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  • The Honorable Christine Wormuth serves as the 25th Secretary of the U.S. Army. The Secretary of the Army is the senior civilian official within the Department of Defense (DoD) responsible for all matters relating to the U.S. Army. Secretary Wormuth briefs on the U.S. Army’s role in the Indo-Pacific; lessons learned in Ukraine; and support to allies and partners. 


 MODERATOR:  Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center.  We’re privileged to have the Honorable Christine Wormuth, Secretary of the United States Army.  My name is Melissa Waheibi.  I’ll be your moderator today.  This briefing is on the record and being recorded.  The video and transcript will be posted on our website later today at  As we begin, we ask that your Zoom profile reflects your name and media outlet.  Secretary Wormuth will offer opening remarks, and then we will have a period of Q&A, which I will moderate.  At this time, ma’am, the floor is yours.  

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks very much for the opportunity to talk to you a little bit about the United States Army and all that we’re doing around the world today.  I thought I’d start just a little bit by explaining what it means to be the Secretary of the Army.  The Army is led by two senior officials – a civilian, the Secretary of the Army – and I am the 25th Secretary of the Army – and then also lead by a four-star general.  Currently that general is John McConville, and the two of us together are responsible for over $185 billion annual budget for the United States Army.  Our institution includes almost a million soldiers; those are active, guard, and reserve.  And with General McConville, I am responsible essentially for organizing the entire United States Army.  I am responsible for all of our recruiting, also for training and equipping the United States Army.   

We are currently deployed in almost 140 countries around the world today.  We have more than 40,000 soldiers in Europe.  Some of those soldiers are permanently stationed there; many of them have been deployed there in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  We also have United States Army soldiers permanently stationed in Korea and Japan as well as Hawaii and Alaska.   

I think I would just say a couple of things and then open it to questions, because I’m sure you all have wide-ranging questions.  But I wanted to highlight in particular first the role that the United States Army has played in supporting Ukraine as it fights to defend itself against Russia.  We have trained over 10,000 Ukrainian armed forces.  We’ve trained them on Patriot, Avenger, and Stinger air defense systems.  We’ve provided training on a range of armored vehicles, including Bradleys, Strikers, and now Abrams tanks.  We also – the Army has provided the Ukrainian armed forces with billions of dollars of equipment – everything from vehicles to Patriots to radars to hundreds of thousands of rounds of munition.  For example, we’ve provided over 700,000 155-millimeter artillery shells.  

We also in the United States Army have learned many lessons from the conflict in Ukraine, and I’d be happy to talk about that for those of you who are interested.   

I also wanted to highlight the role of the Army in the Indo-Pacific.  A lot of national security observers tend to focus on the Navy and the Air Force’s role in the Indo-Pacific, and those are very important roles, but the Army has an important role to play there as well.  Just to mention two things, first, if the Army – if the United States, for example, were ever to get into a conflict in the Indo-Pacific, the United States Army would play an essential role as a lynchpin force.   

We would be responsible, I would expect, for establishing our bases for the Air Force and the Navy, for protecting those bases.  We would play a tremendous role in resupplying the United States Military, so we would be doing a lot of in terms of logistics.  And we also would be able to provide long-range fires.  So for example, the Army is developing a hypersonic weapon, and that would be something that we could employ in that role.   

But on a day-to-day basis, every day, the United States Army also plays a very important role in campaigning in the Indo-Pacific in essentially trying to continue to preserve the security and stability there in that region by strengthening deterrence.  And we do that largely by basically conducting exercises in that region.  We have many very comprehensive, multilateral exercises through United States Army Pacific, and we also engage on a regular basis with all of our allies and partners in that region.  So we are able to demonstrate our ability to interoperate every day with those countries, and we use things like our Security Force Assistance Brigades to help build capacity of our partners in the region.   

