Democratic Republic of Congo media representatives visited U.S. Africa Command headquarters July 26-30, 2010, as part of a public information outreach initiative that aims to provide in-depth information on the command's programs and activities in Africa.
In addition to meeting with and receiving briefings from directorate representatives, media members also interviewed General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, July 29, 2010. Below is a transcript from the interview.
(Note: Ward's opening remarks and responses translated to French; questions translated to English.)
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GEN. WILLIAM E. WARD: Okay. You are doing the translating, is that it?
TRANSLATOR: I am.
GEN. WARD: Thank you, sir. All right. (Chuckles.) Well, first off, let me welcome you to the command and to Stuttgart. And I have heard you have had a wonderful time visiting various places.
TRANSLATOR: (In French.)
GEN. WARD: Pretty good, man.
TRANSLATOR: Yes, sir.
GEN. WARD: (Chuckles.) Fantastic. Well, I am delighted, absolutely delighted that you are here, that you have taken this trip and that you have decided and agreed upon to spend time with us getting to know us better. Just being here and looking at your agenda, I know you have gained insights about who we are and what we do already. And I will not go over all of those things again.
I think I would emphasize that in all of that, our primary objective and goal is to be a good partner, to be a good partner. And a partner expresses itself in many ways, but most importantly, the huge respect that we have for one another. And I assure you that from my perspective, the respect that we have for our African partners, the sovereignty of the nations is something that is absolutely at the top of the list.
It is our specific desire that all we do supports not my desires, not our desires of the United States, but supports the desires of the people, the people of the nations of Africa and supports their wellbeing. While we know goals and objectives that we established for our partnership are always there, we also know that they don't happen overnight. But our commitment to that is, in fact, just that. It is an absolute commitment to those goals and objectives for this partnership. The training that we are currently doing in Kisangani is an example of that commitment. And it is hopefully being done such that the people of the DRC will be the ultimate beneficiaries. And I assure you that all that we do has that in mind as the ultimate goal.
Again, we recognize that these things always don't happen overnight, but that is our commitment and that is our intent and purpose. And as you know, we also know and understand that our partners have a commitment in that particular attainment of those goals as well. But just as your being here is designed to make sure that we are open to you -- I want you to understand that particular point with respect to the training in Kisangani. We want that to be open just as your being here and visiting our other activities, we have opened up to you. What we do is not a secret. What we seek to do as we attain and achieve mutual objectives is also something that we want you to be fully informed of. But most importantly, we want those to be the same goals that you would also have for your people and stability and peace in your countries.
Now, you have noticed that I have said your people, your country, things that are important for your people, and I have not said why we are involved. This is the pour quoi -- (chuckles) -- because when the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are secure, when they live in peace and they can see prospects for better futures than they experience today, that stability is also in my best interest and in the best interest of the American people and, indeed, in the best interest of the global community. And for me, just as for you, it is what we do today to make that stability something that our children and our children's children can also realize and enjoy.
So if you ask me why is this important to me, that is the reason. If you ask why is it important to the United States of America, that stability is the reason. And we all have a common goal for stability. I will stop there and maybe take some questions from you and listen to you a bit because I also like to learn from you. So voila.
Oh, we have an order for this already? You first, ah, okay. (Chuckles.) (In French, laughter.)
Q: (In French.)
GEN. WARD: Whew, you get all that?
TRANSLATOR: I got all that, sir. He said they are training a battalion who we are trying to make into a model battalion, a professional battalion. But in parliament, a lot of times the opposition criticizes the government for using the military for its own political means. Isn't there a risk of the government in power using this type of battalion with a greater capacity towards political means as opposed to the wellbeing of the country?
GEN. WARD: Prior to our involvement in training this battalion, we worked with your government. Our embassy in Kinshasa worked with your government with the idea of making the point that this battalion was a battalion that would be serving the people of the Congo as an example of increased professionalism that would serve the interests of all the people in ways that would lead to a position of how battalions are missioned, their activities that, indeed, reflect this overall role that they play to protect the people of your country and not be focused on the regime.
