ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Feb 12, 2010 Aca,!" The United States military is seeking ways to support the African Union and the AU's Peace and Security Commission, U.S. Gen. William Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM) said in a Voice of America interview February 9, 2010, while in the capital of Ethiopia, which also hosts the headquarters of the 53-nation African Union.

Ward discussed the command's initiatives in the Horn of Africa nations, specifically related to Sudan, Somali, and Eritrea.

"[D]irect involvement in Somalia, again, no, that's not the role of my command," Ward said, "but where we can be of an assistance in helping to bring about the support to the Transitional Federal Government, to the African Union's mission there in Somalia, then we are involved. "

Ward emphasized that U.S .Africa Command follows the direction of President Obama and stated U.S. policies in Africa. "Where there are threats globally or threats that exist to our national security, threats to our people," Ward said, "then our government has said that it reserves the -- it will take appropriate actions to deal with that threat wherever it might be."

The overall goal of the U.S. military in Africa to increase the ability of African nations and regional organizations to provide security for their people, Ward said. He said his visit included meetings at the African Union and it's Peace and Security Commission.

"I applaud the work of the Peace and Security Commission. I think it's something we would look to support -- increasing their capacity to deal with their issues on the continent," Ward said.

"We will talk with the commissioner to find ways of continuing to move in that direction, from counter-drugs to the flow of illicit goods and products to helping the regional economic communities, as well as the nations, be better able to maintain control of their borders, their territorial waters," Ward said. "Those are all ways that I think our involvement can be of assistance as the Peace and Security Commission -- the member states -- look to be able to have more security inside their borders and in the region."

The complete transcript of the VOA interview is included below:

PETER HEINLEIN [Voice of America]: All right, I'm going to turn this on if I may.


MR. HEINLEIN: And first I'd just like to ask you a very general question about what AFRICOM's priorities are right now in the Horn of Africa.

GEN. WARD: Right now, we are working to cause our efforts to be reinforcing to those efforts being conducted by others in the hopes of helping to bring stability to the Horn but also that's applicable across the continent.

And so it's essentially how we can cause our mil-to-mil efforts to enhance the security capacity of the institutions in the region as they attempt to bring stability to this part of the continent. But again, that's appropriate for most of what we do in most other parts of the continent as well.

MR. HEINLEIN: This is often -- the Horn of Africa -- called the most volatile, possibly the least stable region in Africa. What do you mean when you say "stability" and what to you would indicate stability in a region as volatile as this'

GEN. WARD: Well, one, if people are more or less able to pursue a living that's commensurate with them where they are; it's governments that function in ways that can be measured insofar as their taking care of their people is concerned; it's stability that will allow development to occur so that those things that would sustain populations, sustain progress, can have an ability to move ahead, move out.

So it's that notion -- it's not perfection, to be sure -- but it is an environment that is conducive to development, to growth, to people being able to be and feel safe where they are. That's, you know what I'm talking about -- the things that governments by and large are asked to do on behalf of their people, i.e., providing for their security and their development.

MR. HEINLEIN: How would you evaluate stability in Horn of Africa countries Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea' Those are three of the ones where we often hear stability is a big issue.

GEN. WARD: Yeah, yeah. I don't know if I'm in a position to evaluate. I don't spend enough time on the ground personally to do that. What I would say, though, is that places like Sudan, Somalia, where we know that based on just the plight of human beings, the work of nongovernment organizations, the relief requirements that exist, that more work is needed to bring the stability that would be desired. And so working to help bring about that type of stability is work that we think is important. It's important I think for the international community as a whole to do those sort of things.

MR. HEINLEIN: What can you do, what can AFRICOM do, specifically in Somalia and -- well, let's take Somalia first.

GEN. WARD: Well, specifically, Somalia is -- when it comes to a government -- and my command, AFRICOM, doesn't do that. We certainly support those who are in fact supporters of the Transitional Federal Government, the African Union, AMISOM; those missions. So we do things in support of those attempts to help bring about stability.

