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TRANSCRIPT: General Ham Interviews with Defense Media Agency
<i>In an interview with Defense Media Agency reporter Donna Miles, March 13, 2012, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, talked about the command&#39;s roles and priorities. <br /> <br />Ham told Miles that AFRICOM&#39;s mission is
In an interview with Defense Media Agency reporter Donna Miles, March 13, 2012, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, talked about the command's roles and priorities.

Ham told Miles that AFRICOM's mission is to "strengthen the defense capabilities of individual African states as well as regional organizations so that they are increasingly capable of providing for their own security."

"Our role is almost always a supporting role, an enabling role. We train, we advise, we assist, sometimes we provide equipment, but all in an effort to try to enable the Africans to address problems on their own," he said. "And while it's certainly in our interest for that continent to be stable, it's better if the Africans decide how and when to do that."

Ham also addressed the question of current and future basing in Africa, reiterating that Camp Lemonnier is the only existing U.S. base in Africa, with approximately 2,400 personnel there at any one time. "Other than that, our presence across the continent is pretty small and in most places quite temporary," Ham said, adding that AFRICOM has no intentions of moving its headquarters to Africa. "The costs alone of establishing military bases in Africa, to me says that is probably not the direction we want to head in."

The complete transcript is provided below: MS. MILES: General Ham, thanks for talking to us about AFRICOM. You have a great story to tell. And let's start at the very beginning -- the stage setter. Can you explain a little bit about what the mission is of AFRICOM, what your objectives are and how that works into the concept of a safe, stable, secure Africa? GEN. HAM: Sure. I -- thanks for this opportunity. Our mission at U.S. Africa Command, like all geographic combatant commands around the world, is to advance the security interests of the United States, in our case particularly in Africa. Our primary role is to protect America, Americans and American interests from threats that might emanate from the continent of Africa. Our mission, very clearly, is to strengthen the defense capabilities of individual African states as well as regional organizations so that they are increasingly capable of providing for their own security which, frankly, is in our best interest. Again, like all combatant commands, we have to always be postured and prepared to conduct military operations should the president so direct. All of that effort is focused on helping to provide an environment in Africa which is conducive to good governance and development, all of which contribute to stability and security, which is very clearly in the United States' best interests. MS. MILES: If you could elaborate a little bit for people who might not really understand the connection, why does a safe, stable, secure Africa promote not only regional security but also U.S. national security interests? GEN. HAM: Well, there are a couple of reasons why Africa matters to the United States. Unfortunately, at present and right at the top of the list is the presence in Africa of some violent extremist organizations, which -- who have very clearly articulated an intent to attack the United States, its allies, its citizens and its interests both in Africa and also more broadly in Europe and some have at least stated the aspiration of attacking in the United States. So that's not a great situation, but that puts the security interests of the United States at a pretty high level of interest in Africa. But there are lots more reasons why we care about Africa. There's certainly a strong economic connection. There's a billion people in Africa. It's a growing population -- a young population. The economies in Africa are growing faster than most other places in the world. So there are economic opportunities. There are developmental opportunities. We'd like to see growing democratization, the people increasingly -- people of Africa increasingly choosing their own government. We think that contributes to regional and continental stability as well. There are humanitarian reasons that the United States is interested in Africa and helping people. It is our nature as the people of America to do that. And I think that tie is strong. More selfishly, there's -- there are political reasons. There are 54 countries in Africa. That's about one quarter of the member of the United Nations. So as the United States seeks to advance its interests globally, it's worthwhile -- it's helpful to have the support of other nations. So our interests in Africa run a very -- across a very broad spectrum, from security to economic development to political and human rights issues as well. MS. MILES: Well, in light of all that opportunity that's here and the fact that it is so much in our national interests, what do you see as the big regional threats and what trends are occurring that most concern you? GEN. HAM: At present, the things that kind of keep me awake at night are the presence of violent extremist organizations which take advantage of ungoverned or under-governed spaces in Africa to seek to destabilize individual nations and contribute to an overall regional instability. The three areas which are most affected right now in Africa are in East Africa, specifically in Somalia and the presence of a terrorist organization known as al-Shabaab which on the 9th of February of this year announced a formal linkage with al-Qaeda senior leaders. Secondly, in the northwestern part of the continent, particularly in the Sahara region, there's a group known as