And so it is our certain understanding that the battalion will be used at these agreements have been set up. And you can -- in your role and the things that you do -- can also be a factor in addressing that and seeing if that, in fact, is the case. But clearly, that is our understanding. That is our expectation. And our training is going on with that in mind as the purpose for the battalion.
Q: He said when they were first learning about the training in Kisangani, there was the public reception that there would be a large contingency of Americans going down. But when they talked to the deputy mayor of Stuttgart, she was quite insistent that AFRICOM headquarters is going to stay here. How can we balance these two? How can AFRICOM go about perhaps increasing the presence or activities within Congo beyond a single -- beyond the training of a single battalion?
GEN. WARD: Well, you mentioned one of the deputy mayors here in Stuttgart. I just came from visiting with many of the Stuttgart area mayors. I will say that we are very happy here in Stuttgart because of our ability to do things from here. But it is a planning headquarters. It is a headquarters from which we plan our activities.
The most important element is contained in the work that we do and that is done on the continent of Africa. And our intention is to continue to increase the level of our work on the continent to the degree that our African partners ask us to do that. In that regard, we are looking at the size, the numbers, the amount of our personnel that we bring to the continent to do the work that we are asked to do.
We are doing it when it comes to the numbers of our military personnel that are in the embassies that are part of our offices of security cooperation that are located in most of the African capitals to include Kinshasa. And when there are programs and exercises and military-to-military activities that we would engage with our African partners and friends, then we will bring to that the numbers of military personnel required to carry out that program with our African partners.
The important thing is that our intention is that we do that in a sustained way over time whereby we establish good relationships, we establish good friends, we have good understanding and you know that you can count on us and we know that we can count on you as we conduct those military-to-military engagements. And as we continue to do these things, the confidence level goes higher and we continue to work together as good partners ensuring that the objectives that we both bring to the partnership are being met. So yes, the headquarters is here, but the work of the command goes on in Africa and that is the important piece.
Q: Two questions that are tied together. First of all, there are a lot of rumors, especially in Central Africa, the creation of AFRICOM was in direct response to the events of 9/11. And then making reference to the attacks in Uganda a couple of weeks ago, will that change the way that we work with the countries in Central Africa?
GEN. WARD: Merci beaucoup, mon ami, pour la question. (Laughter.)
Q: Merci, generale. (In French.)
GEN. WARD: The creation of AFRICOM was not in response to 9/11. When I was a major in 1980 -- I think -- '86 or 1987 in the Pentagon, there were discussions then about the geographic delineation for our, at that time, newly commands -- geographic commands that were being newly established. And so the discussion of should there be a separate command for Africa has been a discussion that has been going on for quite some time.
And there were many reasons why the decision had not been taken. But I think more important are the reasons why the decision was taken when it was done so now three-and-a-half years ago. And it was a reflection of what the United States saw as changing and a renewed interest on the part of Africans to do things that reflected the entire continent. It included the work being espoused by the African Union in a continental way. It reflected the Africans and the establishment of the regional economic communities and their desires and goals for economic development, peace and stability through the regional economic communities.
It reflected Africans more and more willing to step up and say we are responsible for our continent in its entirety, working together as friends and as neighbors, as partners within regions and, indeed, across the continent. It reflected a growing understanding of the importance of the continent of Africa in global affairs. And so the decision to reorganize how the Department of Defense did that work was a combination of all those factors and not just any single event.
And to cause how the Department of Defense looked at its relationships, its partnerships with the African nations to be on an equal par with how it looked at its relationships with nations in other parts of the world, South America, Europe, the Pacific, Asia, where there was a single command that looked only at a particular continent or region and not a command that only looked at Africa part time. And so in today's situation, the continent of Africa, its importance, its interests are represented on an equal basis with respect to inside the Department of Defense, just as are these other locations.
