Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to have with us Commander of U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Rohling, and joining him will be Maj. Gen. Chikunkha Harrison Soko, Land Forces Commander, Republic of Malawi. Maj. Gen. Rohling and Maj. Gen. Soko are joining us from Fort Benning in the United States, in the state of Georgia.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Maj. Gen. Rohling and Maj. Gen. Soko, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have allotted.
If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on twitter @AfricaMediaHub.
As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling for his opening remarks.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Thank you. Thank you, and thank you for your interest in this year’s African Land Forces Summit. I’m also pleased to be here with Maj. Gen. Soko, Land Forces Commander of Malawi.
When we have conducted Media Hub calls in the past, we typically do them with – we usually do them alongside the African host country land force commander. Today we have asked Maj. Gen. Soko to be here to give his perspective – an African perspective – of this year’s ALFS, also because he knows very well Fort Benning, as he has trained in many of the professional schools that we have visited so far this week: Airborne and Ranger School, just to name a few. I think he had some [inaudible] during our tour.
Before we take your questions, I would like to do a quick rundown of what the African Land Forces Summit is about and some specifics about this year’s theme, “Resilient Institutions Build Resilient Leaders.”
The goal of African Land Forces Summit is to strengthen partnerships across Africa to improve regional and continent-wide security. We also want to demonstrate to our African partners that the U.S. is committed to their long-term success.
This forum allows for candid dialogue to discuss and develop cooperative solutions to improve transnational security and stability issues and it provides an opportunity for the U.S. participants to hear issues and concerns directly from African land forces commanders.
Each ALFS has a different approach, a different theme. This time around, our tenth ALFS, we are highlighting the importance of the foundational institutions, like training centers and the non-commissioned officer corps.
This week at Fort Benning, we showcased the Maneuver Center of Excellence and schools like the United States Army Ranger School, Airborne School and Infantry Basic Training. Through all this, we showcased our professional non-commissioned officer corps.
It has been a great week so far. We have two more days of dialogue and events in store that I am quite excited about.
With that, I will ask Maj. Gen. Soko if he has any opening statements before we move on to questions. Thank you.
Maj. Gen. Soko: Thank you, ma’am. It’s an honor to be in this forum and to be with Gen. Rohling, who [inaudible] general, and an honor again with my colleagues from [inaudible], especially [inaudible] to come and visit [inaudible] for some of us here – the leadership, the training Fort Benning provided to us have [inaudible] some of the leadership skills, individual skills in our respective armies and contributed to the security of our countries and the continent, because this is not only taking place here. I know this time it’s taking place here in the United States, but most of the Land Forces Summits have taken place [inaudible].
So it’s a great honor to be here and [inaudible] issues that affect Africa and the world at large. Thank you very much, ma’am.
Moderator: Thank you, Maj. Gen. Rohling and Maj. Gen. Soko. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: the ongoing 2022 African Land Forces Summit, which is themed “Resilient Leaders Build Resilient Institutions,” and how U.S.-Africa partnerships are increasing security and stability on the continent.
Okay, with that, our first question will be regarding the location of this year’s African Land Forces Summit. And I do, just before we get started with the questions, I just want to let our journalists know that we may be having a bit of an issue with the bandwidth, so we may cut off the screen for Maj. Gen. Rohling and Soko just to preserve bandwidth. Okay. Thank you for that.
All right. The first question is: Why did you all decide to host this year’s event in the U.S.? Does this make it difficult for African partners to participate?
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Well, thank you very much for that question. As I stated in my opening statement, this is our tenth African Land Forces Summit. The first African Land Forces Summit was held in Washington, D.C., and then so we’ve, 10 years later – nine – the subsequent nine were on the continent of Africa, and then we believed 10 years later this was a time to come back to the United States. And we came to Fort Benning because Fort Benning [inaudible] biased as an infantry officer – and this is the home of the infantry and armor of the United States Army – is one of the largest and most important U.S. Army bases in the United States, and we thought it would be the place to showcase the resilience in institution that helps – or a resilient institution to help build that resilient leader in the amount of activities here that build the Army. And we thought it would be good to showcase a way, the American way, that we train and build leaders not only in their tactical tasks, but in the ethos of the United States Army, the values and the discipline that is a hallmark of my Army.