al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, again an al-Qaeda affiliate that's seeking to undermine the rule of law, undermine the governments in that part of Africa and again seek to establish the so-called Islamic caliphate in that part of Africa. And thirdly and more recently we've seen a group known as Boko Haram operating principally in northern Nigeria, again, a very violent organization, operating contrary to the central government in Nigeria. And that's been certainly very problematic over the past several months. While each of those three organizations is of concern, the greatest concern to me is the apparent intent of those organizations to find ways where they can collaborate, cooperate and synchronize their efforts. And so we're looking, along with our African partners, to find ways where we can deal not only with the individual organizations but try to do all we can to ensure that they're not able to synchronize and coordinate their efforts. MS. MILES: You touched on this but if you could elaborate a little bit: How is AFRICOM working to address these security challenges? GEN. HAM: One of the principles that we operate under is one that was espoused by President Obama in Ghana in 2009 when our president stated that in the long run, it's Africans who are best able to address African security challenges. The short hand for that is: African solutions to African problems. We recognize that and we try to abide by that in all that we do. So our efforts are taken largely by, with and through our African partners. So our role is almost always a supporting role, an enabling role. We train, we advise, we assist, sometimes we provide equipment, but all in an effort to try to enable the Africans to address problems on their own. They're better able. They understand the culture far better than we do. And ultimately these are their countries. It's their region; it's their continent. And while it's certainly in our interest for that continent to be stable, it's better if the Africans decide how and when to do that. MS. MILES: Now, when the command stood up, it was a very novel concept in how it was organized, and it was sort of the cutting edge of the whole-of-government approach to operations. How do you feel that the command's unique structure is supporting that whole-of-government approach to national security challenges? GEN. HAM: When Africa Command was first envisioned, there was some thought that a very large percentage of the headquarters staffing would come from outside of the Department of Defense, that we would have a very large interagency presence here in the headquarters. Unfortunately, that has not materialized that way over the past several years, not because anyone was particularly opposed to that idea, but just the capacity of the other departments and agencies of the U.S. government to provide large numbers of people to Department of Defense activity was pretty limited. So we have instead of large numbers of non-Department of Defense folks, we have a relatively small number, but a very senior presence here from the Department of State, from U.S. Agency for International Development, many other departments, Agriculture, Transportation, Homeland Security, the intelligence community. Non-DOD intelligence community is part of what we do here. All of that is intended to make sure that we don't take an exclusively military view to the challenges and the problems that we encounter, but rather that our actions, our plans are informed more broadly by those who have different experiences, different perspectives, different capabilities than most of us who grow up in the U.S. military. MS. MILES: With so much focus on capacity building and partnerships, what do you see as the real promising efforts that are under way here? GEN. HAM: Well, if I could talk about -- the African activities in Somalia, to me, are an example of what's possible through what we call building partner capacity or enabling the Africans to take the lead. In Somalia, again, the presence of al-Shabaab, a known terrorist organization, is -- that organization is operating to prevent the Transitional Federal Government -- the government of Somalia -- from exerting its control across the country. The African Union several years ago took a very bold step and formed what's known as the African Union Mission in Somalia -- AMISOM. And neighboring countries have contributed forces to that mission to attempt to provide security in Somalia. Notably, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti have committed military forces to this mission, but they asked for a little bit of help. And so through our partnership with the State Department in a U.S. State Department-led activity that AFRICOM supports, we provided -- we, the U.S. government, provided the training and equipping for those forces from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti to deploy to Somalia to conduct their operations. No American military folks on the ground with them. Our training is done in their host countries. And I think that's a proper and correct role for us and it's starting now to have a significant benefit. We're seeing those African forces being more and more successful against al-Shabaab each and every day. So I think that's one example of how building partner capacity really yields a decisive result in Africa. MS. MILES: You came to the command at a very interesting time. People who had never even heard of U.S. Africa Command certainly did very shortly after you arrived, with the Libya operations. What do you see as the biggest success stories at the command since its standup and since your arrival? GEN. HAM: Well, Libya certainly kind of captured the headlines, at least about this time a year ago, just because of the nature of the mission. And I am very, very proud of how this command and all those across who are associated with Africa Command performed