And our primary role is in doing the best that we can as we work with our partners to ensure that your interests that you have expressed when it comes to our military-to-military engagement are given the same level of -- given the same attention that is given as other nations are. And that is done now not through three separate commands, none of which had its primary focus on Africa, but now through a single command that does, in fact, have its primary focus on the continent of Africa.
I think to your second point, you know, those attacks that we recently saw in Uganda serve to highlight that no region of the world is safe from those who would seek to conduct violent acts of extremism against innocent people. And our partnering, our partnership is how we best can defeat those violent acts of terror that occur wherever they do all over the world. So we like most other nations of the world condemn those acts of terror. We condemn that violence. We are very, very sorry for the loss of innocent life. And we work together to keep it from happening as best we can.
Q: First of all, he said at the beginning of the century, there is some literature in the U.S. and I guess in the U.K., that there are theories that Congo and other countries in Africa were perhaps too big and the current borders were artificial. And it would be better if they were made into smaller countries. He said there are people in Congo who are worried about the balkanization of their country and wants to know what the U.S. approach or U.S. thoughts are in that respect.
And the second question, he said, you know, creating capable military always brings up the worries of having a capable military that is capable of carrying out a coup d'état. What can they say to the people of their country to alleviate the fears that are created by a capable military taking over power again?
GEN. WARD: Merci beaucoup, mon ami, pour la question excellent. (Laughter.) Sovereign borders are sovereign borders. There is absolutely nothing that I am aware of that is being undertaken that would cause that to change by the United States. We have absolutely no interest in changing, altering your borders, even though as you have indicated, some may say they may have been created artificially. They are what they are. They are sovereign. They are yours. Not our business.
We respect those borders and we respect the regional approach and appreciation for those borders as well. So it is certainly nothing in our intent, in our makeup to alter, to make smaller, not a part of what we are about, nor what we are considering as far as I know in any of my dealings with our government at multiple levels. It is our hope that nations and governments will continue to do the things that they need to do to take care of all their people no matter how small or how -- how small or how large. But that is your business.
The second question that you had with respect to the capable militaries is another good one. And clearly, any change of government by coup d'état or any other extra constitutional means for us, the United States of America, is something that we do not condone. So for us, a part of the program that we use as we work with our partner militaries is, in fact, a program that imparts the notion that militaries are subordinate to their elected civilian governments and leadership. They serve the people, that they conduct themselves in professional ways. They conduct themselves responsibly and that they are seen as protectors of their people and they have values that make that the case.
Our approach is one that reinforces those standards, those ideals of how militaries perform in civil society, in democratic societies. And we do that in our relationships. We do that hopefully in the example that we set as we work with our partner nations. Ultimately, it is up to the nations. But certainly our approach is one that incorporates and respects that subordinate relationship that the military has to the civilian government.
Q: As we are approaching the end of the training in Kisangani, are you satisfied with the selection criteria that was used to identify the soldiers that participated? And the second part of the question, are you satisfied -- do you have enough of a guarantee from the government of Congo that these soldiers will, in fact, be paid and be paid regularly, so as to avoid the risks of human right abuses?
GEN. WARD: Two very excellent questions again. The selection of personnel is one that our government prior to engaging in the training has established a set of criteria that is given to the nation who we would train with insofar as the selection of those personnel are concerned. That process is a process that is administered by our Department of State through the embassies, identifying persons who based on their records, information that is available, are judged to be trustworthy and honorable candidates to conduct that training.
And so that process occurred with this battalion, with these soldiers who are identified. And we would take it that based on that selection criteria that these soldiers who are receiving this training are, in fact, soldiers that will be honorable, that will be -- that will have values that will move forward in positive ways reflective of having selected people, soldiers that will serve in honorable ways in the military as we have -- as we have engaged in this partnership to conduct this training.
I, too, have a concern about their pay. And so I, too, am hopeful and optimistic that the agreement that the government made to ensure that those soldiers were paid is also and will also be carried out because we also are concerned about those things. The government has made a commitment to pay those soldiers on time and we are hopeful that they will do that. And obviously, you can also reinforce that in your writings.