So far as any direct involvement in Somalia, again, no, that's not the role of my command, but where we can be of an assistance in helping to bring about the support to the Transitional Federal Government, to the African Union's mission there in Somalia, then we are involved.

Providing some sort of capacity to the African Union, as an example, as they have asked us to help them with their command-control there; and AMISOM -- we've supported that as they ask us to help as they build peacekeeping forces, to increase those, the capacity of those peacekeeping forces, logistical support, transportation support, training support for those peacekeepers that the region provides, we've done that as well.

MR. HEINLEIN: When there's news in Somalia about, for instance, an al-Qaida-related person being killed, maybe in some kind of a drone or something like that, there's always this impression that the United States has a big covert role in Somalia. Anytime that things happen, it's always in the news here the United States is backing such-and-such and so-and-so. Can you give us a reading on what the real truth is'

GEN. WARD: Well, I'm probably not the all-knowing expert on the entirety of all that goes on in the continent of Africa, and obviously in Somalia as well. I can go by what our president has said, what our stated policies have said. Where there are threats globally or threats that exist to our national security, threats to our people, then our government has said that it reserves the -- it will take appropriate actions to deal with that threat wherever it might be. And I think that's what you may be referring to but I don't have the operational, day-to-day detail of those sorts of things. That's not what my command does.

MR. HEINLEIN: But it is in the minds of the general public, the African people and the people in the Horn of Africa. It's the U.S. military and you're the -- you're perceived as the commander of the African military.

GEN. WARD: No, no, not the African military.

MR. HEINLEIN: I mean, did I make a mistake -- the American military in Africa, AFRICOM. I meant the AFRICOM military. You know, how can you distinguish and what would you tell the people who believe that you are -- it's one of the same organizations'

GEN. WARD: Well, I guess, basically what I can say is there are things that I am aware of, not all which are done by my command -- things that my command is not responsible for. Our activities on the continent of Africa, in Somalia, are widespread and so there are probably things that occur that may be publicly perceived as being done by U.S. Africa Command but that's just not the case.

MR. HEINLEIN: That's just not the case, okay. Now, what about Eritrea' We wanted to go back to that. Now, here's a country that's recently been sanctioned by the Security Council, it is considered a problem-state in the area. What does AFRICOM do and what is AFRICOM's role with regard to a country like Eritrea'

GEN. WARD: Again, because our primary activity is working with our African partners and friends to help them increase their capacity in providing for their own security, and all that being done as a part of our stated foreign policy objectives, that kind of define the relationship that we have with any country within the region. In the case of Eritrea, we don't have military-to-military activities so we don't have a military-to-military relationship with Eritrea. So I don't deal with the Eritreans.

MR. HEINLEIN: You're not dealing with the Eritreans but do you have any role in, say, containing what nefarious activities they might be accused of --

GEN. WARD: No, no.

MR. HEINLEIN: No, not at all.


MR. HEINLEIN: Okay. Then, Sudan and the UNAMID, UNMIS, all that -- what is the United States doing right now as the UNAMID -- (inaudible) -- there's an election coming up in Sudan in April, there's a referendum coming up in June; there's quite a bit of diplomatic activity going on right now. There's a new UNAMID chief that's just come, new Eritrean and Nigerian senior diplomats. There's a lot of work going on with Scott Gration in Doha right now. What's the military aspect of all this' What's the U.S. military --

(Cross talk.)

GEN. WARD: Yeah, well, the United Nation missions to Darfur, we clearly see that as an important mission. And so our role would be that of supporting those peacekeeping forces who comprise that organization where they need assistance in increasing their capacity.

We have played a role in helping them with the equipping requirements that they have; with the transportation requirements that they have; their training requirements that they may have where we can be of an assistance. We've done that. We've provided lift support to those peacekeeping forces that are anticipating in UNAMID.