in that role. And I'm very honored, along with Chief Master Sergeant Jack Johnson -- our senior enlisted leader -- just last week, to be able to present to the command the Joint Meritorious Unit award, which the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented to the command for its performance during Operation Odyssey Dawn, the operations in Libya. So that clearly was probably the most visible thing that we've done. But actually, the things I'm most proud of in the command are things that go largely unnoticed. It's the quiet, small-scale activities -- you know, small groups of America's service members, civilian employees, others from the interagency who work often behinds the scenes with our African partners, enabling them to do things that they otherwise would not be capable of doing. And this runs a broad range of activities. We're very heavily engaged in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. That doesn't get a lot of notoriety. It's not a particularly headlining topic. But it is, nonetheless, very important. And I'm really glad to see our activities there. We work with African states, particularly in the western part of the continent, on countering the flow of illicit drugs. There's been some pretty good progress in that area as well. We work with the professionalization of militaries and the formation of noncommissioned officer corps in African countries where there's been no tradition of such -- small steps like that that make a lot of difference. So it's the day-to-day activities, I think, that I'm very proud of here. MS. MILES: And you're right, not well understood. And that's great to highlight. What particular lessons did you take out of that Libya experience, and did the command take out of that, that can be applied in some of these other missions that you're carrying out and future operations as well? GEN. HAM: Well, you have to be careful about applying specific lessons learned from one place to another because the conditions are always a little bit different. The first and foremost thing, I think, that Africa Command learned from operations in Libya is that combatant commands have to be capable all the time of operating across the spectrum of conflict. It's probably not going to be very often where Africa command goes to the more kinetic, the more offensive operations in Africa. But nonetheless we have to be ready to do that if the president requires that of us. More often our activities are going to be smaller-scale and certainly less offensive in their nature. And that's generally where we operate. But there is an expectation that we must be able to do the full range of military activities. I think that's the first one. Secondly, the lesson is that we're not going to do operations alone. We're always going to do them as part of some type of a coalition. So building the processes, the mechanisms that allow us to readily incorporate the capabilities of other nations is an important aspect for us as well. As we think back to Odyssey Dawn, it was a natural connectivity with the NATO forces, because we have long-standing relationships with them. But many non-NATO countries, particularly Arab countries, joined that coalition as well. And we had to make sure that we were postured to incorporate them very quickly. I think that's a good lesson for us as we think about operations across Africa in the future. And lastly, I would say it's the value of understanding the area in which we operate. Cultural understanding, the intelligence that drives our operations, is always the foundation of all that we do. So we've got to be attuned to that wherever we operate in Africa. MS. MILES: Fantastic. New strategic guidance -- when that came out, the idea of small footprint, innovative ways of doing things, smarter operations, using more whole-of-government -- that must have really struck a chord with you. It sounds like Africa Command. (Chuckles.) How does this new guidance impact the command, and how do you see it influencing how you move forward? GEN. HAM: Well, first I would say that then-Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and continuing with Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, were very inclusive in this process. The chiefs of service, the service secretaries and the combatant commands were brought into these discussions very early and very openly. And we discussed a broad range of strategic options. And we all got to have our opportunities to voice our concerns, our opinions, our recommendations not only to the assembled group but to the secretary of defense and to the president. So we all -- this was a participatory process that yielded ultimately to provide strategic guidance. So I'm very comfortable in the -- in the process that yielded that. Some look at that strategic guidance and say, well, the word Africa only appears one time in that whole document. So does this mean that we don't care about Africa anymore? And I say, no, that's the -- in my view, that's the wrong takeaway. If you look at the objectives that are outlined in that strategic guidance -- of countering violent extremist organizations, of ensuring access, of building partner capacity -- these are all themes and primary activities for Africa Command. So I think what we do here -- what we have been doing under General Ward's leadership and continuing to today -- I think it's consistent with that revised strategic guidance. But we do live in a different world. I mean, this is the fiscal realities of this current environment change how we have to think about doing business. I think for us it means two things. First, I think it necessitates a much sharper prioritization. We simply won't be able to do all of the things that we have been doing in the past. We've got to have a very clear understanding of what activities yield the most beneficial results and weight our efforts toward