12:30 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we have General Ward, the AFRICOM commander, here to deliver a commander’s perspective media roundtable. The general has just concluded a trip to Ghana, Togo, Liberia, and Senegal, and he’s happy to address his recent trip and any other matters in the purview of AFRICOM.
Without further ado, here is the general.
GEN WARD: Well, Andy, thanks for the introduction, and I’m really glad to be back here at the Washington Press Center. I was here, first time, about three and a half years ago, right after we officially stood up the United States Africa Command. I guess the old adage that time flies certainly does apply here, because it’s been three and a half very, very quick years, from my point of view. I’d like to also thank the Foreign Press Center for all that you do in connecting journalists with State Department folks, obviously Department of Defense, and other interagency leaders as well. And thanks for those of you who are here as well as those who called in for taking time to meet with me.
I think the last three-plus years have seen positive growth for AFRICOM, but also for the work that we’ve been able to do with our partners on the continent as well as our international partners, and I’ve just been really honored to be the leader and the commander of the Command. When I was last here, I said that AFRICOM would be a listening and learning organization, a listening and learning command, that we would evolve based on our consultations, the relationships that we form with our African partners as well as with others.
And I’d like to just make the point that the majority of what we do are things that our partners desire of us to do, as opposed to what might otherwise be considered the case. And I think this is an important part of our work through our interactive activities, such as conferences, exercises, training, familiarization programs, senior leader visits. We listen very carefully to our partners, and this is all part of our understanding what matters most to them.
I think the work that we do in Africa is in the interest of the United States, but also in the interests of our partners and the global community. We see how instability in one region definitely affects another, and an improved security and stability environment in Africa is in the interest of all nations. And to this end, our African partners have repeatedly told us that their security priorities include such things as the development of capable and accountable military forces that perform professionally and with integrity, effective legitimate and professional security institutions at the national as well as the regional levels, a collective ability to dissuade, deter, and defeat transnational threats, and increased African leadership and participation in international peacekeeping as well as continental peacekeeping activities. We conduct a wide range of programs and activities that help our African partners meet these goals, and these are in the interests of the United States, our partners, and, as I said, the global commons.
I published a commander’s intent that was available on my website, www.africom.mil, but in that commander’s intent for 2011, I made the point that African nations – and just as importantly, the regional organizations – had been addressing political and security challenges in their regions, not that – we should all take note of the increasing – the increasingly new role that the African nations have taken in addressing these particular challenges as well as finding opportunities to move forward in successful ways.
So in the coming year, we will continue to support our partners in addressing these shared security challenges. We’ll continue to do our best to take advantage of the opportunities for increased stability that exist. We will deepen our strategic partnerships regionally and bilaterally, as well as with the African Union, and we will refine our focus in our security cooperation efforts to ensure that they are accomplishing the needs and desires of support that our African partners and friends have asked us to do.
So I’ll stop there and leave maximum time for the questions that you might have of me for this time. So, thanks very much.
QUESTION: Naoufal Enhari with Morocco’s news agency Maghreb Arab Press. My first question is with regard to your assessments of the Moroccan-American military cooperation, especially when it comes to the fight against terrorism in the region of the Sahel where al-Qaida is now becoming more and more strong, and also in the Mediterranean Sea.
GEN WARD: Not to – my assessment is one that says our work that we do with our Moroccan partners, but also all of our partners in the Sahel, is solid, it’s firm. We know that the nations of the region have the primary responsibility, the primary lead for addressing the threats posed by al-Qaida in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb. And so where they have taken the steps that they have taken to address that threat and to where there are areas that we can support them in addressing that threat, that’s what we do through our military cooperation programs, our work in a regional way, through our exercises as the Moroccans as well as other nations in the Sahel have taken it upon themselves to address that common threat that exists as posed by al-Qaida and the Islamic Maghreb. So I – my assessment of the military cooperation is that it’s on a good, good foundation, and we continue to look for ways to improve upon it based on our common objectives.