But that is certainly the responsibility of the government. We have been told that they will be paid on time and regularly, so that they can live without having to go and do things in the local area with the local populations. So yes, we are hopeful and we look for the government to do its part in carrying out their obligation to ensure that these soldiers are paid as well. It is our desire and hope that these men all perform in honorable ways.
It is certainly a concern that we have and we are reinforcing both of these requirements, both of these points at -- diversion. (Laughter.) But we are also concerned about that and we pay attention to it because it is something that we, too, want to see happen in the appropriate and correct way. And I know the history of the Congolese army in that regard. It has not been a good one. We hope that this may be a way to help cause it to turn around so that all the things that we want it to be are, in fact, what is occurring.
MR. : Sir, is there anything you would like to say --
GEN. WARD: No, I don't have anything else I want to say other than I am happy that you are here. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask them of me, of my staff. It is important that you leave here with as complete an understanding of what we do and why we do it because I assure you that our purposes are purposes that hopefully are serving the best interest of the people of the Congo, the people of the United States and protecting them as best as we and our governments who are designed to do that can. And that is why we have entered into this partnership.
It is really, really good to have you here. And again, I must say that I am happy and pleased that you are here. I just hope that this week that you spent here has been time that you have enjoyed. But more importantly than enjoying it, you have learned something that you didn't know before and that increased understanding will be helpful as you do your very important job in providing the best understanding of the situation in balanced way as you can. And what we have tried to do is provide you the information that you can use to make that presentation in a way that shows the reality of what we are trying to do.
MR. : In the last minutes we have, just a couple of minutes, is there anything that you would like to tell Gen. Ward that he needs to know about your country or last-minute questions because we are going to have to break here in a minute and take a couple of pictures. But if you have anything. He is not going to be here tomorrow for the question-and-answer session with you. Is there something that you would like to ask him --?
GEN. WARD: Or tell me. Do you want to tell me something?
MR. : Or tell him.
Q: He understands it is their desire to have a strong Congo, a developed Congo. Congo is not direct to neighboring countries. He said one of the important things is, you know, we are organized. We have changed our organization. African countries need to be more organized as well. And there has been talk about a United States of Africa or a greater than just regional approach to Africa. What are your thoughts on that?
GEN. WARD: Well, that is your business. I think cooperating is important. How you do that is something that you have to do based on your history, your cultures. I cannot determine that for you. What I do know or what I think I know is cooperating, moving ahead, that is an important thing to do. How you do that is something that you have to determine. Sovereignty of your nations, sovereignty of your borders, talking to your people, that is something that I think is important. But how you do that is up to the people to decide, up to your people to decide.
Q: First of all, he said he grew up in a culture that when he is welcomed into somebody's home like this, he has to thank them. Since he is the senior person in the party, he would like to thank you for taking this time to talk to them, your willingness to answer questions and to talk a little bit about the things that concern them.
And then as a parting thing, he would like to see in the years to come, we are training a single battalion now, he would like to see that extended to two, three, four battalions. He would like to see a stronger relationship between Congo and the United States. Historically we have been good friends and we would like to see that friendship be reinforced in the years to come.
GEN. WARD: Thank you for your comments, sir. I appreciate your acknowledgement of our hospitality. Thank you for that. And where the relationship is goes is a function of what our two countries decide they want to do and how they want to do it. And as you know, we the military in my country, we do not make the policy. Our civilian leaders do that. But based on that, if the decision is to continue in moving ahead, then we are your partner to make that happen.
And a lot of it will -- some of the questions that you asked here, how will this battalion that we are now training, what will your country, what will your government do with that battalion? Those are questions that based on how they are answered may help to determine these next steps that will be taken.
MR. : May I ask you to step up and let's go outside and take a couple of pictures? Gen. Ward has got to put somewhere at 16:00.
GEN. WARD: Well, maybe they don't want to take a picture.
MR. : Oh, yes, they do, sir.