So why don’t I stop there and open it up to your questions.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Madam Secretary.  It’s now time for the Q&A portion of this event.  You can ask your question by raising your virtual hand.  If you’re on Zoom, I will call on you.  At that point, please turn on your mike and, if possible, your camera.  You can also type your question into the chat feature.  For those of you here in the room, we have a microphone.  Please do state your question in the microphone so that it’s available for the transcript.  So we’ll begin in the room.  Thank you.  Please state your name and organization.   

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Taiwan Central News Agency.  My question is:  In your view, what is the best strategy to counter the PLA’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific region, and what are the specific steps that the U.S. Army could assist Taiwan to improve its security landscape?  Thank you.  

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Well, first of all, I would say I don’t think either the United States or China wants a war.  I don’t think that would be in the interests of either of our countries.  So I think, one, we need to be working on lowering the temperature in the region.  That said, I am certainly concerned about China’s coercive and aggressive behavior in the region.  So what we are focused on, as I said in my opening remarks, is really trying to strengthen deterrence, trying to make sure that every day President Xi and his senior military leaders wake up and say to themselves, “Today is not the day to try to take Taiwan by force,” for example.   

And the way we strengthen that deterrence, I think, as I said, is by demonstrating combat credible forces in the region.  So through our Pacific Pathways set of exercises, we are able to bring Army forces into the region; we are able to show how we can conduct joint air assault operations; we are able to use systems like HIMARS, artillery, for example, in our exercises.  And we’re able to show how we’re able to operate with our allies and partners in the region, and I think that does a lot to strengthen deterrence and to show that basically, as we say sometimes, the best way to avoid fighting a war is to show that you can win any war you might have to fight.  And I think that’s where the United States Army really tries to focus. 

MODERATOR:  We will go online and come back in the room.  Martin, I see you have your hand raised.  Please enable your microphone and your video, if you choose, and ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Secretary, first question is about the Indo-Pacific – I’m from a newspaper in Denmark, so it’s far away – and that is this:  Don’t you think that United States and its allies are at an inherent disadvantage militarily, vis-à-vis China in the Indo-Pacific?  Because what do you have there are, of course, a number of bases, and you’ve been increasing the number of bases recently – as an example, the Philippines.  But you basically have aircraft carriers and destroyers, and China has an incredible advantage in being the mainland, and they can basically shoot down any destroy, any aircraft carrier they want to.  So they have that huge territory from which they can fight, and the United States does not have that.  So it seems to me that there’s a kind of disparity between the two sides here that doesn’t really worked well as a deterrent.  That’s number one.   

Number two, is it surprising that China actually feels somewhat surrounded, to turn it around, the question?  And a third question is this:  What have you learned from Ukraine, from the war in Ukraine?  Thank you.   

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Thank you.  Let me try to take those kinds of questions in turn.  Certainly China has what we like to say in the Army, excellent interior lines of communication.  They’re – the distances in the Indo-Pacific are formidable, and all of the issues that you point out, I think, are real issues.  That said, I think what we’ve seen in how the international community has rallied to Ukraine’s side, I think there’s a lesson there for China, which is that if there were to be a war, I think that it is highly unlikely that China would be facing the United States alone.  I think you would be facing a coalition of countries even broader than strictly limited to the Indo-Pacific.  So I think some of the geographic challenges that you’re pointing to are mitigated when you think about the fact that we would probably have other countries involved in the region in any kind of a conflict.   

And as you said, we have been working very diligently to broaden and diversify our basing agreements in the region.  So I think the agreement that Secretary Austin was able to come to with the Philippines, for example, is a great example of being able to show how we’ll have more bases from which to operate.  I think Japan’s sense of its own security and the threat that it perceives from China has shifted dramatically in the last 10 years.  I think you see Australia being more and more concerned about Chinese aggressive actions in the region.  So I think all of that would come into play if there were to be a conflict there.   