QUESTION: Leila Benradja from Algerian news agency. I have three questions. What are the prime motives of cooperation between Algeria and AFRICOM after your last visit to Algeria in 2005? My second question: What is your opinion about the role of Algeria in the fight against the terrorists? My third question: Is there a plan to transfer the headquarters of AFRICOM in Africa not in short term, but in the long term? Thank you.
GEN WARD: Thank you for that, Leila. First, I think from the standpoint of our prime motives, we, with the Algerians, as we do with our other partners in the region – we look for ways to enhance, to support the efforts that they take to address the threat. That – those areas include military-to-military training, exercises where common techniques are shared for addressing those vast, vast lands, as you know so, so, so well – the Sahara, vast spaces are under governed from the standpoint of the ability of people to be out there patrolling and doing things such as that. So techniques for doing it in effective ways, to make maximum use of your personnel, we have, certainly, exercises that we do about that. How that – how information is shared and how analysis of patterns is conducted, those are the sorts of things that we do with our Algerian friends but also our other friends in the region as we move ahead.
I think Algeria has a very important role in addressing this threat of al-Qaida, because when you look at the space, the area, how nations deal with the threat in their own sovereign borders – very important, but also important how they work in a cooperative way with their neighbors in addressing the threat, because we know that the – those who would seek to do harm to innocent civilians will take advantage of borders, of seams. And so promoting regional cooperation is another one of our primary focuses that we pay attention to. And we build our relationship program around those sorts of things that we have. In some cases, equipment, providing equipment is also a part of our support, our engagement, equipment that can be used in this common, common way to address the common challenges that we see there.
And finally, there’s absolutely no plans, now or in the future, to move my headquarters to Africa.
QUESTION: [Naoufal Enhari with Morocco’s news agency Maghreb Arab Press.] I have a follow-up regarding what you just said concerning the promotion of the regional cooperation’s advice, al-Qaida, in the – especially in the Maghreb. We have – there is some issues and some conflicts, like the Western Sahara conflict that’s – that is really not facilitating this cooperation. So how do you see that resolution of this conflict would enhance this cooperation, this regional cooperation, especially between Morocco and Algeria and the rest of the Arab countries?
GEN WARD: Well, [Western Sahara] that is something that I know is a concern to the nations in the region. I think the continued dialogue that goes on to come to a resolution is something that we see as very positive. I think the confidence-building measures that are being looked at from the families, being able to travel by air back and forth – all of those are, I think, very important as the dialogue goes on to look for a solution to that situation. And I think that as long as the dialogue continues – and it is a diplomatic issue here, political issue, not something that I typically am involved in, but I’m clearly supportive of and aware of those advances, and I’m certainly anxious that the work that’s being done by the UN Secretary General’s personal envoy, Christopher Ross, will help with the dialogue, helping to find some solution to that particular situation.
I think to the degree that these nations continue to work together in spite of their differences, the dialogue will help them continue to look for common solutions to these common challenges they face. And progress, hopefully, will continue to be made across all those areas.
QUESTION: So you’re positive that a resolution to this issue would definitely enhance the regional cooperation?
GEN WARD: I think in any case where nations get along with their neighbors, their ability to work together is enhanced. But again, the good news is that dialogue promotes that. And I think we’re all encouraged by the continued dialogue, and we look forward to that going on.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Olaolu Akande from Nigeria, News Agency of Nigeria and The Guardian. Just two quick questions for the general. Number one, I wanted to know what are the highlights of the activities of AFRICOM in Nigeria specifically. And I would like to give – direct a question that if ECOWAS requested the expertise of AFRICOM regarding Ivory Coast, will the U.S AFRICOM – do you need to support it?
GEN WARD: Thanks, Olaolu. I hope I said your name pretty correctly there. I apologize very much if I didn’t.
