By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press ServiceOctober 1, 2009
WASHINGTON (Sept. 30, 2009) -- U.S. Africa Command is a "listening command" that has added value to U.S. government programs on the continent, the command's top military officer told the Atlantic Council here last night.
Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, who stood up Africa Command this time last year, said the nation's newest combatant command is making inroads with Africans and is successful because it is helping African nations do what they need to do.
The question for the command "is how to move ahead in a way that causes the continent of Africa to be as stable as it can be," Ward said.
Africa is a vital national interest for the United States, Ward said, and it does have serious problems. "There are myriad security challenges to consider: the population explosion, illegal trafficking, national disasters, pandemic influenza outbreaks, the increase in insurgencies and piracy," he said.
But it also is important to speak about the opportunities on the continent, the general said. Africa, as a whole, is becoming more prosperous. More nations are embracing democracy. Regional and continental peacekeeping agencies and forces are in place.
"U.S. Africa Command's mission calls for us to do our work in concert with other U.S. government agencies and in support of U.S. foreign policy objectives," Ward said. "I want to emphasize that: we support -- not lead -- those other government agencies."
The command works to help countries establish or continue security. "There is a growing political will among nations to confront challenges and to be serious about providing for their own security," Ward said.
The general admitted that the command had a rough start. When African nations thought of the command, he explained, they thought of permanent bases with U.S. servicemembers conducting operations. "That's not the truth," he said. "And the last year has shown them that."
Some in American embassies on the continent feared that U.S. Africa Command was going to "militarize" American foreign policy on the continent, the general said. "We only operate in support of another federal agency," Ward said. For example, he noted, the command was not to take over the mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development, but rather was to help the agency with its mission.
The command was designed to be something different, Ward said, and the appointment of Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates as the command's deputy to the commander for civil-military affairs was proof of that. Yates, now at the National Security Council, was a civilian voice at the highest level. More than 20 senior civilians from various agencies, including the Departments of State and Justice, are integral members of the command team. These men and women help the command understand the cultures, policies and processes of their parent agencies, Ward explained.
Security gets to the heart of challenges in Africa. It allows for economic growth, better medical care and more equitable distribution of resources, the general said. Africom works with the African Union, regional organizations and individual countries to bolster security efforts.
"We believe that professional African security institutions that operate within the rule of law and are responsive to civilian authority are key to bolstering conditions under which development can occur," he said.
The command provides planning and logistics help to African nations and regional organizations and works with other nations outside the continent to leverage the capacity-building activities. "We want to explore greater collaboration with African and European partners to eliminate duplication and maximize limited resources in order to improve security and stability in Africa," Ward said.
Still, he noted, the command is a combatant command. "We will respond to crises when directed by the president," Ward said. "Our aim is to deter conflict, but we do stand ready to take action when directed to do so by our commander in chief."
The command sponsors exercises throughout the continent that aim to encourage cooperation between the United States and individual countries, Ward said. Some also work to develop regional capabilities and improve communications and liaison among nations.
The command also schedules exercises with African land, sea and air forces, many of which aim to help the nations take responsibility for all areas of their country, including the resources off the coasts, he added.
Again, it all comes back to listening, the general said.
"There is always room for improvement," he said. "We are a listening and learning command, seeking the perspective of others so we can better understand how to develop and implement the programs that our partners make their own and use in their efforts to enhance their professionalism."