Ghanaian delegation gets inside look at U.S. Africa Command headquarters
February 28, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany - A delegation of media representatives from Ghana visited U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquarters as part of an orientation program to offer an in-depth look at the command's mission, February 22-26, 2010.
The group consisted of four prominent Ghanaian journalists, an information officer with the Ghanaian Ministry of Information, a public affairs officer from the Ghanaian Navy, and a media specialist from the U.S. Embassy in Accra.
The weeklong visit to the command, in which they met with senior staff members to discuss the command's programs and activities, culminated in interviews with the deputy to the commander for military operations, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, and the commander of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. William Ward.
Ward told the group he was pleased they were able to visit the command.
"(It is), for us, a command that we want you to know; we don't want you to be wondering about it. We want it to very well understood," Ward said.
The delegation received in-depth briefings on the command, its programs and how it conducts military-to-military activities with Ghana and other African nations.
Ward was also able to clarify misunderstood issues about the command, such as how it works with the militaries in Africa and basing.
"We recognize, we appreciate and we respect the sovereignty of our partner nations," Ward explained. "In no way do we envision directing the navies of Africa, the armies of Africa, the air forces of Africa, the governments of Africa to do anything that they would not do for themselves. We have no design, no intent of telling you what to do, absolutely not."
One journalist, Samuel Appiah Darko, of Ghana's Joy FM radio, indicated that his listeners still wonder "what AFRICOM is all about" and whether it intends to establish bases in Africa.
Since the command was created more than two years ago, it has been widely misrepresented that it would establish American bases in Africa. In that period of time... Ward said, "We have done absolutely nothing that would substantiate that impression, and we're not going to do anything. There is no intention of setting up bases in Africa."
Explaining the Africa Partnership Station (APS) maritime program was a key focus area of the visit. APS, in its third year, focuses on building cooperative partnerships with African nations' maritime services in order to achieve common international goals.
The 2010 program brings together an international team of maritime experts from 21 nations - nine European, 10 African, and one South American -- to offer assistance in addressing maritime safety and security challenges such as unlawful, unregulated and illegal fishing, piracy and illicit trafficking. It is expected that more than 1,700 maritime experts will participate in dozens of workshops seminars and professional exchanges.
Ghana is serving as a main hub for the APS flag ship, the USS Gunston Hall. The Gunston Hall will spend the month of March in Ghana, working with the Ghanaian Navy and neighboring countries' navies on various maritime training and familiarization activities. A Ghanaian officer is embedded on the staff, and when Gunston Hall arrives in Sekondi, Ghana, and will take on trainees and ship riders from navies of neighboring nations.
George Nayken of the Ghana News Agency has covered previous United States ship visits to Ghana. He said he was thankful to the command for hosting the group and for the access they were provided.
He said there has been "a lot of suspicion and fear about the command. But I believe if more public education were to take place, people would not fear the command.
"We need more education on the command," added Nayken, who has covered previous United States ship visits to Ghana. "The U.S. military is not trying to impose itself on Africa."
During the week, the visitors traveled to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to meet Major General Ron Ladnier, U.S. Air Forces Africa and 17th Air Force commander. They also toured American Forces Network-Europe studios in Mannheim, Germany, and met with the European Stars and Stripes staff in Kaiserslautern, Germany. In addition, they met with Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, U.S. Africa Command's deputy to the commander for civil-military activities.
This summer, Ghana is hosting Exercise Africa Endeavor, U.S. Africa Command's annual communications exercise that focuses on interoperability and information sharing among African partner nations. The goal is to develop command, control, and communication tactics that can be used by the Africa Union in support of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and peacekeeping missions. In 2009, the exercise was held in Gabon, with 25 African nations participating.
"It's been a very good experience ... getting to know things first hand," said Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu, a journalist with the Graphics Communications Group, which publishes the largest daily newspaper in Ghana, the Ghana Graphic, during his visit to AFN-Europe.
He said before visiting the command, he didn't know what to believe and indicated there is "so much misinformation out there. We've received the message; the command is not what people say (it is)."
Ghana is the largest African peacekeeping contributor nation to multinational peacekeeping operations, and the sixth-largest among all peacekeeping contributing nations. It is supporting peacekeeping missions in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Cote d'Ivoire.
Ghana is one of eight African nations that participate in the U.S. National Guard's State Partnership Program, in which the Ghanaian military conducts partnership, training and familiarization activities with the North Dakota National Guard. Since this program was inaugurated in 2004 with Ghana, the two nations' militaries have shared well over 70 events together.
Ghana is also home to the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Center, which focuses on conflict prevention and peace studies. U.S. Africa Command has a liaison officer at the center and conducts a logistics seminar there called Partnership for Integrated Logistics Operations and Tactics, or PILOT. It is a joint Canadian government/U.S. Africa Command initiative aimed at building long-term operational logistics planning capacity within the African Union Standby Force.
The delegation members were:
Samuel Appiah Darko - Joy FM
R. Harry Reynolds - New Times Corporation
Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu - Graphic Communications Group
George Nayken - Ghana News Agency
Lieutenant Commander Veronica Arhin, Ghanian Navy
Gordon Deku Zaney - Information Services Department, Ministry of Information
Joyce Okyere Asiedu - US Embassy-Accra Media Specialist