First, our relationship with the Nigerian armed forces is another very positive one. And again, our work is reflective of the things that the Nigerians asked us to do as they worked their own security issues and matters. These activities – and you mentioned the highlights – they include various things from military-to-military training activities that the Nigerians participate in, the Africa Partnership Station, which is a – it’s an at-sea platform whereby the nations in the region work together to increase their maritime security and maritime safety capabilities. That goes on.
Last year, as an example, there was a Nigerian who was the deputy aboard that particular platform, so we were working with the Nigerians in that regard. Other activities, as the Nigerians participate in peacekeeping activities, we work with the Nigerians as they send peacekeeping formations to the various peacekeeping activities, as they prepare battalions and other formations. I was able to have a very nice visit not too long ago while I was in Liberia with the Nigerian minister of defense, and we both looked at additional ways that we can, in fact, work together to address capacity issues that might exist.
So I think we’ve – the relationship that we have with the Nigerians is indeed a positive one, and we look forward to continuing to dialogue, talk, understand where there are additional things that can be done. And where those activities fall in line with our foreign policy objectives, then AFRICOM certainly stands ready to provide that support as our resources will allow. Obviously, there is a limit to the resources that are available, so we take that into account as well.
We clearly look to work with the regional organizations as closely as we can, ECOWAS clearly being one of those. And given the ECOWAS role in the various regional issues that it has, were we asked to do something, it would certainly be looked at through our overall foreign policy lens and then given a foreign policy decision that says the United States of America would support ECOWAS in some particular activity or event, and that activity had some military equities or security equities, U.S. AFRICOM would, in fact, be there to follow through on that support.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much. This is Peter Onwubuariri. I work for the News Agency of Nigeria. And you know what? I have three questions for you. Number one, in 2008, equipment was supplied and installed by the U.S. Government in Nigeria to monitor shipping in Nigerian waters. To date, there appears to be no information or feedback on what has been observed. What are your comments on this?
My second question, too, is related to maritime security. It’s a well known fact that previous attempts by the Nigerian Government and international community to address illegal oil bunkering have had limited success in [limiting] the flow of stolen oil, which some people called blood oil, in the country. And I want to find out whether the Nigerian administration – the present administration have made some specific requests in terms of assistance to the U.S. Government on how to effectively control this.
And my last question is: What will you consider as the most – the single most immediate challenge AFRICOM effectively fulfilling its mandate in the continent? I heard you say that you don’t have any plans to move your headquarters to Africa. Do you have other challenges you would like to share with us?
Thank you very much, General Ward.
GEN WARD: Peter, I appreciate your questions there. First, with respect to the equipment that was provided, again, the equipment that was provided – and I’m not exactly sure what equipment you’re talking about, so I apologize if I don’t get too specific here. But –
QUESTION: It’s for surveillance. It’s surveillance equipment.
GEN WARD: So --
QUESTION: Ships in Nigerian water.
GEN WARD: Okay, the surveillance --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the ships (inaudible) get the feedback.
GEN WARD: Right. I understand. The surveillance equipment is part of the overall program of maritime – these are automated information systems that are commercial products that provide the ability of a nation to look out and see vessels that are traveling in their territorial waters. Vessels who travel legitimately emit beacons and signals, just as aircraft do, so you that you know who they are and where they are. The equipment that you’re referring to, this surveillance equipment, is an automated tracking system and is a commercial system that all the nations in the region, quite frankly, that participate in our partnership program have access to. They can – they are linked to one another. They can talk to each other. One nation can see – if they’re linked properly, it can be seen by other nations as well, so that ships that are operating legitimately are, in fact, being able to be seen and tracked as they pass through the territorial waters of these nations.
And so, to my knowledge, once we turn that equipment over to the nations, the nations have full autonomy. They operate it. We do not get that information. That’s the information that the nations have among themselves that they can then see how ships that operate legitimately are, in fact, operating in their territorial waters.
