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 in the central-African nation, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said here April 24. “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,” Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward said during a news conference.
Ward’s trip here was the final leg of a three-country, five-day trip to Africa. He led a small Africom delegation to Rwanda and Kenya earlier in the week.
This marked the first time in anyone’s memory that the commander of a U.S. geographic combatant command has visited the country, Africom officials said.
Ward discussed cooperation activities with Defense Minister Charles Mwando Nsimba and Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Didier Etumba Longila. He also toured classrooms and visited students in the “Centre Superieur Militaire” military school.
Under a U.S. State Department-run program, the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa has a seven-member mobile training team teaching Congolese military officers ranging from captains to colonels at the school. The instruction includes military leadership, preparation of plans and orders, the military decision-making process and staff functions.
Plans are under way to hold a major medical exercise with the Congolese military in summer 2010, said Army Col. (Dr.) Schuyler Geller, Africom’s command surgeon, who accompanied Ward on the trip. The Medflag exercise is a premier annual training event conducted bilaterally with African nations, focused on medical training and building the skills of their military medical personnel.
The exercise is one example of how the 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 here and in all other 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.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’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 country 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.
The U.N. mission began with a few thousand peacekeepers and has grown into the organization’s largest peacekeeping operation worldwide. Nearly 50 nations from four continents supply military and police personnel to the Congo mission, now about 17,000 strong. Its troops are deployed into eastern Congo to help to protect vulnerable civilian populations affected by the civil strife.
Ward met with the U.N. secretary general’s special representative, Alan Doss, and Senegalese Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, the top military commander in the U.N. mission.
The United States does not have military troops in the U.N. mission here, 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 news 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 Africom delegation, visited Rwanda to discuss security assistance activities with Rwandan Defense Force officials. He met with commanders who recently served in Darfur peacekeeping operations and toured the infantry school.
Before visiting Congo, Ward 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.