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TRANSCRIPT: Ham Discusses AFRICOM Mission With African Journalists, PAOs at Symposium
<i>At the Public Affairs and Media Symposium in Garmisch, Germany, on August 29, 2012, General Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, spoke to African journalists and military public affairs officers via conference call. <br /> <br />Topics
At the Public Affairs and Media Symposium in Garmisch, Germany, on August 29, 2012, General Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, spoke to African journalists and military public affairs officers via conference call.

Topics included U.S. Africa Command headquarters' location in Germany and how AFRICOM is assisting partner nations in combating terrorism.

As General Ham explained, "The military is a necessary element of a strategy to defeat terrorism, but the military cannot do it on their own. To successfully defeat terrorism requires not only the collective efforts of many nations, but it requires the combined effects of military, diplomatic, development, economic, good governance, education, food security - it requires all of those to work in concert to address the underlying causes that establish the conditions in which young people, primarily young men, find themselves attracted to these terrorist organizations."

"What we try to do at U.S. Africa Command is through a number of activities, to strengthen the defense capabilities of African countries and, especially, to find ways to strengthen the regional capabilities in Africa to counter terrorism. So as an example of that, if I could choose just one, would be in Somalia where al-Shabaab, as you all know, a well-known al-Qaeda-affiliated organization, has been operating for a number of years."

General Ham was also asked about the key challenges in working with U.S. Africa Command's African partners. He replied, "If I could choose one area where I think we need to improve - AFRICOM and the African militaries - it would be in the area of regional cooperation. And there is a good model for the African Standby Force, as directed by the African Union and its regional economic communities, but in most cases those regional forces have not really, truly come to fruition. And I think that's an area which we can work on together, and I think that AFRICOM has the ability to offer some assistance - certainly, other countries will want to be engaged in that as well."

General Ham concluded the question-and-answer period by saying, "I always say, for the public affairs officers in the room, I think you have a very significant responsibility to be the bridge, if you will - the connecting bridge between your military forces and your people. And the way that the people can get information is through the journalists who are there in the room with you and those with whom you work in the host country."

The Public Affairs and the Media Symposium brought together military public affairs officers and civilian journalists from African partner nations to discuss case studies and best practices and to improve public affairs planning and execution capabilities.

The transcript is included below. GEN. HAM: (in progress) … I hope that the conference and the first few days of the conference have been useful to you and productive for you. I know it's been very beneficial - Colonel Davis has reported back to me that there have been some very good and lively discussions, which is what one would expect from a group of professionals such as yourselves. So rather than me wasting a lot of time talking about things that you've probably already talked about, I would - I would much rather just hear any comments or questions that you may have, and we'll go from there. I'll leave it to Colonel Davis to select who gets to say what when. (Cross talk.) Q: My name is Ken Sackey. I report for the Ghana News Agency. So my question is, Africa is a unique geographical entity and AFRICOM needs a physical presence to function effectively on the continent. The initial misconceptions about the command have been dispelled somewhat. What is preventing the U.S from sitting a command on the continent? Because it is erroneous to say you have not been invited by African states, because you have always been in Africa. GEN. HAM: Thank you very much for that - for that question, and I'm not surprised that this question has arisen. You're exactly right to say that when Africa Command was first formed, there was a lot of discussion about where should the headquarters be and specifically, should the headquarters be on the continent. And I think, as those of you in the room are aware, there were mixed views from African countries about the presence of AFRICOM headquarters in Africa. In fact, there were some questions about AFRICOM, whether it was needed or not. So the decision was made, the U.S. decision was made that it was probably best to form the headquarters here in Stuttgart. There have been some African countries who have quietly made it known to the United States that if the U.S. wanted to establish a headquarters, they might be willing to have that discussion. But there have been other countries, other African countries that have also stated very clearly they do not think that the AFRICOM headquarters should be on the continent. So that discussion has occurred over the past several years. Today, the reality is we find ourselves in a financial situation that it simply is too costly to build a new headquarters anywhere on the continent of Africa. We are very well served by our headquarters here in Germany. We do have, I think as most of you know, a large presence in Djibouti where we share a Djiboutian military base, which is also where their civilian airport is, and we have about 2,000 U.S. personnel there that allow us to achieve what we need to achieve in that part of Africa and gets us the African - (inaudible) - have some presence on the continent. So at present, the U.S. has made a decision that we will not pursue establishing the AFRICOM headquarters at any location in Africa, and there's no funding or any other plan or any other proposal to do that, so that's where we