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TRANSCRIPT: Ward Highlights U.S.-Tunisian Partnership at Press Conference
General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, highlighted the partnership and friendship between Tunisia and the United States at a press conference, June 1, 2010 in Tunis. <br /> <br />"I&#39;m excited about our bilateral
General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, highlighted the partnership and friendship between Tunisia and the United States at a press conference, June 1, 2010 in Tunis.

"I'm excited about our bilateral relationship, as well as our enduring friendship with Tunisia," said Ward. "The Tunisian Armed Forces is a truly capable, professional organization that we are most happy to continue to partner with."

Ward was in Tunisia to meet with Tunisian government officials and to attend a U.S. Memorial Day observance at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in nearby Carthage.

Also participating in the press conference was U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray.

See related article: U.S. AFRICOM Marks Memorial Day at North Africa American Cemetery.

The complete transcript of the press conference is below:

GENERAL WILLIAM E. WARD: GEN. WILLIAM E. WARD: Hello everyone. Bonjour. (Laughter.)

Voices Bonjour.

GEN. WARD: How are we doing? Ça va??

(Cross talk.)

GEN. WARD: I'm fine too, thank you. Très bien, très bien.

(Cross talk.)

GEN. WARD: Wonderful.

GEN. WARD: Well, good morning. Again, bonjour, and thank you for taking the time to join me here today. First, let me say how pleased I am to be back in Tunisia. And I thank our hosts for their warm hospitality, their welcome that was provided, as well as the fantastic generosity that we have been shown.

I have a few points I'd like to make before taking your questions. I'd like to personally thank the people of Tunisia for being such great hosts and I'd also like to thank our ambassador, Ambassador Gordon Gray, and his team here at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis for their part in hosting my visit.

My visit here serves to highlight our continued partnership and our friendship that exists between Tunisia and the United States of America and more importantly, to provide us the opportunity to discuss topics of mutual interest. Additionally, I gain a better understanding of your defense and security issues and look for ways where we can continue to work together. Our bilateral relationship is more than 200 years old and my vision is to sustain this great relationship and look for ways to continuing to improve it in the future.

The purpose of my visit was to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the North African American Cemetery in Tunisia.

We're now beyond the point that when we visit a partner nation, there is speculation that we are looking for bases. I assure you my purpose in being here was not – and I say again, not – to look for a base to place my headquarters, my staff planning element. Our headquarters is in Stuttgart, Germany, and we anticipate it remaining there for the foreseeable future.

I'm here to discuss our ongoing security cooperation programs and look for ways that United States Africa Command can continue to support Tunisia with its future military goals and its objectives. I'm excited about our bilateral relationship, as well as our enduring friendship with Tunisia. The Tunisian Armed Forces is a truly capable, professional organization that we are most happy to continue to partner with. I visited Minister Grira yesterday, and I told him how impressed I continue to be with the Tunisian Armed Forces and its capabilities. I believe that the Tunisian Armed Forces play a vital role in the regional security of the Maghreb region, and also across the African continent.

In addition, the State Partnership Program with the United States Wyoming National Guard has been effectively in place with the government of Tunisia since 2004, reaping great benefits to both parties. This demonstrates the long-term and diverse benefits that can, in fact, be achieved through our partnerships. U.S. Africa Command's focus is on sustained security engagement with our African partners.

Our approach is simple. It is founded on the guidance and policy that's determined by our Department of State, our President. We seek to assist our African partners with their desires to continue strengthening their capacity for increased security and stability. And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions. Thank you very much.

AL-MAWKIF: There have been developments at the trans-Sahara level with regard to the presence of terrorist threats. How do you look on this portfolio and is there cooperation between your command and Trans-Saharan countries?

GEN. WARD: The cooperation between the trans-Sahara countries is something that's very important to us. Our activity is activity that promotes that regional cooperation. It's activity that reinforces the relationship between the nations of the trans-Sahara region. And so our focus is to be of an assistance, to be of help, to work with the trans-Sahara nations as they continue to look for ways to maintain control of their regions, their territories, their sovereign borders, and to cause a degree of stability to exist because of their working together in the region.

