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TRANSCRIPT: Ghanaian Journalists interview Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations
<i>During a visit to the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, members of a Ghanaian media delegation interviewed Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, deputy to the commander for military operations, February 25, 2010. <br
During a visit to the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, members of a Ghanaian media delegation interviewed Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, deputy to the commander for military operations, February 25, 2010. Throughout the week, the group met with senior staff members who provided an overview of the command, highlighting its programs and activities, and answering questions. See related article at The transcript of the interview with Moeller is provided below: VICE ADM. ROBERT T. MOELLER: Please have a seat. MR.: Thank you. VICE ADM. MOELLER: Well, let me say right up front that, first of all, I very, very much appreciate this opportunity to meet with all of you today. And -- we all set? Okay? STAFF: Yes, sir. VICE ADM. MOELLER: Okay. So I look forward to our discussion and conversation here this afternoon. Unfortunately, the extent to which I've had a chance to visit Ghana has only been to the airport in Accra. (Laughter.) And actually, all that was very briefly in and out to do a refueling stop going somewhere else in Africa. But what I want to tell you all is that probably either in -- well, hopefully in April, in conjunction with Gunston Hall's visit in conjunction with the Africa Partnership Station work that she's doing, I look to visit so that I can meet with the international staff aboard Gunston Hall and talk about APS kinds of activities. So that will then be an opportunity to hopefully then have a chance to see more of your country, which I am very, very much looking forward to do. My former colleague here -- now, earlier I guess, so it was maybe yesterday or the day before, I know you met with Ambassador Holmes. MR. Yes. VICE ADM. MOELLER: His predecessor, Ambassador Mary Yates, of course you know, used to be the ambassador there. And you probably all know her -- MR: Yes. VICE ADM. MOELLER: Or certainly know of her. Yeah. She is now working back in Washington on the National Security Council. So again, I very much look forward to having a chance to visit your country here in perhaps another month or so. What I'd like to do is kind of start this -- and just so you know, before I began my work with U.S. Africa Command, I was at U.S. Central Command. And I was the director of strategy, plans and policy. I turned over those duties in late summer of 2006 and then I was asked to lead the planning effort for the establishment of U.S. Africa Command. There were two primary reasons that the Defense Department, back in that time period, was looking to establish this command. The first was the recognition of the growing strategic importance of all things related to Africa. And the other primary reason was that the way we had been organized within Defense, where we had European Command was responsible for 40 of the military-to-military relations across the continent, Central Command was responsible for the Horn of Africa countries, and Pacific Command for the island nations in the Indian Ocean. There was a recognition by the department that that organization was neither effective, nor efficient, in terms of working with our African partners. And the other thing that -- and probably even more important, and I can say this based on my own experience at Central Command -- is that African issues never really got to the top of the list, you know, unfortunately. And I know that from, again, my Central Command experience, because then, we'd spend the whole day kind of thinking about what was going on in Iraq, in Afghanistan and the greater Middle East, and it was a rare day that we had an opportunity to give thought to East Africa and what was going on somewhere in the Horn of Africa. Now, with the establishment of U.S. Africa Command, the fact of the matter is the relations, the priorities, the perspectives and interests of our African partners are not only our first priority, they are our only priority. So we are totally focused on what matters to you. And Gen. Ward and I, to some degree, Ambassador Holmes -- you know, as we -- our travel around the continent is, in fact, designed purposefully to get around and sit down and meet with and talk to the leadership about what is important to all of you. What is your perspective? What are the things that we need to be focused on that matter to you all? Because, you know, again, in the past, we didn't give a lot of time to that, but now we are. Now we are. And we're very, very interested in, again, what your priorities are and where you believe, based on the particular situation in a particular country on the continent and across a particular region, you know -- what are the issues that we need to pay attention to, to best support you and to be able to work most effectively with all of you? Now again, so we did that planning work in the fall of 2006 and the command was announced by the U.S. in early February of 2007. And then 3 years