And I think in terms of China feeling encircled or contained, if you will, I think the United States has a strong track record of showing we are a democratic nation that respects the concept of territorial sovereignty.  We do not believe in unprovoked aggression, such as what we’ve seen, again, with Russia going into Ukraine.  I think the role that the United States has played in the Pacific for decades has been about preserving the security and stability of that region so that all of the countries in the region, to include the United States, which is a Pacific nation, can continue to prosper economically.  So I think China wouldn’t have anything, I think, to worry about were it not to be making very expansive territorial claims, for example, that have been rejected by the international tribunal.   

And I think the last question you asked about was what we’ve been doing with Ukraine.  And again, I would emphasize the United States Army has trained over 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers —  

QUESTION:  No, the – no, the question was what have you learned from that —  

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Oh, what have we learned?  I’m sorry.  Yeah, okay.   

QUESTION:  — from the conflict – in terms of war, how to conduct wars.   

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Sure, absolutely.  I’m sorry.  You asked three questions —  

QUESTION:  No problem.   

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  — so I apologize that I didn’t have the last one quite right.  I think we’ve learned a lot of different lessons from Ukraine.  First of all, I think we’ve learned about the importance of drones, unmanned aerial systems, both in their capabilities for us for intelligence and reconnaissance as well as their strike capabilities, but certainly also I think we’ve learned about the threats that drones can pose to our forces.  So we in the Army are very, very focused on countering the drone threat and working to make sure that our armored vehicles, for example, are protected from the aerial threats of drones.   

I think we’ve learned looking at the situation in Ukraine that the battlefield is becoming ever more transparent, and we have to shift our tactics, techniques, and procedures to train our soldiers how to operate effectively in that much more transparent battlefield.  So looking at things like making our command posts as mobile as possible, being able to establish our command posts and take them down very, very rapidly, for example.   

I think we’ve also learned about the importance of fires, which – and integrated air and missile defense systems, and those are systems that the United States Army had already started to invest in considerably, but when we look at what’s happened on the battlefield with Ukraine I think it reinforces to us the need to invest in those kinds of systems.   

And the last major lesson I would point to is the need – excuse me – the need to invest in much more robust munitions stockpiles.  Obviously we’ve seen huge usage of munitions in Ukraine, and I think that the just-in-time sort of approach to logistics and munitions is an assumption that we need to relook.  So we are really looking at ramping up our production so that we’ll have much deeper magazines in the future.   

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Very interesting.  Thank you so much. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Martin, for your question.  We’ll go in the room.  Manik, please state your full name and your organization and ask your question.   

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Very useful insights, by the way.  My name is Manik Mehta.  I’m a syndicated journalist.  Now, we just had the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where the Chinese defense minister declined to meet with his U.S. counterpart.  Now, how do you see that?  And where does this lead to? 

Secondly, I would like to come to the Quad meeting which was held in Hiroshima instead of Sydney, and it seemed to me – I tried to analyze, and it appeared to me that it was I would say almost Taiwan-centric.  Is that the case?  Because you also have three other members, and one of which is India.  India is having tremendous problems on the borders with China.  There have been skirmishes if not a full-fledged war.  What could you do to offer to India if there is need?  Would you also be able to send boots?  I know it’s a very unrealistic thing to – to ask, but what would it come to if push comes to shove?  Would you be willing to do that?  Thank you very much.   

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Okay, why don’t I start with your second question first about the Quad meeting and your sense that it was very Taiwan-centric.  Certainly I think there is lots and lots of conversation about Taiwan and about the possibility of a conflict over Taiwan.  So it’s not unusual, I think, that the news coverage of these types of events like the Quad tends to focus on the question of a Taiwan invasion.  But you’re right, there are other possibilities, and certainly tensions have been running high between India and China.  And we I think absolutely want to be supportive of India in that regard.   

So just a couple of years ago, actually, prior to me becoming Secretary of the Army, the Army actually did provide quite a bit of cold-weather equipment to the Indian army, who was then basically in a skirmish with the Chinese at that time.  So I think we have a strong relationship with India.  I just met with the Indian – my equivalent in the Indian ministry of defense, Minister Aramane, and we had a great talk about our cooperation.  We have a major exercise with the Indians called Yudh Abhyas that we’re actually hoping to expand the U.S. participation in that exercise the next time it’s in India.  And we talked quite a bit about the threat picture, I would say, and the security picture across all of the Indo-Pacific.   