And also to the degree we can provide support and assistance to the overall capacity of UNAMID, of UNISOM, as regional, as United Nations, as African Union organizations as they conduct their peacekeeping missions, their mission to help protect populations, we provide that type of support as well.

MR. HEINLEIN: UNAMID is getting five tactical helicopters I think this week, maybe in the next week or so. A, do you understand what difference that's going to make in UNAMID's capabilities; and, B, is there any U.S. role in getting these up-to-speed or getting these operational, anything like that'

GEN. WARD: Well, first of all, those helicopters, the mobility that they provide I think will be an absolutely value-added contribution to the UNAMID mission and I certainly, just from the standpoint of the ability of have mobility, to get around to places that might otherwise be inaccessible, those helicopters will be a very great, I think, added contribution to UNAMID's effort.

We do not have a direct role in furnishing or providing those helos to the degree that training support that we provided over the years, the maintenance support that we provided over the years in a broad range of areas, to the degree that those broad, increased capacity and professionalism efforts will add to the ability of the troop-contributing nations to maintain them, and clearly those are our spin-off effects that we want to be positive. And so that's going on and that will continue to go on.

MR. HEINLEIN: Could I ask you to be a little bit more specific about what role the helicopters might play in enhancing the capability of UNAMID to prevent the kinds of horrors that have occurred in Darfur'

GEN. WARD: Yeah, well, I don't have any direct information insofar as how the force commander will use those helicopters. But in the general sense -- mobility, transportation, lift, being able to move quickly, more rapidly from one place to another place when roads are not passable or other conditions would make ground movement more difficult or longer.

So the mobility aspect, the ability to reposition, those are traditional uses of those type of air assets and I would imagine that the force commander would use it in those sorts of ways.

MR. HEINLEIN: With elections coming up in Sudan, is the United States planning anything special that might provide or encourage security and a safe and transparent election'

GEN. WARD: I think we are all concerned and hopeful that the elections coming up will be elections that will be done appropriately and safely. And to the degree that either the African Union or others would ask us for assistance, that would be a policy decision taken back to Washington. And where there might be something that we could do, we would certainly look to do that. But at the current time, there's no direct role that I'm aware of that the United States has in the upcoming elections.

MR. HEINLEIN: Mm-hmm. No direct role. What about a direct role in any other aspect regarding Sudan'

GEN. WARD: No. Again, as you mentioned earlier in our conversation, our special envoy, Scott Gration, is working with the Sudanese people there in the North as well as in the South as they continue to work through the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement, as they continue to work through those provisions and getting those set; as that -- what emerges as he would identify specific areas where we might be of help, then he would bring those to us.

And given an overall U.S. policy determination being made that we would be supportive, we would be supportive. But at this point in time, there's been nothing that's come to us directly saying United States AFRICOM, do this or do that; or, can you do this and do that.

There are things that we are looking at, as far as the increased professionalization, if you will, of the South Sudanese military -- their noncommissioned officer education programs, things of that nature -- to help with their increased professionalization. But that's the extent of what our involvement is.

MR. HEINLEIN: President Obama, in his speech in Ghana talked about African solutions and supporting African solutions to African problems; how does that work out on the ground' How do you interpret that in your mission'

GEN. WARD: Well, I think, first of all, we absolutely endorse all that the president said, and our mission statement reflects that, as well. Our goal of providing assistance to the Africans to help them increase their capacity to solve their problems -- on the ground, it works out to doing things that increase professionalism, it works out to various programs, from training to maintenance programs so that when there are missions that are required to be performed and accomplished, there is an ability for these nations to do that.

As an example, we have programs for maritime security where we work with African nations so that their capacity to protect their territorial waters is enhanced. How is it done' Okay, as an example, they have equipment. That equipment needs to be functional to be worthwhile. So keeping a small boat motor operational -- we provide assistance there. Electrical systems take a beating in saltwater conditions, so how do they stay functional' So teaching electrical system repair on maritime equipment -- we do that.