ago, now, we stood up what we call the U.S. Africa Command transition team here in Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart as essentially the core of the initial headquarters staff. Now, you may have a question about, why here? Well again, going back to the way that we were organized, we knew that, see, ultimately, we would be responsible for all the activities that European Command formerly was responsible for, to work with our African partners and Central Command and Pacific Command. All of that was going to be coming our way in terms of our becoming responsible now for all these activities with our African partners. So given the fact that European Command was responsible for the largest number of those things, we wanted to be as close as we could to them to facilitate all that planning work and coordination that had to take place. And the other reason is because up to about the mid-1990s, the U.S. Army's Seventh Corps was headquartered here. And then they moved out in the mid-'90s. But all this infrastructure that you see here, all these buildings remained. And so it wasn't like we had to go someplace and start digging foundations and start from scratch. There were facilities that we could move into and kind of readily get started. So we began that effort here, and I think you've probably heard, but if not -- our intent is to, you know -- this is where we're going to be. Now, that said, back in the early planning days, I had the opportunity to meet with the African diplomatic community in Washington -- this was in early 2007 -- and many of them actually said that it would be -- there would be a lot of value in us establishing ourselves -- presence on the continent, but not in a way that looks like a European Command or a Central Command or a Pacific Command -- that is to say, not in a way with one central location. What they suggested was that we do so in a way that we had presence in each of the five regions that the African Union that has divided the continent up into, such that we could have a working relationship with each of the regional economic communities and then be in a position to work closely with the development and maturation of the brigades of the African Standby Force. Now, unfortunately, not long after a lot of those conversations took place and as the word got out about the establishment of the command, there was so much miscommunication and misunderstanding about what the command was going to be. You know, this idea that -- in a number of places across the continent, there was a view that we were going to be deploying thousands of forces to Africa and establishing bases everywhere. That was never the intent of the department to ever do that, nor is it today and, quite frankly, nor will it ever be. The way we do this is that if we sit down and plan an exercise with a particular country or group of countries, we bring forces into the continent for that event. The event's over and they leave. You know, just like recently, the exercise -- it was back in October-November timeframe -- Natural Fire, which was in Uganda. You know, we had forces participating in that and there were several African countries participating in that exercise. It lasted for about two weeks. They came in for the exercise. The exercise was over; they left. And that has always been the way we've conducted activities with our African partners. And that's the way we certainly we envision doing it into the future. And I think you've -- in other meetings that you had with members of the staff and strategy, plans and programs, you've probably covered a lot of the stuff that the activities and the kinds of programs that we've got going on. Certainly, one of the things that's very significant -- and I think you are all very, very familiar because, I mean, we've operated with all of you with regard to the Africa Partnership Station. You know, as you know, several years ago, the leaders in that region of West Africa determined that if they were going to eventually realize the conditions that would lead to and promote security, stability and the foundations for long-term economic development ashore, it was necessary to address the challenges in the maritime domain in the Gulf of Guinea. So after a number of conferences, that led to the establishment of the Africa Partnership Station, where we -- now we're -- and we've been doing this now since the fall of 2007 -- to work with the countries of the region to develop the maritime skills necessary to be able to monitor and control all those activities that go on and all those movements that go on in the waters of West Africa. And a little over a year ago, we were able to extend the program to East Africa. It's not as far along in East Africa yet as it is in West Africa, but we're working to kind of move in that direction because, as you know better than anybody, I mean, there are significant challenges in the waters around the African continent. And we want to do as much as we possibly can to work with all of you to address those challenges in a way that gives all of our African partners, and particularly our littoral African partners, the capability and capacity to be able to meet those ongoing challenges. And then we're also -- we've got -- I think you've probably heard and