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TRANSCRIPT: U.S. AFRICOM Commander Meets with Liberian Minister of Defense
<i>Liberia&#39;s Minister of Defense Brownie J. Samukai and Commander of U.S. Africa Command, General William E. Ward, discussed the partnership between the United States and Liberia, during Ward&#39;s daylong visit to Monrovia, Liberia, March 24,
Liberia's Minister of Defense Brownie J. Samukai and Commander of U.S. Africa Command, General William E. Ward, discussed the partnership between the United States and Liberia, during Ward's daylong visit to Monrovia, Liberia, March 24, 2010.

Expressing gratitude for the support provided by the U.S. government in rebuilding the Armed Forces of Liberia, Samukai said, "We are very pleased with the partnership we have with the U.S. military, particularly with AFRICOM -- and at the same time, the kind of support that has been provided to the Ministry of Defense, both the men in uniform, as well as the staff at the Ministry of National Defense."

Ward emphasized the command's long-term commitment to partner with the Armed Forces of Liberia as they continue to develop and improve its security capacity.

Describing the AFL soldiers as disciplined and full of pride and respect, Ward said "From my previous visits here, I know that as the people of Liberia look on their armed forces, they aw that same pride, that same respect, as well as that same thanks…that this is an armed forces for which they are very, very proud. And we are happy to be a partner in moving that endeavor forward."

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The complete transcript of the media event following the meeting between Ward and Samukai is included below: BROWNIE J. SAMUKAI: Ladies and gentlemen, let me welcome you to the Ministry of Defense. We are very pleased to welcome Gen. Ward, the commander of AFRICOM to the Ministry of Defense. We'd like to say to you, General, that you're very welcome. Thank you very much for coming -- he and his delegation. We are very pleased with the partnership we have with the U.S. military, particularly with AFRICOM -- and at the same time, the kind of support that has been provided to the Ministry of Defense, both the men in uniform, as well as staff at the Ministry of National Defense. We presently have mentors in our country who are helping the Armed Forces of Liberia as well as staff at the Ministry of Defense. And, General, we are very pleased and thank you for the kind support that we continue to receive. We are also thankful for the support in helping us to develop the Liberian coast guard, the construction of the pier, the construction of the (ram?), the building of the walls of the coast guard base, as well as other logistical support that have been provided to the men and women in arms. We also appreciate the training that has been provided to us under the AMLEP [African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership] program and we're looking forward to other opportunities in which we can expand training opportunities for our soldiers, our NCOs and our officers. So once again, General, let me say thank you for coming and our warm regards to you and your delegation. GEN. WILLIAM E. WARD: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. It's indeed a pleasure to be back in Monrovia, here in Liberia, because it is a place where we come and we see partnership at work. And it is a partnership in the true sense because we come here as friends first, but also as partners in doing our part in helping Liberia, and its people, realize what it has for itself as its objectives for its very stable future. It's great to be here with the minister, the commanding officer in charge, seeing him again, the rest of the ministry of defense team, and importantly, our wonderful country team here led by this great lady, this famous ambassador here, who does so much on behalf of the citizens of America, as she works with the citizens of Liberia in pursuit of our mutual interests. [The U.S. Ambassador to Liberia is Linda Thomas-Greenfield] Thanks all of you for being here to listen to me for a bit. I can't add anything to what the minister has said. These various activities and programs -- what we are doing with the Armed Forces of Liberia and what's going on with the coast guard, what's going on with all those aspects associated therewith -- support that we're able to render and provide as the ministry itself attempts to continue to bring its level of performance to where the people here in this great country know that they have an armed forces who will work on their behalf as their protectors and not as oppressors. And that is coming to light and so visible here as I was able to spend a bit of time with the armed forces there, just seeing in those soldiers that they are disciplined, they have pride, their respect. And then from my previous visits here, I know that as the people of Liberia look on their armed forces, they saw that same pride, that same respect, as well as that same thanks that this is an armed forces for which they are very, very proud. And we are happy to be a partner in moving that endeavor forward. We see our partnership with you as a long-term commitment. We see it as a commitment that doesn't fade. We see it as a commitment that we continue to work every day to make it be better. It doesn't always provide all the things that we want, but what we do guarantee is our commitment and our dedication to pursuing those things that will bring through the partnership all the various things that we've all agreed are important to move ahead. There are military advisers here. There are military mentors who are here. There are military trainers who are here from both the armed forces perspective, U.S. Coast Guard, the Navy Seabees doing