WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2008 – Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward gets a bit hot under the collar when he confronts the myths about U.S. Africa Command, America’s newest unified command. Ward, the commander of AfriCom, takes every opportunity to emphasize the new organization in no way represents a “militarization” of U.S. foreign policy on the continent.

The command was not formed to protect America’s oil supply, it is not going to set up bases, posts or airfields and base American troops in Africa, and it has no intention of moving from its Stuttgart, Germany, headquarters any time in the foreseeable future, he points out with regularity.

The general remained excited – but in a good way – when he discussed the reality of Africa Command and its potential during an interview following the unfurling of the command’s colors yesterday in the Pentagon.

The command is responsible for areas formerly covered by U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command, and is the American military’s sixth unified geographic command. But it is unique. The command is the first joint service combatant command with an interagency organization.

From the beginning, Ward said, interagency partners were going to be integral parts of AfriCom. The deputy commander is Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates – a career foreign service officer who has spent two decades on the continent. State Department officials head other civil-military organizations in the command.

The U.S. Agency for International Development also has supplied personnel to Africa Command. USAID officials have worked delivering humanitarian supplies after disasters around the globe and have a wealth of knowledge about Africa. Other agencies – the Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security departments among them – also are players in the command.

Integration of interagency members into the staff is a priority for Ward, he said, because he already sees benefits.

“As we define and plan our work, it is better informed because we understand what is being done by other members of our government,” Ward said. The command can ensure their work is complementary to all the other programs the U.S. government has on the continent.

And those efforts are really the main focus in Africa. Combating the spread of AIDS, managing rural development, encouraging good governance, combating trafficking in humans, helping internally displaced people and refugees and more take up the lion’s share of U.S. money spent in Africa.

Africa Command must be in line with all these programs, Ward said.

“What we do has to be within the construct of the stated foreign policy objectives,” he explained. For example, he said, AfriCom does not have a policy on Darfur — the United States government has a Darfur policy. If any U.S. policy on the continent has a military component, the general said, then Africa Command would focus on that.

The military will seek to help other agency efforts, not to replace them, Ward said. The military is not the development authority for Africa, he noted. “That’s our USAID teammates,” Ward said. “They didn’t come to the command so that we now take over development. They are here so we are more cognizant of developmental activities as we go on.”

For example, if U.S. Africa Command sponsors a peacekeeping training exercise with an African nation and some infrastructure must be built to support it, USAID personnel can help pinpoint where it will do the most good for follow-on use, the general said. “If we don’t have that dialogue, if we don’t have that communication, we may never know that, and we’ve lost an opportunity,” he said.

The same holds true with the command’s ability to provide humanitarian support. USAID provides the vast majority of medical and veterinary aid.

“If our military doctors can bring added value to those other programs, then that’s what we want to do,” he said. “But we have to know it in advance so it will bring greater value to the totality of U.S. government efforts.”

Ward said he understands that the interagency partners are the experts on the continent. The command covers 53 nations, and the vastness of the continent means that a policy that works in Botswana probably won’t work in Burkina Faso. The interagency partners know the area, they know the leaders, they know the people, and they can point the military to the best use of its resources, he said.

What the military brings to the equation is expertise in planning, logistics and training, and the resources to make things happen, Ward said. If USAID, for example, must get 300,000 humanitarian daily rations to a disaster area quickly, then its leaders can turn to U.S. Africa Command for assistance.

“If we can bring a capability to one of our interagency partners, then I think we ought to do that,” Ward said. “But I draw a distinction between leading that effort and supporting that effort. If we have a capability that one of our interagency partners lacks, and we can come in and support their overall efforts, then that is something that we should look to do.”

By working in a focused manner day-to-day with interagency partners, other organizations and the African nations, Ward said, the hope is that AfriCom, over time, will help to bring about a more secure and stable environment to allow stability to flourish on the continent.

The command is focused on Africa and listens to African leaders in a way that hasn’t happened in the past, Ward said. The key phrase for the command is “sustained security engagement,” he said, acknowledging that the “sustained” portion has not always happened, as a lack of follow-up in the past led to new capabilities decaying before they could take root. “Going back so that things can be built upon, that’s what’s different,” Ward said.

To illustrate his point that the command will work to enhance Africans’ ability to take charge of their security, Ward recalled a request from an African nation for some assistance. The nation was readying to deploy peacekeepers, he said, and needed help in how to load aircraft for deployment – how to palletize goods, how to tie things down, how to safeguard hazardous substances and so on. The command sent a U.S. Army lieutenant, an Army sergeant and an Air Force sergeant to the country, where they spent three weeks training the nation’s loadmasters.

Along the way, the Americans learned some of the local language and customs. “At the end, the crewmen were able to do the mission professionally and with all safeguards,” Ward said. “I got a letter from the chief of defense asking if he could have the same three guys back so he could train more. These are relationships being developed.”

The team will go back, and later another team will go in, and still another will visit. The follow-up is as important as the original capability, Ward said, and these are capabilities that the nations ask for.

American servicemembers work side by side with African militaries, and they tell Ward how rewarding that work is for them.

“Helping these militaries provide their own security may mean we are not there reacting to a situation,” Ward said. “[American servicemembers are] doing it in such a way that they are preventing something rather than to try to stop something or react to something. They really appreciated it.”

Ward spoke of visiting one U.S. unit that served in Iraq, then Afghanistan, and was now part of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa in Djibouti.

“To an individual, they thought what they were doing mattered and made a difference, and [that] what they were doing helped promote stability instead of having to intervene to bring stability back,” Ward said. “It goes back to our primary work trying to prevent conflict as opposed to having to react to a conflict. The young men and women who are doing it are happy to be involved in those tasks.”

The command is small – roughly 2,000 servicemembers in all of Africa, with most concentrated in the Horn of Africa. The command spends more time listening to partners and friends on the continent, and then moves out accordingly. “We do this based on what they ask us to do in their support – on their behalf,” Ward said.

Ward said it’s important to understand there are other viewpoints and to try to see situations as your friends see them.

“The idea of getting out of your foxhole and going downrange and looking back at it from the perspective of others is important,” he said. “This will help us succeed.”

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