are today. We'll keep our headquarters here in Germany, and no plans to establish headquarters in Africa. That's probably a longer answer than you - than you wished for, but that's how I think things are today. Thank you. Q: General Ham, my name is Mohammed Abdulkadri, the defense correspondent with the Nigerian Television Authority. My question goes thus: In partnering Africa to achieve political stability, what is AFRICOM doing to assist the continent in fighting the terrorism in the continent? This a big challenge facing African continent, terrorism, and indeed the whole world. But what is the role of AFRICOM in tackling this problem? Thank you, sir. GEN. HAM: Well, thank you very much, and certainly Nigeria and many other countries faces this challenge of terrorism. It is, from my standpoint, it is the most significant threat to security and stability in Africa today. And because terrorists are in some places in Africa able to operate outside of government control, we do worry that that - that their ability to extend their operations beyond Africa poses a threat to the United States and United States' interests as well. So fighting terrorism, combatting terrorism, is an area where the United States and African countries have a great deal of shared security interests. We also recognize that no one country can successfully address terrorism by themselves. It does require a collective approach, a regional approach, an international approach to combatting terrorists. We also recognize, and I think all of us in both the U.S. and in all of the African militaries recognize that the military by itself cannot successfully defeat terrorists. The military is a necessary element of a strategy to defeat terrorism, but the military cannot do it on their own. To successfully defeat terrorism requires not only the collective efforts of many nations, but it requires the combined effects of military, diplomatic, development, economic, good governance, education, food security - it requires all of those to work in concert to address the underlying causes that establish the conditions in which young people, primarily young men, find themselves attracted to these terrorist organizations. What we try to do at U.S. Africa Command is through a number of activities, to strengthen the defense capabilities of African countries and, especially, to find ways to strengthen the regional capabilities in Africa to counter terrorism. So as an example of that, if I could choose just one, would be in Somalia where al-Shabaab, as you all know, a well-known al-Qaeda-affiliated organization, has been operating for a number of years. The African Union in many countries not only in East Africa but across the continent decided that it - that they were not going to tolerate that situation any longer, and they made a plan for the African Union mission in Somalia, troop-contributing nations to combat al-Shabaab. They asked the international community, to include the United States, for a little bit of help and a little bit of assistance. So that's, I think, the ideal role for AFRICOM is to help African countries - in this case, Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and now Sierra Leone - Ethiopia goes outside of the African Union mission in Somalia - with a little bit of assistance, training, equipping, a little bit of information sharing to help those forces be most successful. I think that's our best goal. Rather than U.S. military personnel becoming directly involved in combat operations in Africa, I think our role is best when we try to help African militaries become more effective. Q: Good afternoon, General. My name is Kilasa Mtambalike from Tanzania. I report with the Daily News. And my question is on the role of AFRICOM in combating piracy on the Indian Ocean in terms of its successes, operational course, and future plans as per current trend. Thank you. GEN. HAM: Good, thanks. I think - I think, as you know and I suspect Colonel Davis has explained to all of you, the waters off East Africa - from the border between Somalia and Kenya and to the north - the waters off of Somalia fall into the responsibility of United States Central Command. So the majority of maritime counterpiracy activities are done under the auspices of a different command than mine. But we also recognize that to effectively counter piracy, the real solutions lie ashore. And so in the case of the Indian Ocean piracy, most of which emanates from Somalia. We know that until such time as there is an effective governance, an effective court system and stability, security and, frankly, economic alternatives, then piracy will continue to be somewhat of a problem in the Indian Ocean. We have seen, and I think you've seen the reports over the past few days that indicate that successful pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean have significantly declined over the past year. We believe that is mostly attributable to the fact that the shipping companies are taking increased security measures, many of them to include armed security teams aboard their ships. I believe that it's still true that no ship which has had an embarked security team has been successfully pirated in the Indian Ocean. So that's a significant step. But the other point that you raised is a - is a very, very good one. And this is until there is a legal system through which pirates can be subject in a court system, a prison system, then I think we're going to continue to have problems with piracy. I think you and others should be very proud of the role that Tanzania has played in having one of the most effective court systems to deal with piracy, and that certainly is a welcomed matter. What we hope to see in the future as the new Somali government forms is that we will look for ways not only for the United States but for other countries to help that new government establish effective means of addressing piracy, and then I think only then, when we have a concerted effort that combines the efforts at sea and the efforts onshore, will we be able to make really significant progress in conquering piracy. Thank you. Q: Good afternoon, General. My name is