it's been described to you some of the exercises that we've got going on. I'm mentioned Natural Fire. There is FLINTLOCK, that we conduct with the countries of the Sahel to work with them to develop their capabilities and capacity to deal with some of the insurgent challenges that are in that -- exist with regard to violent extremists and in portions of North Africa. And so that's an exercise that continues and is well received by those countries. And then there's -- I think you're also aware of Africa Endeavor, which is a communications exercise to, again, work with our African partners to develop the capability and capacity to be able to communicate and coordinate, and particularly for humanitarian disaster situations and things like that, peacekeeping operations, of which your contribution to peacekeeping is so, so significant. And all of you can be very, very proud of your contribution to that effort because it is -- I mean, it's more than significant. It's critical; it's absolutely essential. So that particular exercise, Africa Endeavor, is something that the African Union is very interested in from the standpoint of, kind of, working, again, with all of you to, kind of, pool everybody together so we can all communicate and coordinate all these kinds of activities. And I think now, as we get ready to do the exercise this year, I think we're now up to about 30 countries that are going to be participating. So each year the number grows by a few more countries. And that's a very, very positive development. And again, like these other exercises, we want to do as much as we possibly can to work with all of you to establish that capability and capacity. STAFF: All right, so questions? Do you want to lead with a question? Q: Yeah. I would like to know is there any regret for not coming out with this AFRICOM years back, after you formed Northern, Central and European Command? Is there any regret for the delay in coming up with Africa Command post? VICE ADM. MOELLER: I don't know that there's any regret. I think, in retrospect, now that we have formed the command, there's probably a view that, had we done so several years earlier we would be even farther along in working with all of you to help establish and give you the capability and capacity that you desire to be able to deal with the security and stability challenges in particular countries or in particular regions around the continent. But I think it was simply a matter of -- it was one of these things that with so many other things going on, it just wasn't something that received as much focus as it probably needed to until, I guess, say, until 2006. Yeah. Q: Sir? VICE ADM. MOELLER: Yes? Q: What is the future of AFRICOM? Do you have a set plan? Say, after 30 years or after 10 years, do you have a set plan? Maybe after 30 years you're going to withdraw, going to change your modality, or something? VICE ADM. MOELLER: I think to some degree, that's probably a little hard to say; on the other hand, if you look at our other unified commands on a global basis -- I mean, we continue to have Pacific Command, European Command -- we think that this kind of a construct is the most effective way to work the military-to-military relations with our partners on a global basis. And one other thing that's, I think, is particularly important in the case of U.S. Africa Command, again -- and this goes back to the direction to us when we were established -- we have the same responsibilities as all the other commands like Central Command, Pacific Command, the European Command, but in addition, we were given the direction to support all other U.S. government agencies that have activities of one sort or another ongoing with our African partners across the continent. We don't lead that stuff. Those particular agencies like, obviously, the State Department, USAID, Energy, Agriculture -- for the activities that they have, they retain responsibility for all of those things. What we do is, if it makes sense for some particular thing that they may be doing in a particular country or region, where we can legitimately support what they're doing to make their activities more effective, then there may be a role for us. But we look at that on a case-by-case basis. And again, as I said, all those agencies have the lead for all those activities. Q: Your Excellency, does U.S. see -- how do you see the role of China in Africa vis-à-vis your -- (inaudible) -- with Africa? VICE ADM. MOELLER: Yeah, well, I think that's a great question. I mean, as you know probably much better than all of us, China has a pretty significant presence across the continent. And in fact, we're looking for those areas where we may be able to collaborate with and work with the Chinese on some number of activities. Yes? Q: I heard you say Africa is not -- a statement like, stability opens the door to prosperity. I have also heard that Africa is an important partner. What about the Middle East? What does America look -- (inaudible) -- the Middle East? VICE ADM. MOELLER: I mean, I think we will continue to be very, very interested in all things across the Middle East. And of course, that's U.S. Central Command's responsibility. Q: I'm not -- I don't understand. VICE ADM. MOELLER: Well, in other words, as we are in the process