MODERATOR: Good morning to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today we are very pleased to be joined by the Commander, U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, U.S. Army Major General Todd R. Wasmund, and by Bureau of African Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Scott. Major General Wasmund and Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott will discuss the 2023 African Land Forces Summit, which is themed “Addressing security challenges through civil-military partnerships,” and how U.S.-African partnerships are increasing security and stability on the continent. Our speakers join us from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where the summit is being held.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Major General Wasmund and then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to the Commander, U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, U.S. Army Major General Todd R. Wasmund for his opening remarks.
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: Johann, thank you, and thank you all for taking time from your busy schedules to talk to us today about the African Land Forces Summit. I would be remiss if I didn’t start by thanking our colleagues from the Department of State, who have been critical to not just helping us put on an event like ALFS here in Abidjan with our Ivorian co-hosts, but are fundamental to our military engagements across Africa. Everything that we do in SETAF-Africa is truly in support of our diplomatic efforts. That’s why I’m also thrilled to be joined here today by Ambassador Scott. And thank you to the regional media hub for facilitating this discussion.
This is the 11th iteration of the African Land Forces Summit. Our team at the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, or SETAF-Africa, plans the event on behalf of General Williams, the Commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa, and on behalf of General McConville, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff. We rotate the – we rotate the host nation each year to provide an opportunity for land force commanders to showcase their capabilities and their culture. It’s the first time we’ve held it back on the African continent since 2020, when we held it in Ethiopia. ALFS went virtual due to the pandemic in 2021, and last year the U.S. hosted the event at Fort Moore, just recently renamed – it was known as Fort Benning – in Columbus, Georgia.
Last night we announced that the Zambian defense forces will host next year’s summit. Lieutenant General Alibuzwi has brought his planning team here to observe this year’s event, and we’re excited to work together over the course of the coming year to make ALFS 2024 another fantastic event.
Our Ivoirian hosts have set a very high standard hosting this year’s summit. I want to thank Major General Dem and his staff for their warm welcome and their hard work in making this year’s ALFS a huge success. It’s no small task, and this year’s ALFS involved over 300 participants from land forces of 46 countries – 39 African partners, five European partners, the United States, and Brazil.
The U.S. Army’s approach in Africa is partner-led and U.S.-enabled. That means above all, we listen to our partners, what challenges they face, and what solutions that we are working toward together. An event like African Land Forces Summit embodies that approach. We were fortunate to have a diverse group of military, civil, and academic leaders guide our discussions this week as we considered the theme, “Addressing security challenges through civil-military partnerships.” Plenary sessions included peacekeeping operations, drivers of instability, violent extremism, and several other topics under the umbrella of the importance of civil-military relationships. We also hosted parallel sessions for senior enlisted leaders on the role of the noncommissioned officer and how empowering enlisted leaders builds trust and effective teams across our army.
As General Williams said in his opening comments Monday, every country here brings their own ideas, their own priorities, and their own challenges, and also represent their potential. It’s in forums like this where we can exchange ideas, learn from each other’s experiences, and discuss ways to address shared challenges. The relationships strengthened or, in some cases, made are what makes African Land Forces Summit an incredibly important event.
Thanks very much for your time and we look forward to taking your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, General. So let’s go right into the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. So we did have a question submitted by Mr. Adeniyi Kunnu from Lagos Talks 91.3FM in Nigeria, and the question is: “In the light of the seeming unabating destruction of lives and property by insurgency in Africa, could we have re-strategization by the military to trace supply of ammunition and destroy the same. Arms are daily in proliferation across the continent and it’s a worrying evolution.” So, the question of proliferation of arms and ammunition.
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: Yeah, thank you, Mr. Kunnu. Thanks very much for that question. I’ll start by addressing the first part, about our strategy or our approach as we work with our partners in Africa. As I mentioned in my remarks, our approach is partner-led and U.S.-enabled, and we listen first to our partners what their priorities are. Our strategy really is focused on helping our partners to increase their capacity and their capability to defeat the threats, whether it’s violent extremism or other sources of instability, as we’ve discussed this week in the summit.
We are always concerned about the proliferation of arms, and I’d like to ask Ambassador Scott to talk a little bit about how we approach that both from the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
MR. SCOTT: Yes. No, thank you, General Wasmund. And again, joining you and thanking the journalists for joining us today.
Arms proliferation, obviously a huge issue for us as far as countering violent extremism, instability in general. There are a number of formal mechanisms that are in place internationally which we adhere to and we work with our partners to ensure that those mechanisms are being followed – anti-proliferation, the tracking of munitions. But ultimately, as the general pointed out, it’s a question of working with partners to address this joint threat. So the more intelligence that we have working with law enforcement, working with other governments to track these – this trade in munitions, the more effective we are in stopping it and the more effective we then are in helping increase stability here and global.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you very much. So we did have some other questions which were submitted, from Mr. Kamel Mansari of Jeune Independent in Algeria. So his question is: “Is the 2023 African Land Forces Summit conducted this time in parallel with the recommendations adopted during the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., to sustain security, humanitarian aid, and local development efforts?” So the relationship between the various discussions at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit back in December in Washington and the goals of that summit and how the African Land Forces Summit fits into that.