So I want to reassure you that we’re not sort of myopically focused on Taiwan.  There are other things to be concerned about in the broader Indo-Pacific region. 

And on your question about the situation at the Shangri-La Dialogue where the PRC equivalent to Secretary Austin, all they did was shake hands, I think what’s concerning about that is my sense and in my experiences in the national security community and government is it’s very, very important to have open lines of communication with countries, even if you have a more adversarial relationship.  So for example, when we were fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the Russians put forces into Syria, we had a deconfliction channel where we could talk to the Russians.  And I think given that tensions are high now between the United States and China, I think it would be very, very valuable for there to be an open channel of communications between Secretary Austin and his counterpart.  The Chinese have met with our Secretary of Commerce, for example, and that’s very useful, but if there is – when it comes to a potential miscalculation, I think we want to have Secretary Austin and General Milley, the chairman of our Joint Chiefs, talking to their counterparts to make sure that there aren’t any misunderstandings.   

QUESTION:  May I just ask a small follow-up question with your permission? 

MODERATOR:  Sure.  You need to be on the microphone. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  The prime minister of India will be here on a state visit in the third week of June, and the Defense Department has been talking about selling equipment to India.  What equipment – do you know what the Indians want, actually? 

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Well, in my conversations with the Indians, I think they’re very interested in, obviously, developing their own defense industrial base, and so they’re interested in co-development, co-production types of arrangements.  And I don’t want to speak to the details, but I know that we in the Army have put forward two proposals to the Indians to work with them on two particular systems, and we’re very interested in pursuing that.  And right now it’s really up to the Indian ministry of defense to decide when they would like to take next steps. 

QUESTION:  Thanks very much. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

We will stay in the Zoom world and go to Thiago.  Thiago, if you could enable your microphone and, if possible, your video and ask your question of the Secretary. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Thank you all.  Thank you, Secretary.  I’m Thiago Amancio with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paolo.  If I may, I’d like to shift the focus to Latin America, but with the same Chinese background.  So General Laura Richardson and other U.S. Army officials have been to Brazil recently, and they travel regularly to other countries in the region.  Can you explain the priorities of the U.S. Army for Latin America, where there’s also a growing presence of China? 

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Sure.  Yes, and I stay in regular touch with General Laura Richardson, our United States SOUTHCOM commander.  For the United States Army, I would say we obviously try to work closely with our partners in the Western Hemisphere to understand what their priorities are, and in my cases our emphasis with many countries in Central America and Latin America tend to center around humanitarian assistance and quite a bit of counter-drug, counter-trafficking types of activities.  So a lot of our work there falls into those areas. 

We also are focused on doing capacity building with countries that are interested.  We work very closely with Colombia, for example, and have had a very long history with the Colombian military, and in addition to conducting exercises throughout the region, we use our Security Force Assistance Brigade to work with other armies in the hemisphere to develop their capabilities. 

I think we are certainly concerned – excuse me – about some of the extensive, I would say, Chinese presence in the region.  And I think the PRC has used a lot of economic tools to strengthen its relations with countries in the region, and I think we want to just make sure that the countries in the region understand that we’re a very, I think, reliable partner that they can also count on. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  Pearl, I know you have your hand raised.  Please enable your microphone and ask your question.  Please state your full name and organization as well. 

QUESTION:  Yes.  Thank you so much, Secretary Wormuth. 

MODERATOR:  Oh, Pearl, we’re having a hard time hearing you. 

QUESTION:  Can you hear me now? 

MODERATOR:  Not so much.  If you – if it’s easier, you can also type your question into the chat feature and I can ask it for you. 

QUESTION:  Secretary Wormuth, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to come and talk to us today. 

MODERATOR:  Pearl, I’m going to have to stop you.  It’s hard to hear you. 


