WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2011 — U.S. Africa Command has made steady, understated progress with allies, regional organizations and international partners on the continent, Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, Africom’s commander, said in an interview last week.
Ward, who took the reins as the first commander of America’s newest geographic command in 2007, will turn over command to Army Gen. Carter F. Ham next month.
Africom conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military sponsored activities and other military operations. The command’s aim is to promote a stable and secure environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.
The goals are to help regional allies build security organizations that perform professionally and with integrity, and that have the will and means to direct, dissuade, deter and defeat transnational threats. The command also works to strengthen capabilities to support continental and international peace efforts.
Establishing the command was an uphill battle, Ward said. Critics in the United States assumed it marked another step in the “militarization” of U.S. foreign policy, he explained, and some on the continent saw the command as a new colonialist effort.
“Many thought that the command would be the conduit through which all activity of the U.S. government, continentwide, would pass,” Ward said. “It was never the case, but that was the impression, and since it was a brand-new command, there was no basis for comparison.”
Until Africom stood up, three U.S. commands had responsibility for the continent –- U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command. Africa Command was to combine the missions those commands were doing in Africa in a unified and thoughtful purpose.
“Still, the way things were said in the early days lent themselves to misinterpretations” by critics, the general said.
Allaying the concerns of critics in the United States and, especially, on the continent were the first missions Ward set for the command.
“I set out with a staff of folks to correct the message,” he said. “Just saying we’re not going to be in charge of development wasn’t enough. We will be supportive of governance and development, but we weren’t going to run the programs. We repeated that message to our friends, and it became what they heard from me, from my deputies, my directors and from our senior enlisted leaders.”
That message, he added, was followed up by how the command conducted itself. Members of the command listened more than they spoke –- in Africa and with interagency partners, he said. Soon, the general added, all could see that the command was not militarizing foreign policy, but furthering State Department or U.S. Agency for International Development programs.
“Seen through the lens of the foreign policy perspective, we weren’t leading -– we were, in fact, supporting the efforts of other U.S. government agencies,” Ward said.
Sustaining engagement in Africa was one reason the new command was formed. The three commands that had responsibility before had other matters to address, Ward explained, their attention to the world’s second-largest continent ebbed and flowed. Now that has changed, he said.
“[Leaders] know our focus is always on the continent of Africa and nowhere else,” the general said. “It is a huge factor, and they understood that we did care about them and we were prioritizing our work to concentrate on what concerned them.”
African allies have accepted the command, “and more importantly, it is effective on the continent,” he said. Africa has many ungoverned or under-governed areas, including Somalia, Darfur, Sudan and others. Africom covers 53 of the 54 nations on the continent — Egypt remained in the U.S. Central Command area of operations — and the command is working with many to facilitate peacekeeping operations and humanitarian relief operations.
The command’s activity is focused on three levels: country-to-country, regional and continental, Ward said. Africom works with individual countries to build security capabilities and with regional organizations to strengthen African responses. Finally, it works with continentwide groups.
“One of our priority objectives is to work with these regional economic communities and their stand-by forces as best we can,” the general said. “We also know that working through these organizations is terribly important.”
The command has worked with the Economic Community of West Africa States, the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community. “As they mature and as they ask for our support,” Ward said, “we provide it and encourage them in that regional approach.”
At the continental level, the command works with the African Union. “The first trip I made to the continent when we stood up the command was to [the Ethiopian capital of] Addis Ababa, to the African Union headquarters, to reinforce our support to the Africans’ continental organization,” the general said.
These capabilities have grown, Ward said, adding that he is pleased at the willingness of these regional organizations to work together.
“We see nations who are now partnering who 10 years ago were enemies,” he said. “I give them the credit. They have made the decision. We are there to reinforce this and provide the support they ask for.”
The International Military Education and Training program probably is Africom’s single most important tool, Ward said.
“I’ve been going to Congress and the Department of State, saying we ought to be doing all we can to reinforce and to enlarge and enhance our IMET program,” Ward said. “That is the long-term dividend in our engagement — when officers, [noncommissioned officers,] and warrant officers from our partner nations can come to the United States, sit side by side with our men and women, and in addition to learning about the art of military science, also understand Americans as humans, the things we value, the role of a military in a democracy.” The United States has seen the education and training program pay off in Egypt, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire, Ward said.
“This long-term sustained engagement has caused the military to behave in ways that shows their neutrality, their impartiality and their role as protectors of their people and not oppressors of their people,” he added.
Ward stressed that the command follows the foreign policy direction of the State Department, noting that he constructed and staffed the command to mirror that priority.
“What we wanted to do was have representation of the interagency [relationship] as a part of the command -– not in the traditional sense of the interagency as members who sit off by themselves, but integrated members of our staff,” he said. The Africom staff includes a State Department deputy and representatives from U.S. Agency for International Development, the Agriculture and Energy departments, and other U.S. agencies.
“Their involvement in all our activities clearly lent itself to the notion that what we were doing was off by itself, but was being informed by our foreign policy and the range of activities that we were involved in -– be it State or the U.S. Agency for International Development or the Agriculture Department,” he said.
The command’s interagency aspect also serves to inform the agencies’ headquarters in Washington as the men and women there use their contacts and skills to help the command, and vice versa, Ward said.
“Having those interagency partners on our team, they could see how we were doing and were clearly there to help us do our planning and our work,” the general said, “but they could provide that input back to their departments.”
Challenges exist on the continent, Ward acknowledged. Somalia, al-Qaida in North Africa’s Mahgreb region and, illegal trafficking of people and drugs and weapons through porous borders are among the challenges the people of the continent must deal with, he added.
“It’s reinforced when you have challenges in development in infrastructure and energy and water, [and] when you have issues with governance,” he said. “All these challenges have to be looked at in a comprehensive way. This means the international community also has to play. They have to work together.”
But in addition to the challenges, the general said, Africa also presents vast opportunities. The continent has seen small but steady economic growth, even through the downturn in the American and European economies, Ward noted.
“The opportunities are great,” he said. “We are seeing more regional cooperation. With secure structures operating in more appropriate ways, we take advantage of those opportunities to reinforce success and we work as a global community on these challenges.
“How we reinforce and support the African Union mission in Somalia is important,” he continued. “How we reinforce and support the work being done by regional partners in East Africa is important.”
The command is “moving out smartly, and at a pace comparable to other geographic commands,” Ward said.
“But we haven’t been at it very long,” he added. “What we have done is charted a course where our work is seen as preventive. Our work will prevent a crisis, as opposed to [having] to respond and react to one. We think that is the best result for our nation — if a crisis never gets started.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)