So Africa Command's focus is not to be there doing the work, but to be in a position to help promote the work that's being done by the partners of the region. We see it as a very important aspect of security when the nations of the region are, indeed, working together, and we clearly support that and encourage that as best we can.

LA PRESSE NEWSPAPER: We hear that the United States are very concerned about the security in the Sahara region, where al-Qaida is active there, and they are taking the hostages and so on. So what I would like to know is, what is the level of cooperation to enforce – to reinforce the security then in this region?

GEN. WARD: Thank you very much for that question. Just as do nations of the region acknowledge the threat that exists – that's posed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, we too recognize that threat. Our work is work that involves activities, programs that help increase the capacity of the Sahelian nations to deal with that threat, in the form of training, in the form of equipping, in the form of cooperation among the neighbors, such that they have a higher ability – an increased capacity – to deal with the threat that's posed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

And so our programs are not programs that have us in charge, but are programs that support, that reinforce the nations who, themselves, have said this is a threat that we commonly face, and to deal with this threat, we act in a regional, in a cooperative way. And we are supporting those efforts in our training programs and in the programs that we have in providing equipment – logistic equipment, communications equipment, other activities that make a difference.

We just recently concluded an exercise, Flintlock, in the Sahel. That exercise was an exercise that brought together nine of these nations, to include other European partners, to work together to become better able to coordinate among themselves, to share information, all with the common purpose of addressing that common threat that we all face.

AS-SABAH NEWSPAPER: Actually, I have two questions. I would like to ask you about, to what extent could the new American strategy announced by your President Obama last week affect the AFRICOM strategy? My second one, I'd like to hear from you about what happened yesterday in the humanitarian ship sailing to – (inaudible) – to Gaza. Thank you.

GEN. WARD: Well, thank you very much. Obviously, you know, the strategy announced by President Obama last week is a strategy that we clearly support. It has the impact of reinforcing the work that we do, as U.S. Africa Command, as we seek to assist our partner nations in building their capacity to address global threats that we all face. And so clearly, for us, we will fall very directly in line with the strategy that has been announced by the president. And our programs, our activities, our exercises will all serve to reinforce what the president has announced in our national security strategy. It is totally aligned in that regard.

With respect to the incident there that occurred there off of Gaza, we clearly are deeply saddened and we regret the loss of life. As the president has said, that the loss of life, those who were wounded, we are all very much concerned with that, and as he also indicated, the importance of learning the facts – the circumstances that surrounded that tragic event as soon as possible, so that additional steps, whatever they may be, would be taken.

I'll leave any further comment on that, obviously, to our Department of State, to involve officials from both governments. But first and foremost, we regret the loss of life and those who have been wounded in that incident. Ambassador, anything else that –

AMBASSADOR GORDON GRAY: Well, the only other point that I'd make is that ultimately the only solution to this conflict is through an agreement that's been negotiated between the parties that establishes an independent, viable, and contiguous Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. And for that reason, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Senator Mitchell have been engaged very strenuously from day one of this administration to try and launch negotiations between the parties that will achieve Palestinian aspiration to exercise their rights within their state. Thank you.

GERMAN NEWS AGENCY: I'm from the German News Agency. Have there been any concrete results from the visits – from the meetings you had in Tunisia?

GEN. WARD: Well, I think there are always concrete results. The fact that I was welcomed here by the administration – the officials of the Tunisian government – serves as a great sign that reinforces our relationship. My presence here, as a commander of U.S. Africa Command, is a continuing signal of the depth of our friendship, of our partnership – as I mentioned in my statement, a longstanding and an enduring partnership. And my visit, coupled with other recent visits by others of our officials – our assistant secretary of state – the visits to America by senior defense officials, your foreign minister very recently – I think these are all signs that clearly demonstrate to the Tunisian people, to the American people, the depth of our relationship, of our friendship.

And I am just very excited to be able to continue that here in, now, my second visit to Tunisia as the commander of U.S. Africa Command, to reinforce my emphasis and my priority on listening to our Tunisian partners, understanding from them as best I can, so that as we continue to work together, the activities that we conduct are activities that we all see as supporting our mutual objectives and goals for a more stable region, a more stable continent, and indeed, a more stable world.