The issue becomes when ships are operating and either they turn off those systems or they don’t use those systems, and so this commercial system can’t pick them up. The nations can detect that, and then based on not knowing something that’s in their territorial waters, they can go out and investigate to see what activity is being conducted. Again, it’s one of the aspects of the maritime security program that’s in place. And so these are commercial systems that are then been turned over to the nations that have the ability to be linked from nation to nation, so they have a common view of what goes on in their territorial waters.
The second point that you made with respect oil bunkering. Obviously, that issue was an issue for the Nigerian Government. Now, clearly, we have no role in that. That’s Nigerian sovereign territory. We respect that and we do not have a role in that. If there are requests for some technical assistance in dealing with it, from patrolling techniques, ways to help better effect and security their production facilities, we have been able to offer from time to time advice on that, but that is not something that goes on on a continual basis. It’s reflective of what we get asked to do in support of the nation’s request to be a bit more effective, enabling them to secure their own waters. So that’s where that particular piece is. But again, protecting these particular resources is the function, the responsibility, of the government. That’s not something that we do.
And from the standpoint of our challenge, the command – our challenge is getting the resources that would, in fact, be able to be used to satisfy the things that our African partners ask us to do. I mentioned in my opening statement that our ability to provide support is certainly a factor of our resources that we have available. The United States of America is very busy in many places, and so we are being asked to do a lot of things. We just cannot do all that we sometimes we get asked to do, from providing equipment to having personnel that could be conducting training exercises and other things where our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen, our Marines, can work side by side with our partner nations as we work together to increase each of our capacities to understand the environment and to do things in a more secure way.
I mentioned one of the things that our African partners and friends tell us is their desire to have more professional, reliable militaries because all of us – we have the need to continue to increase our professionalism, my military included. We work every day to cause our military force to be as professional as it can be, and so this is something that we go through all the time, that you don’t get to a point and stop. We are always learning and, hopefully, getting better. And these things require resources, but there are limits to those resources. And those are the challenges that we have right now as we continue to do our best to provide that we’re asked to provide.
QUESTION: Hi, General. I have a couple questions. I’m Jon Harper with The Asahi Shimbun.
GEN WARD: Hi, Jon.
QUESTION: My first question is: Are you concerned that the unrest in the Middle East will spill over into your AOR [Area of Responsibility]? And also, in terms of the situation with Sudan, what will AFRICOM be doing, both to assist South Sudan in its post-independence state and also to try to mitigate or prevent conflicts with Northern Sudan, should that erupt or appear?
GEN WARD: Well, clearly, John, unrest anywhere, I think, concerns all of us, because in today’s global environment, instability creates the potential for that to have an effect on us wherever we might be. And so when we look at the Middle East, and in fact anywhere where there’s instability, yes, I am concerned. I am concerned that these – those who would take advantage of the instability would then use that instability, that environment, to create instability in other places. So we certainly are concerned about that.
As respect to Sudan, clearly, as a result of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the referendum that was called for was held. It was held, I think, in a – based on the reports that I received, because I was not directly involved, and neither was my command, but the reports that we receive are – it says it was done in a very credible way, ways that were respected by both the – both Khartoum as well as Juba, and I’m encouraged with the recent meeting between Khartoum and Juba with respect to the announcement of the decision that was made by the people to in fact separate into a separate state in Southern Sudan, and the willingness of the two parties to cooperate on behalf of all the people.
And I think that’s something we’d be encouraged by, and now the process of the Southern Sudanese in creating institutions of governance that in fact will be available and useful as they move towards the actual creation of the separate state later this year. It’s something that we would have a part in, given, again, our policy decision that’s made, a policy decision that’s deliberate, that says working to build institutions is something that we, as well as other members of the international community, not just the United States, working to help that government be formed in a way that will lead to it taking the best care of its people as it can, working with its neighbors as effectively and as positively as it can. And the security institutions that will be a part of that government, if there are ways that we can, in fact, provide support, then we clearly will be involved in that, again, given the overarching policy decisions that says the United States of America will be assisting the Southern Sudanese in creating their new government.