MODERATOR:  We’ll come back to you.  Maybe you can adjust your volume.  We’ll go to Toshi.  Toshi, if you are able to open your microphone, thank you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, Madam Secretary.  Thank you, Melissa, for doing this.  My name is Toshi Inaba from Kyodo News, Japanese news wire.  How much are you concerned, worried with the possibility of the DPRK having a military surveillance satellite?  I suppose the U.S. forces in South Korea would be affected most.  What would be the implication of the possible military satellite of the DPRK?  Thank you. 

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Well, I think broadly speaking, we’re – we’ve seen, obviously, Kim Jong-un working for the last several years to build up the capabilities of the North Korean military across the board, expanding, obviously, his missile capabilities, continuing to pursue nuclear weapons, working on satellites, as you’ve said.  All of that I think is extremely concerning, and we are very focused and the United States Army – as Secretary of the Army, I don’t set the policy, obviously, on the Korean Peninsula.  My job is to make sure that we are providing trained and ready United States Army soldiers to partner shoulder to shoulder with the South Korean armed forces, and we are, I would say, primarily focused on exercising together with the ROK military and making sure, again, that we are demonstrating combat-credible forces through those exercises to try to strengthen deterrence on the peninsula.  And also, obviously, working – I mean, we have a very strong alliance with the South Koreans and wanting to make sure that we are always focused on making sure that we’ve got strong, viable, extended deterrence.  

QUESTION:  So it’s not that it’s going to have a, like, great impact on how you operate in the region?  

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  I don’t think it will substantially change how we’ve been operating for the past few years.  And we obviously have got to continue diplomatic efforts right alongside the military efforts.  I think those are very important as well.  

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Toshi.  We have another question in the room.  Please grab the mike, state your name, organization, ask your question.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Shogo Senda from Nippon TV, a Japanese broadcaster.  I have a broader question about the, I guess, strategic goals for the U.S. Army.  Given the fact that the war in Afghanistan has – is there a strategic – I guess, what is the larger goal of the strategic pivot to the Indo-Pacific from the Mid-East?  

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  I think what we’re – we are a part of the joint force team, I would say.  And the United States military is really an instrument, if you will, to execute the goals of the National Defense Strategy.  And really what we want to do in the Indo-Pacific is basically continue to preserve the stability and security there, because I think the long decades of peace and security we’ve seen in the Indo-Pacific have allowed all of the countries in the region to benefit economically in very substantial ways.   

And so in the context of the PRC’s extremely comprehensive and robust military modernization and their much more, I would say, aggressive behaviors in the region, we – I think the seriousness that that poses really required much more focus on the Indo-Pacific, and the Army has been a part of that.  

At the same time, I would just say we continue to be concerned, obviously, about violent extremist organizations.  ISIS hasn’t gone away, al-Shabaab – you name it, there’s a lot of different ones.  And we continue to focus on those threats as well.  But I think the most serious challenge is the one that is posed by the PRC’s aggressive behavior in the region.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Back to Zoom.  Shinichi, if you are interested, please enable your microphone and ask your question.  

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you for this opportunity, Madam Secretary.  My question is about the Multi-Domain —  

MODERATOR:  Oh, I’m sorry to cut you off.  Please state your name and organization.  

QUESTION:  Okay.  My name is Shinichi Akiyama.  I’m out for the Mainichi newspaper, Japan.  And my question is about the Multi-Domain Task Forces.  As far as I understand, there will be two more Multi-Domain Task Forces in a few years.  And what is the current Army plan where to deploy these forces?  Is there any possibility to deploy it in Japan?  And also, the conflict in Ukraine could affect the plan in the future.  

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  I’m always excited to meet a reporter who knows about our Multi-Domain Task Forces, so thank you for the question.  The Army – we have three Multi-Domain Task Forces at this time, and let me just say a little bit about them for others who are joining us who may not know about them.  The Multi-Domain Task Force is a new Army formation that is designed to be able to deliver both what we say – what we call kinetic effects, basically physical effects if you will, as well as non-kinetic effects.   