And when we do this together, as partners, then those who benefit are our people, our children and our children's children, for years to come. So I think the very tangible piece of the visit is the fact that we are reinforcing and recommitting, reaffirming that friendship and that very, very fine relationship that has been, now, so long-lasting.

MAGHRIBIA WEBSITE: There has been talk about coordination between Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and some illegal narcotic trafficking organizations. Has AFRICOM undertaken any concrete measures to ward off this threat? Does AFRICOM solely rely on military operations, or does it conduct humanitarian activities?

GEN. WARD: This clicked off. (Pause.) That one clicked off. (Pointing to tape recorder.)

(Off-side conversation.)

GEN. WARD: First, I thank you for that question. Let me answer your second question initially. Our command does indeed conduct more than just military-to-military operations and activities. We also support humanitarian-assistance activities that complement, that support, that are integrated with the humanitarian work done by other agencies of our government, as well as other international organizations.

And it's not that we lead or have those activities as our primary responsibility, but we clearly recognize the importance of activities that serve to provide direct benefit to the people, as well as those activities that are inclined to provide training, as well as a degree of expertise on the part of not just our militaries, but also the militaries of our partner nations, as they provide support to their civilian populations.

And so in many instances, our humanitarian activities reinforce skill sets that soldiers everywhere need to have when they come to the aid, to the assistance of their civilian populations. And so those are the sorts of humanitarian activities that we conduct. We conduct them in full cooperation with our embassy, the country team, so that those activities are harmonized with other activities being done, and provide that type of benefit to the people, but also provide the type of training and assistance when militaries are sometimes asked to also provide assistance to their civilian populations, it reinforces the ability to do that.

As it pertains to your first question, the measures being taken -- again, we are not in Africa to be conducting direct actions and activities against the threats that you talked to here – al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, illegal trafficking of drugs, illegal trafficking of weapons, illegal trafficking of people. We recognize and respect the authority of sovereign nations to do those activities to protect their people themselves. But we also recognize that, from time to time, the capacity that they may wish to have to accomplish those missions is not always present. So our activities are designed to help increase the capacity of the nations in the Maghreb to counter the flow of illegal activities, but also to address the threat that's posed by al-Qaida in the Maghreb in their own ways as they work together as neighbors in the region.

ACHOUROUK DAILY NEWSPAPER: There have been increasing speculations about a strike against Iran. Does the U.S. have plans to undertake actions against Iran?

GEN. WARD: I have no knowledge of that. That's not in my area of activity, where my command operates, so I have no knowledge of that. I would leave that to others to answer.

DAILY NEWSPAPER: I have two questions. My first question is on whether or not there is cooperation or concrete measures to take against the link that exists between Touareg groups in the Sahara and al-Qaida. My second question is, is there something to be done to ward off the threat of al-Qaida in Africa? In point of fact that AFRICOM specializes in the region of Africa, does that mean that AFRICOM is aware that al-Qaida exists in Africa?

GEN. WARD: Well, thanks for that, and I hope I get to your question here. First, the inter-ethnic activities that go on inside of a nation – clearly, for us, that is an issue for the nation's concern, the region's concern. And so we do not take any direct measures or have any direct roles in those linkages. For us, it's a question of those organizations that would conduct violent acts of extremism against innocent people. And so our understanding is derived from how that is explained to us, how we understand that as we work with our partner nations.

The – our actions and activities are designed to, one, cause, as best we can, respect for all human beings to be a part of what's going on, to respect the authority of sovereign nations to act inside their sovereign borders, and to promote as best we can regional cooperation in addressing common threats, and then finally, to certainly do our best, typically through our Department of State, our diplomatic activities, to cause historical conflicts that have gone on and on and on to be resolved in peaceful ways by those who are involved, as the ambassador pointed out with the respect to the situation in the Middle East.

So where those historical and long-lasting rivalries exist, again, we encourage peaceful, diplomatic resolution. And we would certainly say that to be the case wherever those internal rivalries exist. To the degree there are links between al-Qaida and any organization, where they might take advantage of someone else, or another people, we would clearly see that as something negative. And so our hope would be where these groups that have, as their goal, going after innocent people and causing violent action against them to occur, we would certainly look to assist sovereign nations in preventing that from occurring.

