challenges that are confronting the security sector. These are challenges that are confronting many of us. They confront my nation at home -- protecting your maritime territory, being aware of what's going on at your borders; in this case, you know, the maritime domain awareness. So these are the things that we are attempting to understand and determine if there are things that we can do to, in fact, help nations address these maritime security requirements that they have. So I find them to be very similar in many places. That's why the regional cooperation among nations is so important; those neighbors working together to help solve these common problems -- long borders, vast coastlines -- so neighbors working together in collective ways to help solve these common challenges. And so what I've been able to do is listen to the officials here and validate that these are, in fact, common challenges. Q: Thank you very much, General. Thank you very much. GEN. WARD: You're very welcome. (END)