WASHINGTON– U.S. Africa Command will intervene in conflicts on the continent only after warring countries have shown a political will to reconcile, the Africom commander told a congressional panel today. Two main functions of Africom are aiding in stabilization operations and helping build indigenous security forces. But before America’s newest combatant command steps in, national governments must take steps toward ending their conflicts, Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward said.
“The actions that we take come on the heels of a policy decision having been taken by the nations themselves,” Ward told the House Armed Services Committee today.
Ward cited three areas of current conflict on the continent, including border disputes between Eritrea and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa and in North Africa at the Western Sahara, and clashing in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In determining the Africom focus in what Ward characterized as “enduring conflicts,” he said political agreement is a prerequisite for U.S. involvement. If American policy makers then determine Africom can play a role, it will proceed in its mission.
Using the example of Central Africa, where a lack of interoperability and information sharing was exacerbating conflicts, the United States was able to lend assistance to Uganda, Rwanda, Congo and to a lesser degree, and the Central African Republic.
“We had the ability to … help in information sharing, to help with equipment interoperability, providing sometimes needed logistics support and enhancements, to cause those governments to be able to have a better sense of what goes on inside their borders against insurgencies or the rebel factions, and then be able to work in some degree of commonality to address them,” he said.
Ward said many African nations are able to provide their own security, citing Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria and Burundi. Though some require logistical or other support, many indigenous forces are self-reliant.
“Many of the African nations, in fact, do what many of them say they want to do — that is, provide for their own security,” said Ward, adding that there’s a very broad range of capabilities among African nations.
The general estimated the United States has partnerships with 35 of Africa’s 53 nations, representing U.S. relationships that span the continent.
“We work with them [on] counter-terror programs, programs to help in their transformation of their militaries and also in just basic logistic support as they participate in U.N.- or [African Union]-sponsored peacekeeping operations,” he told the congressional members.
Ward’s committee appearance marked his second consecutive day testifying on Capitol Hill about the role of Africom, which became active last October.
He has emphasized that Africom’s role is to support African governments in achieving what is an overarching goal for many nations on the continent: to provide their own security.
“We take all of these [opportunities] as we can to help build the relationships and provide some sustained-level security engagement that leads to a capacity increase in our partner nations,” Ward said.