those high-payoff events, if you will. So sharper prioritization is first. And secondly I think we have to increase our focus on conducting regional activities vice exclusively bilateral engagement with each individual nation. Regional approaches and bringing together many nations and organizations is inherently a more efficient way of doing business. But I also think it's consistent with how the African Union is beginning to think about security operations in Africa, more on a regional basis than a bilateral basis. MS. MILES: Well, you've made the point, both at CSIS last fall and on the Hill last week, the fact that AFRICOM's effect goes way beyond its investment. Can you elaborate a little bit about how you're maximizing the command that way? GEN. HAM: Yeah. I think we do get disproportionate positive effect for a relatively small investment. We don't use lots of troops. You know, generally our exercises, our engagement are pretty small-scale: an individual ship, such as ongoing in West Africa at present; small groups of Marines; maybe a group of Seabees; small Air Force maintenance detachment; maybe some Army veterinarians operating in an area. A very modest effect, but the effect is multiplied because our focus is on training and enabling the Africans to do things themselves. So there is this compounding effect that results from our engagement. Some of it is "train the trainer," where we focus on training Africans, and then they carry that to their larger forces. Some of it is investment in leader development, both in Africa and back in the United States, and those leaders then return to their militaries and expand that knowledge and that information. So it's those kinds of activities I think -- we're planting seeds, if you will, and allowing those to develop and grow. MS. MILES: I know when the command was standing up there was discussion about, does this mean the U.S. has interest in creating bases in Africa? Can you talk a little bit about -- first of all, we have troop presence in Djibouti. And there's discussion about the headquarters. And I think a decision is expected this year, I believe. Can you tell me about the status of that? GEN. HAM: Sure. We do have one enduring operational base in Djibouti -- about 2,400 personnel there at any one time. It's a great strategic location. It facilitates not only operations for U.S. Africa Command but also for U.S. Central Command and U.S. Transportation Command as well. It's a very key hub and important node for us. So it's a good location. It allows us to extend our reach in East Africa and partner with the countries of East Africa from a good location there. But other than that, our presence across the continent is pretty small and in most places quite temporary, with the exception of the attaches and the and the Offices of Security Cooperation. And I think that's right for us. I think there are some concerns that some African countries have voiced about a large U.S. military footprint on the continent -- though, to be sure, other countries have welcomed that presence. So there are some -- certainly some differing views amongst the different countries of Africa. But the costs alone of establishing military bases in Africa to me says this is probably not the direction that we want to head in. With regard to the headquarters, then-Secretary Gates and General Ward at the formation of the command understood -- there was a lot of discussion about where would the headquarters be. The two of them, I think very wisely, made the decision to defer that decision and to say, for now the headquarters will stay at Stuttgart, and we'll make a subsequent decision in 2012 after we've had a couple of years of the command operating. Well, now we find ourselves in 2012. The Congress has asked for the Department of Defense to conduct a review of headquarters-basing alternatives. That review is under way and is expected to be delivered to the Congress next month. We're a part of that conversation, but not the lead for that determination because there's lots of other factors that apply to the department as to where the location should be. I would say quite simply, though, we've been very well-served by our headquarters here in Stuttgart. We have a great quality of life for our service members, our civilians and their families. We're well-supported by the local community here. We have a good facility from which we can operate. We're close to an international airport that facilitates air travel to the continent for the staff and for others. We don't think much about it, but generally being in the same time zones as most of our African partners is a useful thing. We're kind of on the same daily rhythm as they are, if you will. But having said that, there are other factors. There are economic factors and others that will be considered. And I'm confident that OSD will come up with a good recommendation. And we'll proceed from there. MS. MILES: You touched on the partnering issue. And with the location here in Stuttgart, Linds (ph) brings up this question. It appears that in your operations you take the expertise from AFRICOM, but you're able to tap into resources both from EUCOM and from CENTCOM. How does this partnership support your overall objectives? GEN. HAM: Well, I think, you know, all of us realize that the security issues that we face are increasingly regional and transnational. So while we have a tendency to draw boundaries, you know, between U.S. Africa Command and European Command and Central Command, the issues transcend those boundaries. And so there's a necessary collaboration and cooperation amongst the various commands and agencies. In the case of European Command and Central Command, the two geographic commands with whom we work most closely, there's a very strong partnership. And it's the right way to have that kind of partnership. First of all, we don't have any forces. So in Libyan operations, for example, we relied very heavily on European Command's forces, both air and maritime, to support -- to conduct operations in Libya. And that was a very seamless transition. The same can be true in CENTCOM. It's very common for us to share maritime platforms. So the same ship, the same aircraft could one day be supporting U.S. Central Command and their operations, and the next day it'd be supporting U.S. Africa Command. And again, those transitions work quite seamlessly. The other partnerships that are important for us, particularly here in Stuttgart, are the connections with NATO and with the European Union. NATO obviously assumed the lead for operations in Libya once the AFRICOM- and U.S.