From the standpoint of U.S. Africa Command, we clearly recognize the threat posed by al-Qaida, in a global sense. That includes in the Islamic Maghreb; it includes in East Africa; it includes wherever al-Qaida might seek to operate. And we know that, based on what al-Qaida has said, their goal, their intent is to cause the way of life that many of us have come to enjoy to be reversed.

And so as we work together to prevent those actions from occurring, we know that al-Qaida will take advantage of any location, any space that will permit their ability to act in the ways, to conduct activities, to plan activities designed to cause harm to innocent civilians. And I think in a global sense, that exists.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has demonstrated that as their intent through kidnappings, through other illegal activities. And so therefore, our objective of working with partner nations to increase their capacity to prevent al-Qaida from having freedom of operation is an objective, a goal, of U.S. Africa Command.

AL-AKHBAR NEWSPAPER: Concerning the loss of 19 lives in the liberty flotilla incident that occurred yesterday, I noticed you used both the words "sad" and "regret". I know that within diplomatic discourse, there is a significant different between these two words and the word "condemn". Don't you think that the Israeli Attack on the Gaza Aid Flotilla will have long term effects on the stability of the international arena and also bring about more conflicts in the future?

GEN. WARD: As I said initially, I don't know enough about what went on there to be able to adequately address your question. This is what I can say: Whenever there is a loss of life – as a soldier, I know that all so well – and definitely, we regret that. The activities are to be investigated, as our president has said, learning the facts, learning the circumstances that surround those tragic events as soon as possible. Therefore, from that, other things would come. As the ambassador pointed out, you know, this is a longstanding conflict, and it is something that all of us would hope would come to resolution as soon as we can make that the case.

There are things that go on – as you know, I spent time in the region, and from my experiences there, I know that on both sides, people are suffering. And so for all of us, we would hope that no single incident would cause a long-term setback in making progress. That is my hope – that in the end, progress can continue to be made that would resolve this conflict. And as the ambassador pointed out, such that the peoples on both sides have a better opportunity of living in peace, side by side, sooner rather than later. And I think the international community would hope the same thing. From my personal point of view, I certainly would hope that to be the case.

LE QUOTIDIEN: Don't you think that the Israeli strike against the liberty flotilla could breed more extremism and radicalism, notably on the Palestinian side?

GEN. WARD: I just cannot speak for what anyone would do in response to it. I'd say what I've said before. I would certainly trust and hope that both parties would look at ways to move ahead, and retaliation for incidents back and forth gets us nowhere in solving the long-term issue at hand, and that is the ability for these two peoples to live side by side in peace. And so that would be my thought, and I would not speculate on what someone else might do or might not do in response to the incident that occurred yesterday.

REUTERS: What kind of assistance does AFRICOM grant to the countries in the Maghreb? Have these countries specifically asked for this assistance?

GEN. WARD: Thanks for that – gets back to some of the things that, obviously, I do have some understanding about. To be sure, AFRICOM has provided assistance to countries in the Maghreb. Let me make it perfectly clear: The assistance that we provide is provided when and only when we are asked to provide it. And so those types of assistance that we are, in fact, conducting, from training to equipping, are things that we are asked to do by our partner nations.

Again, we do not impose; we do not direct. We listen. We learn from our partners. We establish relationships. And based on that understanding, and based on our foreign policy objectives, as well as our strategy as laid out by – not by myself, but by our president, our secretary of state – then actions are taken at our partners' request that satisfy our common objectives.

And so yes, we do, in fact, have programs for training and equipping. Those programs are requested by the partner nations in the Maghreb. And those actions and activities are in line with our United States foreign policy objectives, as stated by our president, our secretary of state and our Congress.

DAILY NEWSPAPER: (Via translator.) I have two questions. My first question revolves around the counterterrorism. Do you think there has been significant change, since President Obama took over, in terms of warding off any threat of terrorism in the Arab and Muslim world? And my second question comes from a David Petraeus statement about the death of American soldiers. He gave the impression that the absence of continuous resolution in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would bring more terrorism, more radicalism. Would you agree to that statement?