work. Again, not work that we take credit for, nor that we see us being totally responsible for, but work that we see as work that you have asked us to do, on your behalf, as you attempt to continue to move forward in some very, very special ways. And, oh, by the way, while we're doing that, where we can very demonstrably show to your people that we're there helping them as well, then we want to do that. And it reflects itself in some of the medical activities that are conducted. And, again, not that those activities are those that you will always rely on because I know you want to rely on your own programs, your own systems. But as those capacities and capabilities continue to come up and they continue to occur, where we can provide some assistance in the form of training or helping out, then we want to do that in a very coordinated way with our United States Embassy, the U.S. Agency of International Development that's here. So, if we can be a small part of that, then we are happy to do that because this is certainly a very, very important part of the continent and our role is a role that we value as we hopefully help to increase the stability that's here. This morning, I was able to be with the ambassador as she turned over the national elections commission to the government of Liberia -- and all the hopes that that has for the people. It doesn't just happen; it happened because there's a commitment, or there is an attitude, that this is the best state for our country and then the things that are going on reinforce that. And we like to think that what we are doing is in that same vein. There's an attitude. There's a commitment, first from the people -- that you are on a path toward sustained stability and those things that are required to make that happen from professionals and trained security forces, to development that's moving ahead in ways that your people see it and understand it, to governing activities that the people know are happening on their behalf -- are all things that we certainly see as favorable and to the degree that we can provide support, we stand by and stand willing to do just that. There are things that are going on in the area that I know that concerns you -- I mean, your neighborhood. Narcotics trafficking and flowing of various things, human trafficking and whatnot. All those things that threaten your continued stability. Again, as you take steps to address those, where we can be of assistance and help, that's what our desire is to do. Not to lead them, not to be in charge of them, not to direct them, but to listen to you, to understand from the minister, his team, the president, other elected officials -- what your vision for your future is and where we can be supportive of that, working with our ambassador to make sure that we stay in line with what our nation has as its policy at a national level for our work with the government of Liberia, that we stand ready to do our part in that endeavor. We are having fun at it. And I say, having fun because when you do something that you know is positive and makes a difference, it gives you a good feeling. And you get that feeling from being here in Liberia, working with our friends and our partners. That's something that, as I said, we seek to do and seek to expand as we move ahead. I was last here in Liberia over a year ago in -- (inaudible) -- not far from here on the parade field. And the commanding officer in charge, the minister of defense, the president, the ambassador, had just recently arrived. We watched the activation of another battalion. And that mission -- that work goes on. It is now the United States Africa Command, who has the primary responsibility for continuing that maturation of your armed forces as we help you do that, as opposed to the previous construct. And so the Armed Forces of Liberia just continues to move forward in some very, very substantial and good ways. The last time I was here, I went downtown and saw some areas where your former coast guard used to be. Its pier was in shambles and the area was being overrun by various things. We wanted to do something about that. Progress is being made in that. Measured steps, not great leaps and bounds, but measured steps we hope will make a difference as we move ahead. And so it's through those sorts of programs, programs that are sometimes complemented with some medical assistance capability activities that we seek to continue to employ, to be here with you, beside you -- again, not leading, not directing, not taking charge of, not being responsible for, but helping you achieve and realize the vision that you have for where you want to go and what you want to do. My team that's here, a team that's wholly integrated into the ambassador's country team and her mission, is a team that's doing what we do, in our small way, as you seek to realize these goals and objectives that you have in moving ahead. As I said, we are committed to this. We are here to assist you in achieving your vision for a very secure, a very stable, democratic country of Liberia because when that happens, we all benefit. The global community benefits. And we are committed to that and we look forward to continuing that journey with you as you make this steady and measured progress to enhance the stability here in your country, but also in the region. So with that I'll stop and I'll let the minister come back and answer all your questions. (Laughter.) MR. SAMUKAI: Thank you very much, General. (Inaudible.) Well, first we'll take four questions because the general is pressed for time. (Inaudible, off mike.) Q: My name is -- (inaudible) -- and I write for the Daily Observer newspaper. I have several concerns ranging from the -- (inaudible) -- infantry brigade to that of air reconnaissance unit in Liberia -- (inaudible). However, with