-led coalition was concluding its mission. That again was a very seamless transition. But on an enduring basis, NATO and the European Union have longstanding interests in Africa. So it's important for us to be able to partner with those two international organizations as we move forward. And we generally do that through European Command, who has the longstanding ties with those two groups. MS. MILES: Thank you. You touched on this earlier, but can you talk to me a little bit about the role of the interagency in AFRICOM and how this helps steer you to success? GEN. HAM: We have resident in the headquarters a number of very senior persons from other organizations in the U.S. government outside the Department of Defense. The three most senior -- I have a civilian deputy who is a senior foreign service officer, a former ambassador. Our director for outreach is similarly a senior foreign service officer and former ambassador. Both of them served as chiefs of mission in Africa, have long African experience. They bring with them that depth of cultural understanding, the perspective of a chief of mission, and what is that chief of mission looking to the U.S. military to provide. It's a very, very helpful perspective for us to have. And our third most senior non-DOD person is our senior developmental adviser from the U.S. Agency for International Development, because so much of what we do has a development focus. And we look for partnering, not only with USAID, but with nongovernmental organizations. So again, his perspective, long service in AID, helps us better understand how we can contribute the U.S.' unique military capabilities to an overall U.S. approach towards the African countries. In addition to those very senior representatives, we have a foreign policy adviser. We have others -- foreign service officers and others from the State Department. We have representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, to include the U.S. Coast Guard, who operate very closely with us. We have folks from Commerce, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from the Department of Agriculture on food security issues -- a very wide range of expertise across the command. MS. MILES: Sir, what have we not asked you that you'd like people to know about Africa and AFRICOM and the members of your command? GEN. HAM: Africa is a part of the world which the U.S. military frankly has not paid much attention to, and certainly not in the time that I've been growing up as a soldier. It was kind of an afterthought. And there are very few in the U.S. military who have African expertise. There are -- there's a small cohort of the foreign area officers who serve as attaches and as chiefs of the Offices of Security Cooperation across the continent, and a small number of intelligence analysts. But most of us haven't paid much attention to Africa over the past many years. I think that's starting to change. And there's a recognition that, even with the geographic focus of the Department of Defense being in Asia and the Mideast, Africa still matters, and it perhaps matters in increasing ways to us, to our allies and partners around the world. So I think the more we understand about Africa, the more cultural understanding we get -- I think we'll find that we have more in common with the African people than we think. And that I think bodes well for us into the future. I see it as a continent of great opportunity, certainly of great challenge. In my travels over this first year in the command, I've met lots of heads of state and ministers of defense, chiefs of defense, lots of other senior government officials, but regular people as well. And what I find is a tremendous sense of optimism. They do in fact recognize the challenges that they face. And they're realistic about that. But they also have this sense that they're going to overcome those challenges and move forward. One of the lasting comments that has stayed with me in a meeting fairly early on in my tenure with a chief of defense in Africa -- and we were talking about challenges and programs that we might be able to assist with. And he looked at me and he says, General, he says, we have a lot of challenges. We're a poor country. We need some help; we need some assistance. But more than help, what we really want is partnership. That's really resonated with me, because that's what I find across the continent, is this strong desire to have a partnership. And a true partnership is a relationship which is mutually beneficial. And that's what I'm finding. It's my hope that our assistance, our partnership, helps the Africans that we interact with. I know for certain that it benefits us. Every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman who interacts with Africans comes away from that experience better. They're more capable. They have a better cultural understanding. They're going to be able to make a greater contribution to our country. So this is a partnership that I think is really beneficial to us, and one that we want to continue to strengthen and deepen. MS. MILES: I thank you so much for your time, sir, and very enlightening conversation. (END)