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: Mr. Mansari, thanks very much for that question, and I’m really glad that you drew attention to the priority that our President and our administration, our government, has given to meeting the challenges and the opportunities here in Africa. I’ll start by answering with a quote from the President, where he mentioned that the U.S. is “all in” on Africa with Africa. And that is a bellwether for the importance and the priority that’s given to it. It’s evidenced by recent visits from some of our most senior leaders, who have come to the continent to gain better understanding themselves about the challenges and opportunities here.
And as the theme indicates, we’re approaching some of these security challenges from a civil-military – through a civil-military lens. And so the issues of security, human aid, and local development align perfectly with that, and so we’re really pleased to have the prioritization and the signals of that from the U.S. Government.
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. So shifting gears a little bit, just looking at the annual exercise, which is the – the annual event, which is the African Land Forces Summit, can you describe a little bit about how this year’s summit differs from previous years and if there are any particular challenges or themes that show up from year to year with the summit?
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: This summit is different in the sense that there’s a little bit of a renewal. And by that I mean we haven’t hosted the African Land Forces Summit in Africa for a couple of years. As I mentioned before, in 2021 we did it virtually because of the pandemic. And last year we hosted it in the U.S., bringing our African partners to our premier infantry training site, infantry and armor training site at Fort Moore. But we’re really happy to get it back on the continent, and you can just see the enthusiasm all week long as we discuss some of these topics.
The themes are generally pretty consistent year over year even though we might approach it from a slightly different angle. This year is civil-military relations. But we always focus on the priorities of our partners and bringing everybody together helps us to understand the differences between the perspective of each partner, but also the similarities in the challenges that they face, and that helps us to chart a path forward after we leave at the end of the week.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you very much. So we have a question from Ms. Houmi Ahamed-Mikidache of ERA ENVIRONMENT in the Comoros. So this goes back to the issue of water, which is a perennial issue in Africa. “How do you see the issue of water sharing in Eastern Africa linked to the blue economy – that is to say the sea and ocean – and the positioning of American bases in Africa, and is there any conflict of interest between the United States presence in Africa and natural resources of Africa?”
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: So I’m fortunate that I have an expert, so I’m going to ask Ambassador Scott to share his thoughts about this important subject.
MR. SCOTT: No, thank you, General. The word “sharing” is key both to the question and to what you just said, General. At the heart of the question is what are we doing in a world of decreased resources, of a need to share those resources and to negotiate our way into an agreement on how to do that? That’s difficult to do. I’ll just share that in the United States right now, as people may know, we’ve experienced a drought which has just broken, but an ongoing drought in the west of the country. There are a number of states in the west of the United States which have had to negotiate and are currently in the process of negotiating water-sharing agreements on the Colorado River. So the United States is not exempted from this set of issues. It’s a difficult one to negotiate through.
We are committed and have been committed to assisting our partners, anybody who is facing these kind of challenges, to address the issues of resource sharing, of how to better utilize resources, of how to address climate change, of how to come up with – some of the answers are drip irrigation: how do you use your water more wisely? How do you share it?
So we all share these challenges. The United States is committed to working in partnership with countries in Africa and around the globe to address these common challenges, specifically on resource sharing, which are difficult ones. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. So how do you determine the sort of membership and participation of various countries in events like the African Land Forces Summit and how do we determine where the summit will take place each year?
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: So I’ll start by sharing a little bit about how we choose the location each year. And we do that in partnership with our – with the countries here. We try to rotate it regionally, and we align it with the priorities of U.S. AFRICOM, and their priorities are informed by the National Security Strategy. So we align our priorities with theirs. And then we talk with our partners who have capacity and are interested in showcasing their culture and their communities. So it’s a great opportunity for our co-host and it’s – but it’s also an opportunity for us to focus on some of the regional priorities around the country.
We like to include as many of our African partners as we can, and we work closely with the State Department to determine and verify that we are in accordance with policy when we send out invitations to participate in the conferences.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you very much. Well, I think that’s the end of the submitted questions that we have. I wanted to ask our speakers if you have any final remarks before we conclude the session today.
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: Ambassador?
MR. SCOTT: I just wanted to thank, Johann, you and the team at the hub for arranging this. Again, thank you to the general for inviting me and the State Department to this important conference. Again, I think it underlines your opening remarks about the jointness, about the shared – about the common approach that we have looking at civil-military relations and how diplomacy, defense, and development come together in the United States as we engage with our African partners to ensure that security generally for all of us is increased. And that’s at the basis of this event here, is how do we go about this working together to try to ensure that goal.
MAJOR GENERAL WASMUND: Ambassador, thanks. And I want to share Ambassador Scott’s thank you, first to you, Johann, for hosting this and providing this opportunity for us to share a little bit about the African Land Forces Summit. This summit, like all of them, is all about partnership both within the U.S. Government and with our partners here in Africa. And without the strength of those partnerships, we would not have as much optimism as we do about the future in Africa with our partners. And so we’re excited to share the story and look forward to the next time we have an opportunity to do that. But thanks very much.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you to both of our speakers today, and thank you for the – to the journalists who joined. And we did have a lot of interest in our topic. Those journalists who reached out to us and some of them who were not able to be able to – were not able to join us today, we will be sending a recording and transcript of this conversation. And I want to let everybody know and remind everyone on the call, please stay in touch with us. You can find us on Twitter, @AfricaMediaHub; on Facebook at U.S. Africa Media Hub; and of course we hope you’ll always stay in contact with us at AFMediaHub@state.gov. That’s our email.
So thanks once again for your participation. That does conclude our call, so have a good day and be well, everyone.
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