Thapelo Mabote from Lesotho reporting for Business Edge Newspaper. I would like to know, General, if any of the programs being offered by AFRICOM can be any change or be affected by any political change within USA? Thank you. GEN. HAM: It's a timely question because, as you know, we are in the midst of an election season where the next president of the United States will be - will be determined in November. And many of your countries also in their - in the midst of - many African countries also in the midst of elections as well. Typically, the United States military is considered an apolitical organization, meaning that the oath that we take, the allegiance that we take is to the Constitution of the United States, not to a particular individual or … certainly not to a particular political party, but rather, we try to see ourselves as outside of the political dimension and responsive to legitimate civilian control, whoever that shall be. It is - but I should say as presidents change, and the secretary of defense, who is a civilian appointee, may change, and to each - each administration has its own imprint and its own thoughts about U.S. foreign policy, then we can see some shifts over time in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy. But I think if you take a long view and if you look over a number of years, that no matter who the president has been or no matter which political party they have come from, our foreign policy has been relatively constant. With all of that said, I would say I'm - I would not expect to see any significant change in how U.S. AFRICOM continues its activities and its engagements as a result of the selection of the next president of the United States. I think our systems are sound, I think our programs are appropriately focused on seeking ways to effectively partner with African militaries, and I think that that will endure no matter what - no matter what the outcome of the upcoming presidential election shall be. Q: General, my name is Billy Kazoka from Lusaka, Zambia. I report for Radio Phoenix. I want to find out what AFRICOM is doing in line with its mission statement to assist the interim government in Mali, which is facing a threat of terrorism by some al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations because people have been displaced from the North. Thank you. GEN. HAM: Yeah, Mali is probably the most significant security challenge in Africa today, where nearly two-thirds of the country, as you all know very well, is outside of government control. There are a number of factors that affect U.S. Africa Command's activities in Mali. Once the - once the military coup occurred, the U.S. law requires us to immediately cease all military-to-military activities with Mali. So since March, when the - when the coup occurred and this military junta overthrew the legitimate government, we have had no military-to-military engagement with the Malian armed forces, and that's directed by U.S. law that requires us to cease our operations. We do, however, maintain close relationships with ECOWAS, and we do know that ECOWAS is in continual discussion with the interim government in Bamako about what ways, if any, that ECOWAS may be able to assist the government in Mali to stabilize and then to re-establish government control in the northern portion of Mali. The United States has clearly stated that we are supportive of ECOWAS activities in this regard, and we await any request for assistance from ECOWAS. I would not envision and I do not - I do not see any possibility of U.S. troops being involved in any such operation. I think that is best done by the ECOWAS members. But there are perhaps other ways in which the U.S. could assist, as with the - with logistics, with information that could facilitate operations and enabling activities such as that - but not U.S. troops on the ground. It's my understanding that ECOWAS - that the ECOWAS heads of state have not yet made a determination as to what their course of action will be, and we expect to stay very closely aligned with them and stand ready to assist should ECOWAS request our assistance. It's a great question, and I think, at least more in the near term, it is perhaps the question - at least in West Africa and in the Sahel - I think is how Mali will eventually reestablish a legitimate government, constitutionally-based government, and then extend the control of that government into the areas of the country which are now controlled by extremist organizations. Thank you. Q: Good afternoon, General. My name is Solomon Sserwanja. I'm a reporter with NTV Uganda. And my question is, are you satisfied with AMISOM's mission in Somalia in combatting the al-Shabaab, and if so, why? GEN. HAM: Yes. Thank you very much. I believe the AMISOM mission … it has been tremendously successful. If you look over just the past six months or maybe the past 12 months, the amount of territory which was previously controlled by al-Shabaab, which has now been liberated from al-Shabaab, it is an extraordinary amount of territory. And that has been done exclusively by the extraordinary efforts of the African Union Mission forces in Somalia, and alongside Somali forces from the former transitional federal government. But there should be no question - it has been principally the AMISOM forces who have achieved great success, and I think there is tremendous credit that is due to the leaders of Uganda and Burundi especially, as the two longest-serving members of AMISOM, but now also of Kenya, Djibouti. We hope that Sierra Leone will come soon, as well. And again, Ethiopia, though not formally a part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, has contributed very significantly to an overall success. So it's - so two things I would say about this mission. First, the fact that it is African-led, it is African-controlled, it is the military leaders responding to the political direction from their civilian governments that have brought them together to operate so effectively together - I think that's a great model potentially for other areas in Africa. And lastly, we should always remember the large number of African