respect to the coast guard -- (inaudible) -- where you have just rehabilitated, what is their -- (inaudible) -- inability or intangibility of the coast guard -- (inaudible). Basically, what can you answer to that? MR. SAMUKAI: Well, I mean, we have our territorial waters for 300 miles. We hear all kinds of information about illegal fishing, illegal activities that is out there. It is all part of our constitutional mandate, and recently, as mandated under the defense act, mandating us to set up a coast guard and with the instruction of the commander in chief, I will set it up to protect our territorial interests against illegal fishing, counternarcotics operations or illegal activities that are taking place out there. And also, to work along with our partners in the region against the issue of drug trafficking. So it is all in Liberia's interest. And our partnership with the U.S. and AFRICOM, in this respect, is to help us build our capacity, help us refocus our facilities, help to train our people and to get our people out there to do our own work, to serve our interests there. I hope that answers your question. Q: (Off mike.) MR. SAMUKAI: What they are -- (inaudible) -- newspaper. (Inaudible.) Q: (Off mike.) GEN. WARD: You asked me, but I think it's a question more appropriate for the Minister of Defense to respond to. Again, I do not set the defense policy nor its structure for the government of Liberia. So that's a function of the decision made by your head of state and her cabinet, led by the minister here. So that's how I would have to leave that one. (Laughter.) MR. SAMUKAI: I think we'll leave it like that. (Laughter.) Q: (Inaudible) -- consider for the Africa Command headquarters in the country? GEN. WARD: That's a great question. There are no current plans for moving the Africa Command headquarters anywhere. Where it's currently located is where it will stay, as far as I'm aware of. Because you see, there are a couple things that are important. The work of the command is not a response to where its headquarters is located. The work of the command is a reflection of where its programs are. Right now, here in Liberia there's a very aggressive defense-sector reform program that's recently been augmented with the -- to the Armed Forces of Liberia mentoring and training program, also the coast guard program. It's also been added to by the work of the Embassy and our office of the Secretary of Defense out of Washington, D.C., to look at additional work with the defense institution and its continued maturation. And those programs are going on in various ways across the African continent, in 38-some countries, moving to about 42 of the 53 nations on the continent. And so the programs are what's important. What you ought to be asking me is whether the programs that we have working in Liberia -- will those programs continue? The answer is, as far as I'm concerned, absolutely yes. We're committed to that. The headquarters' location, where the planning is conducted and all of those things, is not what is important at this juncture. Down the road, might things change? Maybe so. I have no idea at this point. But there's no discussion of moving the headquarters anywhere other than where it's currently located there in Stuttgart, Germany. MR. SAMUKAI: (Inaudible.) Q: (Inaudible.) My question has to do with the issue of the possible -- (inaudible) -- global intervention of the United States government abroad, tremendous transformation with AFL -- (inaudible) -- able to do rescue mission, secure borders -- (inaudible). What is the American government doing to ensure that our military can do-- (inaudible) -- in this relationship? GEN. WARD: Yeah, again, these are great questions. I think the minister is probably more, well, he is better-suited to answer that question than I, because the last thing you want me doing is telling your country how to defend your borders. You don't want me doing that. That's for the citizens of this country to do and so as you continue to -- and none of it happens overnight. But as plans are developed, as this whole strategic concept for how the Armed Forces of Liberia will in fact protect and secure its borders, where we can be a part of that and where our policies indicate that we are supportive of that, then we want to do so. And so as things continue to occur, you start with small steps. You start with the armed forces. You continue with, now, the next thing, the coast guard. Might there be other things down the road? An air wing, and other things. Maybe so. I don't know, but that's not my decision. That's a decision that you make, your country makes, your people make, and those who you have elected and appointed to positions to help guide you through that. What I would tell you is that when those decisions are taken by your government, then where we can be of an assistance then it becomes my job, when those activities have a defense-related component, to do my very best to make that happen in a supporting way, where those efforts and activities are firmly in line with our foreign-policy objectives here in Liberia. But the decision itself, the activity itself -- you don't want me doing that. You don't want me doing that. (Chuckles.) MR. SAMUKAI: Well, General, thank you. Let me say thank you and we really appreciate the visit of Gen. Ward to Liberia. And again, let me say thanks to Her Excellency the ambassador, Ambassador Greenfield for the wonderful work, the wonderful leadership you continue to exercise. And I can assure you of our support and cooperation in that regard. Thanks to Gen. Abdurrahman for the administration and to the rest of the staff who have turned out here this afternoon. General, we wish you a very successful trip and a safe journey back. Thank you very much. GEN. WARD: Thank you Sir. (END)