There are things that, when you have a requirement to interrogate a vessel in your territorial waters and you don't know what that vessel is, well, how do you do it safely so that you protect yourself, but also you safeguard the vessel that you're interrogating' So procedures on proper search or boarding and searching of a vessel -- we work with African nations who ask for that type of assistance in doing those type of things.

Nations who have, say, C-130s that they would like to keep operational and running -- establishing repair parts procedures so that when the plane needs a repair part, there's a process in place where they can requisition, order and get it, and then maintenance training that allows them to apply it appropriately so that the plane stays ready. That's the work that we do.

Deployment training -- we talked about peacekeeping as an example. And again, Africans helping themselves -- you take these missions; well, to go from where you are in, say, Uganda or Rwanda to Sudan, you've got to get from here to there. Well, how do you do that' You board an aircraft. You put your equipment onboard an aircraft, but just to throw it in is not good enough. You've got to properly pack it, load it, stabilize it, secure it. We provide that type of training and assistance to the African nations as they do those sorts of things. And so all of those are activities that help Africans do their own security capacity work.

Professionalization -- how do you conduct yourself appropriately in a civil society where you're responsive to duly elected civilian governments' So a part of the approach is, you know, the proper role of a military in a democratic society, and part of our training talks about that as well. And so those are the ways that we, through our training activities, we provide that assistance.

Here, most recently, in East Africa, we conducted an exercise. We called it Natural Fire. But five East African nations came together. They came together because they were interested in being able to better respond to a situation arising from some disaster scenario -- responding to some natural disaster. And so brought together five nations, their first responders. They talked about the requirements of responding in the region to deal with a natural disaster -- again, Africans dealing with their own challenges.

And so we provided venues for that and we brought some U.S. military personnel in to discuss ways that we would do, from helping to safeguard, you know, the population that had been displaced and how do you protect them from being preyed upon AffA+'' those sorts of things. So again, it's all about the capacity building we can do to help Africans address their challenges for themselves.

MR. HEINLEIN: Armies traditionally have been thought of as combat organizations, but it sounds as if, from what you're saying, there's no real combat role for the U.S. Army AFRICOM in Africa.

GEN. WARD: Well, AFRICOM is not the U.S. Army. The United States Africa Command is a joint command, and it has no combat forces assigned to it. And so there is no role that would be played by combat formations in the sense that you're speaking of here.

But because the command is a joint command, it also draws upon the resources of the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, the United States Air Force, as well as the United States Army to provide the sort of training and assistance that the nations ask us to provide as they look to increase their capacity.

Now, because we have no assigned forces, if the president would ask us to do one of those traditional missions -- and we would be prepared to do so -- but we would have to be resourced accordingly to do that.

MR. HEINLEIN: I don't have to tell you this kind of continent has a number of governments that are considered less than democratic. Sometimes, the AFRICOM is supporting governments and helping governments to increase their capacity. Aren't you vulnerable to the criticism that sometimes you actually wind up helping sustain dictators and undemocratic governments'

GEN. WARD: Well, I don't get that direct criticism, so I'm not sure that it's out there, but I guess where we are engaged, those engagements are based on our foreign policy that applies in an overall sense to that country or region. So our activities are activities that are supportive of overall U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis a country.

And as countries move through their processes of maturation, just as ours does, our role is to hopefully cause our involvement to be such that the countries are moving in a direction that is appropriate for them and their people and in line with our foreign policy objectives. And I think that engagement supports that continued maturation, if you will, in the direction that we would all like to see occur.

MR. HEINLEIN: What are your priorities' As you look around Africa, what are the places where you feel you can do the most to achieve your mission'

GEN. WARD: Well, I think where we can reinforce the success of progress, where it occurs, where stability exists and we can continue to reinforce that, we want to be a part of that. Where we can be seen as helping to prevent crises as opposed to having to respond to a crisis, we would want to be able to do that. Clearly, we would be interested in not seeing threats to innocent people all over the world, quite frankly, and so that's something that we pay attention to.