soldiers who have fought and died - some wounded - to achieve stability and security in Somalia. It is a tremendous sacrifice for the nations that are involved; it is especially a tremendous sacrifice for the families who have lost loved ones. But it is in the cause to allow Somalia to be returned to the control of Somalis. And that is an honorable cause, a worthy cause, and we're very, very glad to be a small part of it. But there should not be any doubt that it has been the Africans who have achieved this very notable accomplishment. It's not over yet, as you know very well; there's still some hard fighting to be done. But I think the progress that has been achieved to date is truly remarkable and is worthy of high praise. Q: Afternoon, General. My name is Steve Chilundu; I work with Capital Radio Malawi. I would like to find out as to what key challenges do you encounter as you partner with African countries, and how do you address them to sustain the working relationship? Thank you. GEN. HAM: Yeah. It's a - it's a very good question, and it goes to the - it addresses the longer-term issues of how we want to maintain our effective partnership and our military engagements with the African countries and their militaries. If I could choose one area where I think we need to improve - AFRICOM and the African military - it would be in the area of regional cooperation. And there is a good model for the African Standby Force, as directed by the African Union and its regional economic communities, but in most cases those regional forces have not really, truly come to fruition. And I think that's an area which we can work on together, and I think that AFRICOM has the ability to offer some assistance - certainly, other countries will want to be engaged in that as well. But if I could choose one area where the - where I'd like to see us make improvements in our relationship with African military, it would be in regional cooperation. Q: Afternoon, General. My name is Bryan Dioka; I'm with Botswana Television. Now, please share with us what are the challenges, or where are challenges and positives, in setting up a military base anywhere in the world? Maybe the lack - or maybe the apprehension from our political leadership in Africa is lack of knowledge and understanding. GEN. HAM: I don't think it's so much lack of knowledge and understanding. They - the real challenge for us is, first of all, we would only want to establish a base where there is a necessity for establishing a base. And in Africa, it's my view that we do not need a headquarters or any other base - other than our presence in Djibouti - in Africa. The direction that I have received from the secretary of defense in a document that I suspect many of you have read - it's called the strategic guidance document that was issued earlier this year - it tells me, in Africa, that it is the U.S. Department of Defense's objective - the secretary of defense's objective that in Africa we should seek a small footprint and innovative approaches to our engagements and our partnering with African countries. When I read that, and as I have my discussions with the secretary of defense, I don't think that a large U.S. military base or the presence of our headquarters in Africa fits that model. So that, I think, is the first issue to be addressed, is do we need the presence in Africa? And I would say today, no, we don't. But if there were such a requirement, then the other issues would be cost, access - you know, immediate status of forces agreements - in all of those, eventually, it gets very legalistic and very financially intensive, in other words, to pursue that. But I would come back to my basic point, which is I'm very satisfied with the arrangement that we have today, with the access that we have today. We do not seek a headquarters location on the continent, nor do I think we need one. Q: Afternoon, General. My name is Mbongeni; I come from Swaziland. My question is basically your view - maybe seeking your opinion - on how you relate to so-called undemocratic regimes insofar as your presence in their countries, and how you basically operate with them? GEN. HAM: Could you say the question again - how we interact with who? Q: Yes, General. Undemocratic regimes - how do you interact with them? GEN. HAM: Undemocratic regimes. Q: Yes. GEN. HAM: OK. It is a very good question. We recognize that, you know, that as a U.S. military organization we are but one part of the United States foreign policy in Africa. So we fit into a larger construct. And in a document - again, that I suspect many of you have read - it's called the "Presidential Policy Directive for Sub-Saharan Africa" - President Obama outlines the principles of U.S. foreign policy in sub-Saharan Africa. And he lays out four principles. One of them focuses on security, and that's the one that we focus on. But the others focus on economic development, on development of good and sound governments that are selected by the people, and respect for human rights and what-have-you. So we have to make sure that our military activities are consistent with the other efforts made by the U.S. government in our dealings within a particular country. So as one example, we have a law that requires us, if we were going to conduct a military training with an African military - you know, it applies globally, not just Africa - but in our case in Africa Command - we're dealing with an African military. Before we can undertake the training with any individuals in that military, there's a requirement to go through what we call human rights (inaudible) - a background check to make sure that none of the people that we're training with have engaged in human rights violations, rules violations of law and the like. So that's one way in which Africa Command supports the overall U.S. policy of working with government that adheres to the rule of law. We do believe that military organizations and military forces in Africa are best when they are professional, when they are capable, when they are responsive to legitimate civilian control, when they operate under the rule of law and they see themselves as protectors of