By Kenneth Fidler, U.S. Africa Command Public AffairsApril 29, 2009
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo - The United States military will continue working with the Congolese armed forces in training, advising and capacity building to support security assistance cooperation activities, but has no plans to put combat troops here, said the commander of U.S. Africa Command during a visit April 24, 2009.
"Our activities here will be limited ... involving small numbers of U.S. military from different services to help the host nation build capacity to more effectively conduct its military operations and provide for its own security," Ward said during a press conference in Kinshasa.
Ward's trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was the final leg of a three-country, five-day trip to Africa. He led a small U.S. Africa Command delegation to Rwanda and Kenya earlier in the week.
This marked the first time in memory that the commander of a geographic combatant command has visited the DRC, according to U.S. Africa Command officials.
Ward discussed cooperation activities with Minister of Defense Charles Mwando Nsimba and Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Didier Etumba Longila. He also toured classrooms and visited students in the military school "Centre Superieur Militaire."
Under a Department of State-run program, the U.S. Embassy-Kinshasa has a seven-man Mobile Training Team (MTT) teaching Congolese military officers at the school. The military ranks of the students range from captain to colonel, and the instruction includes military leadership, preparation of plans and orders, the military decision-making process, and staff functions.
Plans are underway to hold a major medical exercise, called MEDFLAG, with the DRC military in summer 2010, said Colonel (Doctor) Schuyler Geller, U.S. AFRICOM's command surgeon who accompanied Ward on the trip.
MEDFLAG is a premier annual training event conducted bi-laterally with African nations, focused on medical training and building the skills of DRC military medical personnel.
The exercise is one example of how U. S. Africa Command works with African militaries "to help them help build their capacity, strengthen our partnership, and promote long-term security and stability," Geller said.
Ward emphasized that all U.S. military activities in the DRC, and all African nations, are coordinated with the host nation government and U.S. Embassy officials.
"We only go where we are invited and where it will add value and complement other programs taking place," Ward said.
DRC's history has been plagued with instability, military coups and rebel violence from within its borders and from neighboring countries. The United Nations Organization Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUC, began operations in 2001 to implement the provisions of a 1999 ceasefire accord signed by six African governments to end a six-year civil and regional war.
Unrest has continued, even since democratic, multi-party elections in 2006, the first in more than 40 years.
MONUC began with a few thousand peacekeepers and has grown into the UN's largest peacekeeping operation worldwide. Nearly 50 nations from four continents supply military and police personnel to MONUC, whose strength is about 17,000 now. Its troops are deployed into eastern Congo to help protect vulnerable civilian populations affected by the civil strife.
Ward met with the UN Secretary General's special representative to the DRC, Alan Doss, and Senegalese Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, the top MONUC military commander. They gave Ward insight on MONUC's mission and challenges.
The United States does not have military troops in MONUC, but does provide funding support.
"To restore the peace and stability that the Congolese people deserve talks to the reason for my being here," Ward said at the press conference. "It is how we can conduct our military activities to support the training and to support the increased professionalization of the Congolese armed forces as best we can as they work to bring security and stability here in the Congo."
Earlier in the week, Ward, leading a small U.S. Africa Command delegation, visited Rwanda to discuss security assistance activities with Rwandan Defense Force officials. He met with RDF commanders who recently served in Darfur peacekeeping operations and toured the RDF's infantry school.
Before visiting Congo, he attended the final sessions of the Land Forces Symposium in Mombasa, Kenya. The symposium, organized by the Kenyan Army and the U.S. Army Central Command, is an annual forum that brings together international military leaders to discuss common challenges, exchange views and foster security cooperation throughout the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.