So the task force has the capability to conduct operations in space, and in the cyber domain, and in the information operations domain.  It also will have a battalion called a long-range fires battalion.  And that part of the Multi-Domain Task Force will be able, using some of our new weapons systems – things like the Precision Strike Missile or the Mid-Range Capability or eventually the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon – will be able to actually deliver long-range fires against physical targets.  So that’s what the Multi-Domain Task Force does, broadly speaking.   

We have a Multi-Domain Task Force aligned to U.S.-European Command.  So this is – it can be used worldwide, but one of the ones that we have now is focused on Europe.  And we do have another one that is focused on the INDOPACOM AOR.   

And so to your question about where might they be stationed eventually, I do think that in theory the Multi-Domain Task Force could have great utility if it were stationed in Japan, for example, or perhaps in Australia.  But first and foremost, Japan and any other potential host nation has to decide and has to talk with the United States about whether that kind of a stationing arrangement makes sense to them.  So while I think there would absolutely be operational utility there, I don’t want to get ahead of our diplomats and get ahead of our allied governments in terms of where ultimately we will station our MDTFs.   

We do have a very strong alliance with Japan.  We have regular discussions.  We have a very strong relationship with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.  And we certainly have been talking with them about the capabilities of the Multi-Domain Task Force.  I think it would be very complementary of the Marine Littoral Regiment, which Japan has agreed to host.  But I think those conversations have to continue before we make any permanent stationing decisions. 

QUESTION:  So have the U.S. side already made any request to consider it? 

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  I would say we’re in conversations with the Japanese Government on a routine basis.  But again, the Army’s job is just to provide the capabilities.  We do not take the lead in terms of having discussions with the Japanese Government about what capabilities they might host. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Ma’am, we received a question via the chat feature.  It’s from Olukorede Yishau from The Nation, Nigeria.  It’s: “Specifically in what ways have the U.S. Army helped the Nigerian army, and will this continue under the President Bola Tinubu administration?” 

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  I would say the primary presentation, if you will, of the United States Army in Africa is – has been through United States Africa Command, and particularly through our Security Force Assistance Brigade that I mentioned.  So we – just like Multi-Domain Task Forces that are aligned to different theaters, we have a Security Force Assistance Brigade aligned to the Western Hemisphere, we also have one aligned to the African continent.  So that is primarily how the United States works with countries – or excuse me, how the Army works with countries like Nigeria.  It is through exercises and partnering to build capacity.   

So I would be happy to try to get you additional information about our plans with Nigeria specifically, but United States Africa Command would probably have the most comprehensive description of what we’re doing there. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Pearl, I want to give you another opportunity, if you want to enable your microphone and try again.  And if not, like I said, you can also submit it via the chat feature. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) so much for giving me the second opportunity.  Secretary Wormuth, I just want to start by thanking you — 

MODERATOR:  Pearl, can you state your name and organization, please? 

QUESTION:  Absolutely.  Pearl Matibe, with Premium Times, Nigeria.  Secretary Wormuth, as I was saying, I think it’s important that I thank you for having taken the time to come and explain to us about the 30,000-view of your global operations.   

A couple of things stand that I think I just want to ask you about.  President Biden was very clear at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that he wants to increase engagement with Africa.  Now, other Cabinet-level ministers have already made trips to Africa.  Do you envisage yourself setting foot on – in Africa, or Secretary Austin?  I know he went to Egypt, but he hasn’t yet been visible or engaged in person on the continent. 

And then at the top you ask – you mentioned numbers, which I really appreciate the data.  Over – in Somalia over the last five to seven years, you had withdrawn troops from Somalia and then made a decision to have them return.  Could you speak a little bit about your thinking in terms of that?  What was – what motivated, and what – in Ukraine, with the Wagner Group there and the Wagner Group being present in Africa, are there any particular lessons you’ve learned in – with the Wagner Group there and tactical strategies of maybe what they might export or use in the Africa domain, in the African theater?  Thank you, Secretary Wormuth. 