QUESTION: And has that policy decision been made?
GEN WARD: In a direct way, not that I’m aware of. Clearly, there are indications that we will be supportive of, just as we are supportive of all nations of the continent of Africa. Where we are asked to provide support and assistance in myriad arenas, not just the security arena but also the development arena, the diplomatic arena, I’m sure that we will be a participant in the security arena as well.
QUESTION: Hi, General. Richard Lardner from AP. A question for you on your information operations program, Operation Objective Voice: As you know, the members of Congress, particularly the Senate Armed Services Committee, has raised questions about the effectiveness of that program. And last year, you said the command was currently collecting baseline data and developing assessments of that program. I wonder if you could tell us now, a year later, what those assessments said. IO [Information Operations] programs are hard to define sometimes, how they work, if they’re effective, if it’s worth the money. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you found in terms of how effective that program is.
GEN WARD: Yeah. The Objective Voice is a program that has been in place here now for a couple of years. And it, like many programs in today’s environment that are a part of the internet process and social media and the importance of that, Objective Voice is in that regard. Objective Voice is a program that U.S. AFRICOM does in fact support but is a program that is and of and by the peoples of the region that, in fact, it operates. And so those who contribute to it are local contributors who are – who write various articles on topics that are important to those local regions. We don’t control that, we don’t dictate that, and that, I think, causes it to be different than some of the other things that may be sometimes criticized. But these are things that we are putting out there. We are providing a forum, and those who contribute to it are local contributors who address topics that are relevant to them in their local environment.
We see it as being effective because what we see, based on the survey data, is that Objective Voice programs are being referenced in other social media outlets as well. So things that are being talked about by local contributors and then put forward through the Objective Voice, we see those comments, we see those opinions, we see those reflections on society being repeated in other social media and other forum as well. And so we think that it in fact is serving as a forum for a social media network that can be used for those who would have things to say about their environment, and they use that to let that word be known.
QUESTION: Just a couple quick follow-ups: How much has the command spent on this project? And to my knowledge, it’s been focused primarily on West Africa and North Africa but less on East Africa where the problem with extremism is most pronounced.
GEN WARD: Yes.
QUESTION: Why is it not focused there?
GEN WARD: Well, I mentioned resources. I mean, programs cost money, and we don’t have an unlimited pot. We would – if we had additional resources, we could expand it further because we’ve received desires from others, too, in fact – to have this same social media outlet available for others. So it got started in North Africa, but with additional resources it could be expanded. I don’t have the exact amount that it’s used, but it’s not a lot in relative terms. It’s not a lot. I’ll have to get back what the amount is, but it’s a part of our operating budget. I would hazard a guess, somewhere in the range of probably, overall program, maybe a million dollars.
QUESTION: And that’s just for the internet portion of it, right? I mean it does encompass other initiatives, does it not?
GEN WARD: The internet portion of it is basically it. Now, you have those who write, obviously, but it’s – the total program is those who we have in my headquarters that operate it, their salaries, those sorts of things. So it’s probably somewhere in that range, maybe something higher than that. But again, I’m not sure. I don’t know the exact data.
QUESTION: Exact, okay. Great.
GEN WARD: We’ll get that back to you.
QUESTION: Very good.
GEN WARD: But if we had additional funding, we would, in fact, be able to expand it into other parts of the continent.
QUESTION: Peter from News Agency of Nigeria. You have mentioned several times in this conversation that AFRICOM is faced with [limited] resources. How much do you think AFRICOM will need to effectively prosecute its mandate in the continent?