But in that case, you know, working with governments as they attempt to prevent violent extremism in their territories, in their countries -- that's something that we see as important. Protecting the interests of American citizens, but also protecting the interests of those -- of the global citizenry, because we are all affected in this global environment. And so those are the things that we see as important things that would be supportive of helping to promote free trade, commerce, things that certainly make sense to us that we would be supportive of.

MR. HEINLEIN: You're going to see Commissioner Lamamra at the AU this afternoon, and the peace and security council is brand new. It's just been reconstituted -- 15 brand new members. And among them are some African countries that have a less-than-sterling record in the field of security and peace -- Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Libya, Gabon. I'm wondering how you see interacting with the PSC, what kind of support you can give, and do you have reservations when you see some of these countries coming onto the peace and security council that have questionable records -- peace, security and human rights'

GEN. WARD: Well, I think -- first of all, I will see the commissioner this afternoon. I've met with him in the past, as well. He was a part of the exercise that we conducted in East Africa, and he came to observe it, so he's seen that.

I applaud the work of the Peace and Security Commission. I think it's something we would look to support -- increasing their capacity to deal with their issues on the continent. The fact that they've proclaimed this year as the year of peace and security is wonderful. And now, working together to help achieve that peace and security, I think, is something that we all would applaud.

I don't choose the membership, so I don't have much to do with that. I think, though, to the degree that working with the council itself -- the commission, through its commissioner and its various organs, where we can be of assistance in helping them increase their capacity to, in fact, bring security and peace to the African continent, we want to be a part of that endeavor to the degree they seek our support and assistance.

And I think our foreign policy is supportive of that. Clearly, my command's objectives support that and that's what we look to move ahead with. And we will talk with the commissioner to find ways of continuing to move in that direction, from counter-drugs to the flow of illicit goods and products to helping the regional economic communities, as well as the nations, be better able to maintain control of their borders, their territorial waters.

Those are all ways that I think our involvement can be of assistance as the Peace and Security Commission -- the member states -- look to be able to have more security inside their borders and in the region.

MR. HEINLEIN: AFRICOM's mission is to further American interests in Africa, but in recent years, we've seen a greater attention --

GEN. WARD: AFRICOM's mission is to conduct sustained security engagement so that our African partners and friends are better able to provide for their own security. In so doing, that, for sure, serves American interests, to be sure.

MR. HEINLEIN: Yes. But at the same time, over the last few years, we've seen increasing interest from other players, notably China. And China has come in -- there's been a tremendous amount of attention to all the work China is doing here. Now, first, do you see any discord between what China is doing in Africa and what you're doing there' They're gaining influence.

Is this a zero-sum game' Are they gaining influence at the expense of other players, including the United States' You see, for instance, recently the Dalai Lama was going to visit South Africa. The Chinese called up to South Africa and said we don't want you to see the Dalai Lama and they said, oops, we don't want to offend the Chinese. We don't have that kind of influence in Africa anymore, do we' How's that affecting us'

GEN. WARD: Well, I don't see what we do as competing with what the Chinese are doing. We're not in competition with the Chinese, from my perspective. I think to the degree that there are common goals for security and peace, then we would like to pursue those common goals for security and peace. And so I don't see it as a zero-sum game, per se.

I see it as an area that, to the degree that we can work in ways of helping to promote security, helping to promote peace and stability, then that's something we would look at doing in ways that are not in competition, but in collaborative ways, regardless of who the partner may be. And so you're right, there are other global partners who have interests as well, and again, I don't see our own as in competition with any of them.

MR. HEINLEIN: All right. Thank you very much, General.

GEN. WARD: You're welcome.

MR. HEINLEIN: We really appreciate your time.

GEN. WARD: Sure, my pleasure, my pleasure.

MR. HEINLEIN: All right.

(Off-side conversation.)