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Thank you, Ms. Matibe.  I really appreciate the questions.  I would welcome the opportunity to go see for myself, with my own eyes, some of the work that Army soldiers are doing in Africa.  I – excuse me – I haven’t yet had that opportunity.  I was able to meet with a range of my African counterparts when President Biden hosted the African Leaders Summit, a few months ago now I think that was, and was privileged to be part of a conversation with General Langley, our AFRICOM commander, talking about what we’re doing in the national security realm.  And I think that engagement was indicative of the greater engagement that President Biden has assured that the United States is going to provide to Africa. 

I can’t speak for Secretary Austin.  I’m sure that he would like to go to Africa.  He has extensive, obviously, military experience himself and is well traveled.  I know from previous positions I’ve had, working closely with the secretaries of defense in the past, they have very, very busy calendars with a lot of competing demands.  So I won’t speak for the secretary, but I do know that he’s very engaged in everything that’s happening in the national security space, and he keeps a close eye on what’s going on in Africa as well. 

I think in terms of the United States decision to put back some forces in Somalia, I think that that was largely driven by the fact that, as I said, the violent extremist organizations have not gone away, and certainly the groups in Somalia continue to be of concern.  And I think there was a view that the previous administration’s decisions to remove all troops from Somalia was not in the best national security interest of the United States.  And so I think we’re able to do more typically when we have some boots on the ground.  And as for the Wagner Group, I think the – I guess what I would say is – and I’m not sure this was even a lesson that we had to learn, if you will – but certainly we’ve seen the Wagner Group play a very pernicious role in Ukraine, just as we’ve seen them play in Mali and elsewhere.  And I think my biggest takeaway is that we shouldn’t limit our focus on the threat that Russia poses to just its actual military – we need to also be looking at how they use proxy forces like the Wagner Group.  And so we will, I think, continue to keep a close eye on the Wagner Group and its activities, whether it’s in Ukraine or in Africa or elsewhere.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  We have time for a couple more questions, so if you do have one, indicate so by raising your virtual hand.  In the meantime, we received several presubmitted questions, all of which were touched on with the exception of one region, which is the Middle East.  I will ask that on behalf of Mohamad Maher Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper and Al-Ain News in Egypt:  “President Biden’s administration has restructured the national security staff in the Middle East and Asia directorates, downsizing the team devoted to the Middle East and bulking up the unit that coordinates U.S. policy towards the vast region of the world stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.  Do you agree with this vision that the Middle East is not important to the U.S. and must focus on near-peer competitors like China and Russia?”   

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  I would push back on the premise of the question, which is asserting that the Middle East isn’t important.  The Middle East absolutely is important, and I think the strongest signal of the fact is if you ask yourself, “Where is Secretary of State Tony Blinken today?” he’s in Saudi Arabia, which I think underscores the continuing importance of the Middle East and our interest in that region.  And Jake Sullivan, if I’m not mistaken, was also just in the Middle East about a month ago.  So I wouldn’t put too much stock in the size of the national security directorate to try to figure out how important a region is.   

As I said in response to your question about sort of the broader United States defense strategy and foreign policy, we are very, very focused on the Indo-Pacific because, I think, of the stakes that are there diplomatically, economically, militarily.  But as we all know, the world is incredibly interdependent, and something that happens in Ukraine I think has implications for China and Taiwan, Australia, the regions in the Indo-Pacific.  So we can’t afford to focus exclusively on one region.  We have to, I think, be able to – as I like to say – walk and chew gum.  And certainly I know from my colleagues in the interagency that we continue to pay close attention and continue to value our relationships in the Middle East and will continue, I think, to value those relationships for years to come.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  This concludes our briefing for today.  Thank you so much, Secretary Wormuth, for being here, and thank you to those who participated both in the room and on Zoom.  Again, the transcript and video will be available today at  Have a good afternoon.   

SECRETARY WORMUTH:  Thank you.  And thanks to you all for being here in person.  

U.S. Department of State

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