GEN WARD: Well, that’s a tough question. Again, we are carrying out our mandate now. Our mandate is to provide assistance to our African partners and friends. But again, it’s based on what we’re asked to do. And that’s not a constant; that varies. And so there’s no amount that I could say if we had this, we would do – it just doesn’t work that way. It’s a function of what we’re asked to do. It’s a function of the requirements that our partners would have for us. And when that is expressed and known, we then go back and ask for the resources to carry that out. It’s not just about money. It’s about – also about resources. It’s about having personnel available from time to time that would come in and provide the support – and so their transportation. So there’s no amount that I could give that says if we had this, it would carry forth if at all.
Like most commanders, I think we would say if we had more, we could use it. And is there ever enough? We could always use more. But also, I’m saying that we operate in a fiscal environment that makes that an issue for us as well, our nation. So we have to prioritize. We have to look at our foreign policy objectives. We have to look at what other partners are doing. That’s why we work very closely with our international partners. I mean, we are not the only partners involved. And so how we work our activities in close cooperation with our other colleagues, both from the United States Government but also international agencies as well as other international communities, other nations of the world who have interests as well. And so there’s not an amount that I would say that if we had another tranche of dollars – it’s about more than dollars. It’s a very dynamic process.
I will tell you that now where we are through our programs – Africa Endeavor, which is a great communications exercise; Shared Accord; Natural Fire – these are big exercises in various parts of the continent that we do both with our partners in a regional way – sometimes bilaterally, but most often in a regional way. We are able to carry out most of the programs that we are asked to do without our current resource line. But again, it’s more than just dollars. It’s also about the availability of personnel and things such as airlift to support all that. So it’s a very complex question. And when we get the requirement, when we get the support request, then we work very hard both with my department back in Washington, but also coordinating with other international partners, to cause the things that we are asked to do to be supported as best as we can support to work with our African partners.
Again, this is all about things that we do that help increase the capacity of our African partners and friends to provide for their own security. This is not about the United States of America being in Africa conducting these activities as the lead entity. We are in a support role, supporting our African partners and friends.
QUESTION: General, just a quick follow-up to that, if I may. Olaolu Akande here in New York. Can you just give us a little bit of insight into AFRICOM’s annual budget?
GEN WARD: I don’t have that offhand. Most of my budget is in the form of we pay salaries. People cost money, and as many of you know, my command has a very heavy civilian component to it. We are a planning headquarters. So the budget isn’t construed as budget that – where we’re doing things. It’s construed as a budget for planning, for engaging, for conducting the various – I mentioned conferences so how we better understand. So a lot of our budget is consumed in those sorts of things as we bring our people to our various activities that we conduct. So it’s – compared to most of our combatant – other geographic commands, it’s certainly on the low end of it, because we aren’t as big as many of our other activities. So our budget is not so much an operating budget. It’s more so of a budget that we have for those persons who we have on my staff who help us develop our plans, the programs, the activities then that we work with our various partners and friends.
QUESTION: From your website, in 2009, you got [$310] million. In 2010, the Obama Administration requested $278 million. Do you see this as an impediment to your work considering the drop from  to 278? There’s no figure for 2011.
GEN WARD: Yeah, again, it impacts things such as maybe improvements in some facilities that we will want to do, maybe upgrading some equipment. Does it stop us from doing what we want to do? No. If we had more, could we do things in a different way? Might it take a shorter period of time? Yes, but it’s not an impediment to what we need to do. As I mentioned, we understand the fiscal environment. We know that this is not a limitless environment. There are constraints. We recognize that. We’ve got to do our part as a part of our entire government efforts. And so something that may have taken a week may take two weeks. So we adjust, we modify, but it doesn’t stop the overall positive effect of what we have been able to do, and we’re able to, by and large, continue to move ahead in a positive way as we engage and work with our African partners.
