Ham Looks Toward More Multilateral Exercises in Africa
THEBEPHATSHWA AIR BASE, Botswana, Aug. 17, 2012 – Wrapping up one of the largest bilateral exercises ever on the African continent, the commander of U.S Africa Command said he looks forward to expanding future engagements to make them multilateral.
Army Gen. Carter Ham, speaking yesterday at closing ceremonies here for the U.S.-Botswana Defense Force exercise Southern Accord 12, expressed that desire to observers from countries across Southern Africa. “I look forward to continuing a relationship in hope that your observer status here will eventually develop into participation in future exercises,” he said.
Multilateral cooperation is vital in Africa in light of threats and challenges that transcend borders, Ham explained during a news conference before the closing ceremonies.
“The challenges that are present in Africa -- whether they are environmental disasters or humanitarian assistance missions, fighting terrorists or anti-poaching, countering narcotics trafficking – all of these challenges have a transnational nature to them,” he said. “And I believe that it requires a transnational or multinational approach to counter those threats.”
Speaking with American Forces Press Service, Ham said that’s why he hopes to see more multilateral participation in Africom exercises. “We have several longstanding bilateral exercises with a number of African countries,” he said. “I am trying to generally get us away from just a U.S. and one other African country [exercise model] and would prefer to have participants from a number of African countries, and in some cases, countries outside of Africa.”
He noted the example of European military participation in the recent African Endeavor exercise in Cameroon.
Exercising together will help regional nations to work together to address these challenges, Ham said. “If we can, through our exercise program, bring more nations together and find ways to work through our challenges of interoperability, [we] can get to know one another better so that we can operate together more effectively,” he said. “Then I think that contributes overall to regional security.”
Ham said he looks forward to more military-to-military engagements with African nations as the drawdown in Afghanistan makes more U.S. forces available. But he said the United States also welcomes more regional cooperation among African nations themselves, not necessarily involving the U.S.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Ham emphasized that the United States has no interest in establishing military bases in Botswana or anywhere else in Africa. “There is no plan. I cannot be clearer than that,” he said.
Botswanan Maj. Gen. Placid Segokgo, the BDF deputy commander, echoed Ham’s sentiment. “All the signals I have seen is that clearly they [Americans] do not want to come and base in Africa,” he said.
“The American presence is to provide capability to African forces to be able to do what is required of them in support of their nations’ responsibilities, but not to actually come here and base here and operate out of [Africa],” he said.
Segokgo said U.S. assistance can help African militaries apply the capability they have built when funding or logistical support falls short. The United States, for example, provided airlift support to the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in the strife-torn Darfur region of Sudan in 2009.
“This does not put U.S. troops on the ground,” Segokgo said. “It provides for African nations an opportunity to remove the cost, but exercise the troops we do have. African forces sometimes have the resources, but not necessarily the funding available, so such partnerships illustrate clearly what can be achieved.”
Segokgo shared Ham’s hope that exercises such as Southern Accord might expand to become multinational, and that more regional militaries will recognize the benefits of partnering with the United States and each other. “There are capabilities that nations such as America will always have that are difficult to come across in this region,” he said.
The generals agreed that Southern Accord 12 benefitted both the U.S. and BDF participants as they learned from each other through classroom and field exercises focused on a variety of areas, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, anti-poaching, peacekeeping and convoy operations and aero-medical evacuation.
They also conducted outreach programs in several rural areas. These activities include dental and medical examinations, veterinary assistance and support for Botswana’s national safe male circumcision program. “I know that the U.S. military personnel depart Botswana better trained than when they arrived,” Ham said at the closing ceremony. “And I am confident also that the Botswana Defense Force is better trained at the conclusion of this exercise.”
In the process, he told a formation of U.S. and BDF troops assembled for the ceremony, they deepened an already-strong professional relationship between the two militaries. “It is the friendship, the partnership, the cooperation, the trust that has been built that will endure,” he said.