of, kind of, drawing down in Iraq, but maintaining the relations with the countries across the Middle East, you know, just as we want to with our African partners, is very, very important -- and quite frankly, I mean, the way we do across the Pacific with the nations in the Pacific. We want to continue sustain all these relationships. And that's -- one of the things, too, if I had the slide here in front of me, what I'd talk about is the nature of our relationships -- and again, this gets back to the way that we used to be organized within Defense with regard to Africa. One of the things -- our activities in the past tended to be very episodic, and what's most important to us today to best meet what is important to all of you is sustained security engagement. That is to say, to kind of work with you on a regular basis as opposed to, let's say, we decided to do an activity and then, you know, we don't come back for a couple of years. Yes? Q: With regard to the question on China, China had a problem with other issues with human rights and communists and you are focusing on making sure people -- or trade took place in a very sound environment. Are you in -- where you crisscross, are you going to discuss issues of making sure that you do the right thing to make sure if we are both interested in Ghana, we follow the issues of human rights, and in that direction? VICE ADM. MOELLER: Yeah. I think, in fact, that would be something that we would put a lot of emphasis on, absolutely. Yeah, exactly. Mm-hmm. Q: Your Excellency, you are in Niger trying to help them better their army. And all of a sudden, as I said, what happened? Is it a setback to your efforts? And if so, what is your -- (inaudible)? VICE ADM. MOELLER: Well, that's something that our policymakers in Washington are kind of taking a look at. So we'll have to -- I can't -- at this point in time, I can't tell you, kind of, what the future may look like there in terms of -- but certainly, from our perspective, we support the -- as has been called for, even by the Nigerians, the return to democratic government. And so we certainly support that. STAFF: We have time for two more questions, folks. Q: Yeah, sir, what I want to know is, with all the commands that you have -- you have the EUCOM, Pacific Command, Central Command -- is there anything that is common to all these commands -- like, any activity that is common to AFRICOM and is common to EUCOM? Or you do it case-by-case? VICE ADM. MOELLER: That's an excellent question. I would say what is common to all those commands is a category of activities, which is working with our partners on a global basis to be able to give them the capability and capacity to be able to deal with their own security challenges and kind of move in the direction to ensure stability in a particular country or a particular region. So it's not just one kind of event, but it's a range of activities that contribute toward that effort. Mm-hmm. STAFF: We haven't heard from these two guys. (Laughter.) Did you have a question for the admiral? No? Q: Admiral. VICE ADM. MOELLER: Yes? Q: I didn't want to ask, but I want to ask -- (laughter) -- looking back, do you think you have achieved what you set out to achieve with AFRICOM? VICE ADM. MOELLER: I think we're making very good progress in that regard. Again, as we go around the continent and meet with and have consultations with our African partners, increasingly, there is a lot of support for what we're doing and a lot of interest and, actually, request to be able to do more together. So I think, yes, it remains a work in progress because we're still a fairly new command, but all the trends are in a very positive direction. And again, we kind of characterize ourselves as a listening-and-learning organization. I tell you, what's very, very important to me -- and this is something I want to do when I visit your country -- is, again, sit down with the -- meet with the leadership and make sure I clearly understand what is important, not from our perspective, but from your perspective. What are the things that we need to pay attention to that perhaps we're not? Where is the focus? Do we need to look at and make the case back in Washington for additional support for you in this area or that area that perhaps, heretofore, we have not done? And that's the kind of approach we want to take with all of our African partners across the continent. STAFF: Thank you for your time, Admiral. Do you have any closing remarks? VICE ADM. MOELLER: No, I just -- again, what I told you up front. First of all, I very, very much appreciate this opportunity to meet with you this afternoon and, again, I am very much looking forward to visiting Ghana in conjunction with the Africa Partnership Station. And let me -- I'll say this right now -- perhaps, in conjunction with that visit, we could meet again -- MR.: Yeah. MS.: Yes. (Cross talk, laughter.) VICE ADM. MOELLER: -- in Ghana. In Accra or in some other place that would be convenient for all of you. I would very much like to do that. MS.: We would love to see you too. (Chuckles.) VICE ADM. MOELLER: Very good, very good. MR.: We would be happy to -- (inaudible.) VICE ADM. MOELLER: Oh, that'd be great. That'd be great. Look forward to it. Okay. Well, thank you all very much, okay?