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TRANSCRIPT: Ward Discusses Cooperation with Algeria
The United States is committed to working with Algeria in addressing security and counterterrorism issues that affect the Maghreb and the Sahel regions, said General William E. "Kip" Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, at a press
The United States is committed to working with Algeria in addressing security and counterterrorism issues that affect the Maghreb and the Sahel regions, said General William E. "Kip" Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, at a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Algeria, November 25, 2009. During his first visit to Algeria as commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Ward met with Algerian military and civilian leadership to discuss how the command can assist in areas of common interest, including counterterrorism. "I'm excited about the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Algerian military," Ward said. "The command is committed to strengthening and expanding this relationship and working with Algeria in a number of ways regarding mutual security cooperation interests." Emphasizing that the United States and Algeria are partners working towards mutual interests, Ward said that there are no plans to put troops in the Sahel to combat terrorism. He added that U.S. presence in the region would be for the purposes of conducting training and delivering equipment, not involved directly in any counterterrorism efforts. The complete transcript of Ward's press conference is available below: (Note: Ward's comments were simultaneously translated to French.) GEN. WILLIAM E. WARD: (In progress) -- do my best French with my "bonjour," so the rest, en anglais, s'il vous plait. (Laughter.) First, let me open by saying how delighted I am to be here in Algeria, and it's certainly my pleasure. And I'd like to thank the government of Algeria, as well as the staff of the embassy thanking the government for inviting me here, and then the staff of the embassy here with our great ambassador for facilitating this visit. This is my first visit to Algeria as the commander of the United States Africa Command, and I'm excited about the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Algerian military. The command is committed to strengthening and expanding this relationship and working with Algeria in a number of ways regarding mutual security cooperation interests. As recently as last week, a team of U.S. doctors came to Algeria to conduct a program designed to assist the Algerian military medical command in effectively responding to large-scale natural or manmade disasters in Algeria and in the region. In October, the USS Arleigh Burke visited Algiers and participated in joint naval operations with the Algerian naval forces. As you know, my command is a relatively young organization, but the United States' military partnership with African nations is not new. The United States has been working with African partners for many years, and what my command has done is to consolidate all that work under a single headquarters that has a long-term focus on supporting the security objectives of African nations because a stable, more secure Africa is in the best interests of Africa, the United States and the world community. And we are all about enabling Africans to build a stronger Africa for Africans. Africa Command provides our partners with one, single United States Department of Defense organization that focuses every day on our military-to-military activities with African nations; activities that our African partners have asked us to help them with. A question that I'm often asked--and I'm sure that someone here will ask me it as well--when is my headquarters moving to Africa? There are no plans to do that. Our command headquarters will remain in Germany for the foreseeable future and the personnel who support our programs and exercises will continue to travel to the continent with the approval of the partner nations and our chiefs-of-mission in our embassies as we conduct our activities here on the continent. The main role of the United States Africa Command is to help promote a stable and secure African continent and its island nations. During my visit here to Algiers, I'll be meeting with the Algerian military and civilian leadership to discuss how the command can assist in areas of common interest, including countering violent extremism. The terrorist and criminal activity in the Maghreb and the Sahel region is a threat to the entire region and beyond, and the countries of this region are on the front lines in the battle against violent extremists. We support the role of Algeria, and we appreciate Algeria's leadership in addressing security and counterterrorism issues that affect these nations. The United States has been and remains committed to working with these governments to help combat terrorism and to help ensure stability in Algeria and in the wider region. Let me close by congratulating the Algerian football team for qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and with that, I look forward to taking your questions. Q: (Via translator.) I would like to know what is exactly and in complete terms AFRICOM's contribution in terms of counterterrorism in the Sahel region. What is being done currently? GEN. WARD: Our primary role is working to assist African nations deal with this problem. We do that primarily through the provision of training and equipment. Q: (In French.) GEN. WARD: That's not a petite question; that's a big question! (Laughter.) Q: (Via translator.) My general, I have two questions. The first one is about the presence of AFRICOM in Africa. In 2007, we were in Washington and Mrs. Condoleezza Rice said that the headquarters of AFRICOM