GEN. WARD: First, I think the focus that the United States of America, under President Obama, places on countering violent acts of extremism certainly remains, is there. And we remain committed, as a nation, to actions that counter the threat posed by those who would seek to conduct violent acts of extremism against innocent people, wherever that may happen around the world, to include the United States, Middle East, Africa, Europe, South America.

I think President Obama has been very clear in his focus, his priority of countering, to the best of our ability, working with our partners, working with the security organizations around the world in that attempt, in that matter. And I think his commitment to that remains very firm. The statement made by Petraeus, I won't comment on. What I will say is that the – those who would seek to conduct activities and to harm innocent people will use reasons, to be sure, as I've said – you know, resolving that conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something that we all look forward to occurring.

And so we, too, see that ongoing conflict as something that doesn't help us move forward in productive ways across other ranges of issues. Resolving these conflicts that exist between peoples is a goal that we want to pursue, and I think to take that excuse away would be very valuable as we move ahead. And so that's, you know, my thought. Al-Qaida has said, as well as others, that their attempt, their goal, is to cause the way we live to be reversed. I take al-Qaida at their word. And to give them excuses to do that isn't necessary; they would be doing it anyway. But the greater issue is resolving these conflicts that have led to the suffering of innocent people on both sides. And we are in favor of the quickest resolution of that as can be taken in the hopes that things that occur won't be used as reasons not to continue to move forward and make progress to resolve those conflicts.

AL-QUDS PRESS: Is there any assistance that is granted to the Tunisian government that aims at warding off the threat of terrorism?

GEN. WARD: I think there is no one magical answer. It's how we, as partners, work together to defeat, to counter, the threat of terror. It occurs in a wide range of areas. Clearly, there are activities that increase the capacity of security organizations to control borders, to work with their neighbors. We do that. But there are also other programs, as may have been related to in an earlier question I had, that concerns the humanitarian area, where people are being benefited by what goes on.

In our case, there are projects, there are humanitarian-assistance projects that have occurred in 13 different regions of Tunisia. There are training centers that have been supported for the education. Tunisia has a wonderful history of respect for and valuing education, and the role that it plays. Certainly, those things exist. Orphanages that are there, caring for orphaned children, and how, through that care, they may mature into ways that would turn them away from terrorism and to seek more productive lifestyles – support to those sorts of programs are there.

Our military-to-military programs that involve the assistance and training, the assistance and equipping are all designed to provide the type of support to our partner nations – Tunisia being a very valuable partner in addressing these sorts of threats. And so I think we do provide that assistance to the Tunisian government. And as I said, we provide it as we are asked to provide it and in those areas that the Tunisian government thinks appropriate for that type of assistance.

VOICE: Last question.

RADIO TUNIS: This is the second time I have attended a press conference at which you are present. I gladly note that the United States and the Maghreb have been making efforts to cooperate towards defeating terrorism. However, the threat of terrorism is unfortunately heading south. Don't you think it is high time for the U.S. to rethink and reshape strategies and pay more attention to issues such as the situation in Israel?

GEN. WARD: Well, let me thank you for that question. The strategy that the United States of America pursues is not AFRICOM's strategy. It is the United States of America's strategy. And in pursuing that strategy, it has varying organizations, varying activities, varying commands. My command's area of activity does not include the part of the continent – or the world that you described – Gaza, Israel. That's not my command's area that we conduct our activity.

What we are doing is being as coherent and as synchronized in what we do globally to impact this scourge of terror that exists wherever it exists. So therefore, my focus is on doing those things that indeed reflect what we seek to accomplish in our strategy to deal with terrorism in this globally connected environment, but focused on the continent of Africa and its island nations.

We clearly recognize global linkages and so therefore, work being done by our Department of State and its bureaus, work being done by the Department of Defense and its geographic commands that have global responsibilities for our activities around the world, work being done by others of our international partners, other countries, work being done by other agencies of the United States government – all being coordinated in a way that hopefully addresses the point that you've addressed here.