MODERATOR: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Nicolae Melinescu from Romanian Television. General, in your opening remarks, you mentioned (inaudible), and I would like it go mainly to Sub-Saharan Africa. My question refers to piracy. A growing force – [international] task force in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast seems to have pushed the pirates offshore a hundred, 200, even 500 miles away, and further south, as far south as Mozambique. So I would like to have your views, your opinion on the situation on the relations of your command with the international task force, with the countries involved just to stamp out this phenomena which is damaging countries like Romania because many Romanians have been taken as hostages on ships, both in Somalia and in Nigeria.
GEN WARD: Great question, Nicolae. Clearly, piracy is a symptom of something else, the symptom that piracy manifests itself from and is reflected in the fact that you have a country that has a government that has not been able to control its territorial borders. And until that situation is corrected on land, the manifestation of that will continue to exist at sea. Piracy is not new. It’s been existing for centuries. So we don’t see piracy for the first time, because we now experienced it in the last three or four years there off the coast of Africa into the Indian Ocean and in other adjoining waters. But it reflects the fact that the lack of an effective government, the lack of much of a government in Somalia, has created conditions that these pirates now are able to operate as they have.
It is an international problem, not a United States of America problem. And so, therefore, the coalition of those who are involved with patrolling the waters will help with that. Certainly, that’s an important component of it, and my command is aware of these activities. We are – although we are directly responsible for them – those are in another command area of responsibility, and so we can’t (inaudible) – the international community wants – the people of Somalia have determined that the lawlessness, the lack of effective government that exists in Somalia, steps being taken to address it – it will be the way it has.
I will tell you that through the work of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, support the improvise to the Transitional Federal Government, clearly it’s hoping that it’s helping to address it, but the question is how much more can be done, how much more needs to be done, who should be involved in assisting it to be done. Again, piracy is an international problem. It’s a problem for the global commons. Addressing it is an international problem, and addressing it gets directly to the point of what’s being done to look at the situation on the ground in Somalia. And until that’s looked at in a holistic way, a comprehensive way, from the issues of governance to issues of development, to issues of security, the symptom of piracy is what we in – what we’re faced with. And as we take measures at sea to address it, the pirates find other ways to take advantage, and that results in the furthering of the problem in other parts.
Where these other nations are affected, nations that have governments, nations that have institutions, we work with them – Mozambique as an example. But it’s not just us, it’s how, again, the global community addresses this. We are doing what we can. Other nations are doing various things as well, but it’s how all that comes together in a comprehensive way to make a difference to address it. But again, it will – it requires what goes on on the ground to deal with a situation of an ungoverned, a failed state that we see there in Somalia.
QUESTION: [Jon Harper with The Asahi Shimbun] Just to clarify Somalia is not in your AOR.
GEN WARD: Somalia is in my AOR.
QUESTION: Okay. The Gulf of Aden –
GEN WARD: The Gulf of Aden is not.
QUESTION: Okay, gotcha. Thanks.
QUESTION: [Jim Lobe, Interpress Service.] To what extent is China now engaged in providing military (inaudible) in Africa? And how does AFRICOM relate to that (inaudible)? Are they seeking cooperative ventures in terms of training (inaudible) and how do you look upon it? The other question also has to do with Somalia, what is AFRICOM doing now in (inaudible) helping with AMISOM, and in [training the Transitional Federal Government]?
GEN WARD: The first, with respect to the Chinese engagement, obviously, the nations of Africa are sovereign nations, and they engage with whomever they care to engage. We see the Chinese engagement on the continent where we see it in the form of infrastructure. We see, in some cases, Chinese military engage that infrastructure work. For us – and I don’t have the totality of it because I just – I’m not – don’t have all that information. I don’t get in between any sovereign governments. It’s not like they come to me and tell me what they’re doing.
But at the same time, because of where we are, I think where there are opportunities to work together, we would certainly support that, and I think that’s reflective of our overall foreign policy. Working with those who have common interests to achieve common purposes for common goals is something that we – the Secretary of State has said, and so that’s certainly where we would see it as well. Engagement – Secretary of Defense Gates just visited China. So I think from the standpoint of our willingness to work together, I mean, there’s no question about that.