would be transferred to an African country by the end of 2008. We are in 2009 today and this has not happened. Why? Is it because it is so difficult to find a host country in Africa? And, are you here to convince President Bouteflika to host the headquarters of AFRICOM, particularly knowing that there's been lots of rumors outside about what we call U.S. bases in the South? And my second question is about the Bamako Conference that will gather countries of the Sahel in order to coordinate counterterrorism issues. This conference is going to take place in December; does AFRICOM support this conference? GEN. WARD: First, I am not here to ask President Bouteflika to host a headquarters. Secondly, I am the first commander for U.S. Africa Command--confirmed by our Senate in 2007. I have only asked one country to host my headquarters, and that is where it currently is in Germany, so there has been no reluctance to accept because I have not asked and have no intentions to ask. With respect to the Bamako conference, efforts where nations of the region come together to address common challenges and problems, we certainly do support. Q: (Via translator) And what about U.S. military bases in the South--in the Algerian South? GEN. WARD: We have no plans to establish U.S. military bases anywhere. You are aware of our base that we have in East Africa, in Djibouti, and that we've inherited that from Central Command. That stays there but there are no plans to establish any others. Q: (Via translator) My general, I have two questions. The first one is very simple: What is the purpose of your visit to Algeria, and what military and civil Algerian officials have you met so far? And the second question is, we know that the United States appreciates the counterterrorism information exchange and information provided by Algeria, but what we want to know is, is there any operational program? Is there anything technical technology the United States has provided to Algeria or to other countries for counterterrorism to be operational in the Sahel area? GEN. WARD: Well, first, the purpose of my visit is to come to Algeria, as I stated, to reinforce our friendship, our partnership, and to continue to indicate that we will do our best in providing the type of support to the efforts of Algeria in addressing its threats. And in order to do that most effectively, I have come here to listen to Algerian leadership, both military and civilian, to have better understanding of the situation from their perspective. To this point, I've had a meeting with the president, as well as members of his team there, and also a meeting with Gen. Gaid-Salah, as well as the members of his staff. And I look forward to additional meetings while I'm here. The United States and Algeria cooperate on many levels, and included in that is the exchange between us, as well as others, about the nature of this common threat that we face so that we both have more clear understandings of that threat. Q: (Via translator.) What is the role and mission of Algeria within AFRICOM? GEN. WARD: There is no role or mission for Algeria inside of AFRICOM. Algeria and the United States have a partnership. Where our United States foreign policy and the Algeria foreign policy determine that we will work together as partners, those military-to-military aspects are done and coordinated through the regional command for Africa, which is in this case, my command, United States Africa Command with our bilateral partners, but as well as with our regional and continental partners as represented in the institutions in Africa, such as the African Union. Q: General, Christian Lowe from Reuters News Agency. I want to ask you about Somalia. Can you point to any specific positive signs from Somalia that the approach being taken by the United States and other nations towards improving security is actually having an effect; that it's working? It seems that the situation on the ground is in stalemate still. The transitional government has not been able to expand the areas that it controls despite contributions from the United States and others towards training and military assistance. So can you point to me a positive sign? Is there any plan to modify the strategy in any way, to fine-tune it, to get better results? GEN. WARD: What is going on in Somalia did not just get that way. It won't correct itself overnight either. And so the current policy that has international support--not just from the United States--to reinforce, to help the Transitional Federal Government and be supportive of the African Union mission to Somalia is where we as the United States of America also see our contribution. So the United States' policy of supporting the Transitional Federal Government, of supporting AMISOM, of supporting other nations of Africa who also render support to both of these entities are the things that we do in a concrete way to include the equipping, the training of those forces that have gone to Somalia under AMISOM, helped promote stability inside of that country. And to that end I will also note the role that has been played by Algeria in providing support to those efforts as well as a part of the international effort to help bring stability to that country. Q: (Via translator.) I would like to know your evaluation of the current security situation in the Sahel region. GEN. WARD: The role being played by Algeria in concert with its partners, the neighbors in the region, I think is one that's very, very important. I think that that is a sign that the nations of the region see a threat and therefore I too would acknowledge that threat. And it is determined by the work being done by Sahelian nations to address security, instability in the Sahel. So my evaluation of it is a reflection of my understanding of how the nations here in the