the nation and protectors of the people. And I think all of those attributes make them supporters of democratic styles of government. So that's what we try to instill as we engage with African militaries. In some - there are some countries, some small number of countries in Africa, with the military - with militaries that we do not engage with, and that is principally because either a particular government is under sanctions or has other issues which the U.S. government disagrees with. And so we are restricted from military-to-military engagement with some of those countries. But - so - that's kind of how I see us - again, it's one of many organizations in the U.S. government who support U.S. foreign policy objectives, one of which is to support self-determination by the governments - by the people of, in particular, African countries. COL. DAVIS: Sir, the - I know you have a tight schedule, but we have one more question, and then we'll hit all the - one question from every country. GEN. HAM: OK, Tom, thank you. Q: Good afternoon, General. My name is Vel Moonien from the island of Mauritius. My question would be, is there any criticism back in the U.S. about AFRICOM's mode of operation on the continent, like doing social work? Would it not be the role of other agencies? GEN. HAM: I'm not sure I exactly understand the question. Is that - is the question that you - are we - Q: Are there any criticism against the role of AFRICOM on the continent, like say doing social work? Is it - wouldn't it be the role of the agencies? GEN. HAM: OK. So I - let me just make sure I understand the question. The question is, are we involved in activities that are traditionally the role of other U.S. government agencies? Is that - Q: Yes, that's it. GEN. HAM: OK. No, we try not to be. We recognize that there are a broad number of U.S. organizations that operate in Africa, and we seek where we can to make sure our efforts are complimentary for those organizations. Where we - perhaps the point where there is some friction - and I know there has been - there's been some recent publication about this - is with - between the military and the U.S. Agency for International Development. We do think that it is necessary for us to have a very close alignment and a very good understanding between AFRICOM and USAID, but our objectives and our expertise are somewhat different. We do think that there are ways in which we can - we at AFRICOM can help African militaries - through civil affairs and small works projects - help, you know, their countries in establishing some needed facilities. But large-scale projects - large-scale, longer-term development projects are more appropriately the purview of USAID and others who have not only the expertise, but they also have the authority and the funding for those kinds of projects. So if I may, just like one example. We may, between Africa Command and an African military, we may partner together to do a small health clinic in a remote area that would be used not only to provide a needed service to a community, but it would be an opportunity for the host nation military, the African military, to gauge support and to establish a bit of a presence in an area. But it would be a small project. If there was a discussion about a hospital or a large-scale medical effort, that's far beyond the scope of AFRICOM and that would revolve more appropriately to USAID. What we do want to make sure that we do is that we coordinate our activities, and we do that through the United States embassy in each country so that the ambassador - the U.S. ambassador - has the opportunity to review all of our proposals, and we only conduct those activities which the U.S. ambassador approves. And the ambassador, of course, also has a USAID mission director or other staff on his country team who help the ambassador make good decisions about which aid agency or organization should conduct which activities. So again - yes, we do some small civic works projects; we do some small education projects. Ours are - ours tend to be focused on the military, always with a military connection to the host nation - and then the larger-scale activities by others in the U.S. government. So thanks for that question. And again, just thank all of you for taking the time to come spend a few days together in Garmisch. I hope that you find it is beneficial. I always say, for the public affairs officers in the room, I think you have a very significant responsibility to be the bridge, if you will - the connecting bridge between your military forces and your people. And the way that the people can get information is through the journalists who are there in the room with you and those with whom you work in the host country. It's not always easy. The military and journalists don't always see eye-to-eye. That's OK. But I think what we have to make sure that we always have is, through the public affairs office - officers, an ability to stay connected. What we have found in the U.S. military is that when the American people have an understanding of what the U.S. military is doing, they are largely supportive. And it is almost always the reporters, the journalists outside of the military who are the ones who are informing the people about the military's activities. So this is a very important relationship, and one that I would encourage the public affairs officers here to foster relationships with the journalists that you're there with and those with whom you serve in your host countries. Again, not that we will always agree - we won't - but we should always maintain the ability to connect with one another and to have an open dialogue, because ultimately our responsibility is to serve the nation. The media does that through information to the populace and the military does that by its service and accomplishing the military tasks. And I think it would be best when we can do that together. So thank you all very, very much, and I wish you a successful conclusion to your conference, and safe journeys back home. COL. DAVIS: Thank you very much, sir. GEN. HAM: Thank you. (Applause.) (END)
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