From the standpoint of Somalia, we clearly have a role – the African Union Mission in Somalia – I mentioned AMISOM – as the nations of Africa contribute forces, peacekeeping forces to AMISOM, we provide equipment support, we provide training supporting to those nations who contribute those forces, and we will continue to do that. To the Transition Federal Government forces, many of those forces are trained outside of Somalia, some are trained in other places, and where there are things we can do to support that training, providing equipment, we are doing that as well. Not so much AFRICOM; it’s done typically through our Department of State, and we provide training assisters, if you will, military personnel to conduct that training in various places on the continent for those who will contribute forces to AMISOM. Through our ACOTA program, the Africa Contingency Operations and Training Assistance where peacekeeping nations who have said they will contribute forces to a peacekeeping effort have identified their forces, and we the United States, led by the Department of State, provide equipment, provide some training, and we provide military trainers to assist in that training effort to those nations.
QUESTION: I have another question in regard to North Africa and the Sahara. Many think tanks here in Washington and even the State Department are warning against how al-Qaida in the Maghreb is taken advantage of the ransom – of the hostage taking and ransom, demanding to – to finance its operations. So how concerned are you with this situation and would you – from the military perspective and in – and what would you do in case a U.S. citizen would be taken hostage by this – by al-Qaida in the region?
GEN WARD: I think – the United States of America has a policy that it does not condone payment of ransoms, not (inaudible). That’s our stated policy. And so I think when you have ransoms being paid, it does contribute to, one, repeated incidences of it, and then those funds being used to finance, to outfit those who would do harm and more, they can be more effective – their equipment is now better, but they can use those ransom payments to better outfit themselves. And so our policy is we don’t condone that and so – and we don’t. Again, AFRICOM would respond to what our President would say should that occur.
As you know, there have been Americans held hostage around the world, and it’s been something that’s dealt with by our senior leadership, political leadership. And it’s, again, based on a decision that’s made by the President to be involved or not, but it’s something that we don’t, as a normal course of event, look at until the situation arises and then the President directs something to be done or not done. But we certainly don’t have that as something that we would condone as our policy – the paying of ransom.
QUESTION: Can I follow up – (Inaudible) you’re very concerned – are you concerned about this activity, this hostage situation?
GEN WARD: Very concerned about it, absolutely. Absolutely. The fact that these groups take innocent people, hold them hostage, in some cases kills them, concerns us. The fact that ransom is paid that increases their capacity to do more, that concerns us.
QUESTION: But on the other hand, if people don’t pay the ransom, some of the hostages are being killed, at least 300 a year.
GEN WARD: I don’t – it is something that it feeds on itself. The more ransoms are paid, then the more hostages are taken.
QUESTION: So which is the way out?
GEN WARD: Well, that’s the – the way out is to prevent – is to take away the space that these people operate in so that they aren’t capable of doing these things.
QUESTION: Thank you, General.
QUESTION: [Richard Lardner, AP.] Just a quick clarification question. Does AFRICOM have – what role does it have in Bright Star? Is that primarily a CENTCOM exercise solely?
GEN WARD: No, no, no. CENTCOM, right.
QUESTION: And that’s – Egypt is there.
GEN WARD: Right. We pay attention. We know about it obviously, and we have close cooperation with Central Command, but we don’t have any role in Bright Star. We have our own exercise series that we work. I mentioned some of them before – Africa Endeavor, Natural Fire, Flintlock.
QUESTION: That Egypt is involved in?
GEN WARD: They are invited. They send observers from time to time because it affects the African continent, yes.
QUESTION: Right. But on a day-to-day basis, Egypt is CENTCOM’s issue?
GEN WARD: Correct. Right.
MODERATOR: If there are no further questions, this event is now concluded. Thank you all for coming.
# # #