Sahel have also determined that there is a security threat. Q: (Via translator.) I would like to know what types of relations are there between AFRICOM and the African Union, particularly certain organizations of the African Union like the CAERT [Center for the Study and Research on Terrorism], which is the counterterrorism center based in Algeria. Are there, for example, any training programs between the two organizations? GEN. WARD: Our relationship with the African Union is one of support to them in their efforts to increase their capacity to deal with African security challenges. It includes equipment support, communications equipment such that the nations of Africa who participate in African Union peacekeeping operations and the African Union headquarters--as well as the regional organization--have better communications between them. It also includes support to regional organizations that the African Union has established as it looks at having an effect and dealing with security in its regions, especially through its African Standby Forces. And so where there are security organizations that the African Union and its regional communities have established and where they come and ask us for support in increasing the capacity of those organizations--through training, through equipping--then we do our best to satisfy those requests given the resources we have available. Q: (Via translator.) My questions concerns the meetings that you have already had with Algerian civilian and military officials--and those that you still have to have with other officials. I am quoting what is written in the statement. It says "assistance in areas of mutual interest." So my question is, what are your expectations? What do you expect from Algeria? And, also, what were the reactions of Algerian officials when you formulated those requests to them? GEN. WARD: Well, I begin by saying we did not formulate the requests. I came here to listen to gain better understanding of the situation from the perspectives of the civilian and military leadership. Based on that understanding, as we worked together in these mutual interests--and I would define mutual interest as the desire for stability, the desire that those who would do harm to innocent civilians don't have that opportunity and how we can work together to prevent those who would conduct acts of violent extremism from doing so. And so understanding from the perspective of the leaders here will help me to determine those sorts of things that we can do in support of your efforts here--most often in the form of training and equipment and how we share information. Q: (Via translator.) I have two questions. The first one is, considering that you came to Algeria to listen to Algerian officials, can you give us an overview of whatever Algerians have requested from you? Have they requested anything and, if yes, what did they request? There are lots of speculations out there about Algeria's intention to purchase weapons and aircrafts. So have there been any such requests formulated by the Algerian officials? And the second question is, is the AFRICOM and the United States ready to engage troops in the Sahel region? GEN. WARD: First, there were no specific requests made to me by anyone who I've met with thus far for materiel or equipment. We talked about our common objectives, our common interests, our common understanding of the threat that is posed by terrorists. And I did not come here with any request to put troops in the Sahel to combat terrorism and I have no plans to do so. I would say that where there would be a U.S. presence, it would be for the purposes of conducting training as we would be asked to do or delivering equipment and training on that equipment as we would be asked to do, but not involved directly in any counterterrorism efforts. Q: General, just to follow up on that last comment you made, are there any agreements concluded or under discussion for U.S. military personnel coming to the Sahel region for training? GEN. WARD: Well, we have been in the Sahel for training in the past. We have conducted exercises. We will continue to conduct exercises. I'm sorry; you may want to)--and so our partnership with our friends in the region, that partnership--(inaudible, background noise)--exercises and training. And when that occurs, there would be potential for U.S. personnel to participate--in a training basis--to come and train and then to leave, as we have done in the past. But there are no plans to conduct that type of training or exercises here in Algeria itself. I was speaking of the greater Sahel region. Q: (Via translator.) Considering that Morocco is not part of the African Union, does AFRICOM have a specific partnership with Morocco? GEN. WARD: We in the United States value our bilateral relations with many nations. And where we have a relationship, it's a reflection of our United States policy vis-a-vis that nation--and not a specific AFRICOM issue, but where there is a United States relationship with any nation, then we would be a--Department of Defense activity that would carry out any military-to-military engagements associated with that bilateral relationship. And we have that with many, many nations. Q: (Via translator.) And they want a clarification concerning an expression which is included in your opening remarks which says the United States can help countries of the region, including fight violent extremism. So does that mean that only counterterrorism or what do you mean by "violent extremism"? Does that mean engaging troops? GEN. WARD: It does not mean engaging troops. Violent extremism, in this case, I'm referring to countering terrorism. And I use the "violent extremism" when innocent civilians are targeted and attacked. GEN. WARD: So merci beaucoup, Shokran and Ma'a Salaama (Laughter.) (END)