It is a – for me, the focus is on working with the nations of Africa, working with our partners. And again, not that the United States seeks to be the one doing all the work everywhere; we know that that is not possible. It is the responsibility, it is the action that's being taken by nations around the world to address this threat that we all are faced with and how sovereign nations take ownership of the roles that they have to address the threat and then how we work together in causing a difference to be realized.

Where there are conflicts, where there are internal strife that exists that can be used as a reason for continuing to create terror, then to be sure, we would all seek and welcome resolution of those conflicts. A long-lasting, a longstanding one is the Palestinian Israeli conflict. We are committed to causing that to come to an end. But first and foremost, those two parties have to do that. As the ambassador pointed out, them living side by side remains a goal, a priority for our current administration. And we support various efforts that lead to resolution of that conflict.

Where there are activities occurring in other places around the world being conducted by those who would seek to harm innocent people, where sovereign nations have said, we will do our best to address that threat and where we can provide assistance in helping them to address that threat, we will do that.

This threat knows no borders. It is transnational in nature. So nations and regions cooperating and doing the things that they can do to provide for their people and to take away the space, the opportunity for those who would seek to plan and conduct terror to do that, is what we seek to do in a coherent and cooperative way.

My command has been charged by our Department of Defense of doing that for our African partners – nations as well as regional organizations as well as the African Union, the continental organizations – to provide to the degree that we can with available resources, assistance and increasing their capacity to deal with that threat.

Not that AFRICOM or any other U.S. entity will come in and take responsibility for that. It's not our job. These are sovereign nations and we respect that sovereignty. But we also know that there are shortcomings, shortfalls, just as are in my nation. So as we work together, we all have a better chance of addressing this common threat and dealing with it in a more effective way and moving ahead.

And so that's our approach. That's how we conduct our activities. And I think as we work together and we continue to work together, we have a better chance of dealing with this global threat that we all face as it comes to the terror threat.

(Off-side conversation.)

GEN. WARD: Thank you. I think someone said that was my – that was the last question. But you didn't ask me about my time here in Tunisia. (Laughter.)


JORDANIAN PRESS AGENCY: With regard to the threat of Al-Qaeda against the World Cup event that will take place in South Africa, has AFRICOM taken measures to be prepared for this threat?

GEN. WARD: The South Africans are very capable and again, the work that they have done in preparation for the upcoming World Cup, I think has been absolutely outstanding work. We certainly appreciate what has been done by the South Africans and the provisions being taken I would not talk about here in a public forum.

But let me suffice it to say that South Africa has worked with those nations that are participating and I think many have been involved in providing the type of support that may have been requested by South Africa as they have prepared for and now are about to conduct the World Cup there in South Africa.

And again, I think it's a wonderful thing that here on the continent of Africa, that significant event is occurring for all the people of Africa to benefit from and to take pride in having that sporting event conducted here on the continent.

And since I still didn't asked about my time in Tunisia – (laughter) – I'm going to tell you. (Chuckles.)

But just let me say again, as I came to Tunisia this time, it was for expressly the purpose of our Memorial Day ceremony at the North Africa cemetery that's here in Tunisia. And I'd like to just express my very, very sincere gratitude to Tunisia for the concern, to the people of Tunisia, the care that's been afforded to the final resting place of almost 3,000 Americans who gave their life for Tunisian freedom. And I think that's something that's important and I appreciate the support and the care and concern that is continuing to be demonstrated on the part of Tunisia for that sacrifice.

And so I come here to also reflect on the great relationship that we have, to visit with the very professional military here in Tunisia and how it has been a contributor to peace, how it has been a friend to America and how much I personally value that relationship, as well as how much our nation values this relationship that exists between the United States of America and Tunisia.

A professional military, respectful of one another, respectful of the very valuable role that we all play and then remembering those who have given their life in defense of freedom. And here in Tunisia, no more ever-present symbol than the cemetery where Americans are buried, as they too fought for freedom here in this part of the world. And the care that Tunisia continues to show and demonstrate and the appreciation for that. So I thank you very much, merci beaucoup, shokran, and happy to be here with you.