Moderator: Thank you.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Gen. Soko?
Maj. Gen. Soko: Thank you, ma’am. You see, we are here at Fort Benning; for me it’s not new, but for some of the generals who have never been here, I think they have seen the soldiers coming in for training, straight from recruitment, that is, and then they have seen the progressive courses both for non-commissioned officers and for the officers. So it can’t – this summit cannot be in a better place than Fort Benning. It has got a long history, and the – it’s perfect that we should be here. Thank you.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: And to your second part, was it hard to get here? We have 35 of our land forces commanders here, so I think it proved to be a place they could all get to. So I think it was the – a good decision.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to a question from our Q&A, from Matt Hill of Bloomberg News in South Africa. The question is: “Does the U.S. plan to ask Mali to ensure that Malian troops trained by the U.S. won’t participate in operations with Wagner?”
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Well, thank you. That’s a bit of a policy question, so I will not get in front of any policy questions in regards to what the United States is going to deal with in Mali in that level. But I can talk a little bit about Wagner, because Wagner is not an organized, uniformed military force. They are mercenaries, and their missions are not the same. They are there for their own personal interests. And so I’ll leave that at that for – at this point.
Moderator: Thank you. Next question goes to a question sent in to us from Mr. Killian Chimtom of Timescape Magazine in Cameroon. The question is as follows: “I understand the 2022 African Land Forces Summit will also feature European military officers. What would you say are the security linkages between Africa and Europe, or rather between Africa and NATO, and what do these linkages mean for Russia’s military ambitions with Africa?” Perhaps we could start with Maj. Gen. Soko with this one.
Maj. Gen. Soko: Thank you. You see, the military should always collaborate. What affects Europe, affects Africa. What affects Africa, affects the whole of Europe. As we are saying – as we’re talking now, gas prices are going up because of what has affected Europe, and that will not spare Africa. Africa will be affected too. So it’s important that we come together and discuss the issues of global peace, and it’s exactly what we’re doing at the moment. Thank you.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Yes. Thank you, Gen. Soko. If you’d have asked me this question two years ago – and in fact, I think if we’d have gone back, I might have answered a similar question before – I would have said the following, and it remains true today. If I would have asked our southern NATO Allies where their largest security threat is, they would have not talked as much about activities in regards to Russia, they would have said that it’s the security threat that emanates from the Sahel and Africa is one of their largest concerns, specifically in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, those that are bounded by the Mediterranean on the north and with Africa and the Mediterranean on the south.
So for a long time, the security concerns of Africa has been a concern of our European allies. So despite what’s happening in the Ukraine, our European allies have a vested concern and interest in Africa, and they’re here as part of our allies and part of our partnership across Africa to help further security and stability in Africa. So despite current events, it remains – the security and stability of Africa remains as important to our European allies today as it did before.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go live, and we will go to Pearl Matibe. Pearl, please state your outlet and your question, briefly.
Question: Yes, thank you. Thank you so much. I’m Pearl Matibe and I’m here for the Swaziland News. My question is to both Gen. Rohling and Gen. Soko. So Gen. Rohling, I’ll start with addressing a question for you. I believe that this year is possibly AFRICOM’s going into its 16th year since President Bush set it into motion. I’d like to understand, from the initial objectives of AFRICOM and what you were hoping to achieve in these military exercises this year, what has specifically changed that you see as key major improvements on its initial objectives? And then maybe speak, for example, to audiences who don’t really understand what a non-commissioned officer is.
And to Gen. Soko, I’d like to find out from you if you could maybe speak specifically about the resiliency, for example, of troops in Eswatini and in South Africa specifically, and what they’re contributing to the SAMIM force in Mozambique. Thank you so much.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Thank you, Pearl. Pearl, to your first part of your question on AFRICOM and what has changed: I think over the years, AFRICOM has developed to become a more balanced headquarters to help with the three D’s, as we would like to say, of stability in the African continent – defense, diplomacy, and development. And I think over the years, AFRICOM has changed and finetuned to be a better partner in the defense and help other agencies such as State and private sector with the diplomacy and development. And so that, I think, has been probably the largest change you’ve seen over Africa – or AFRICOM over the last several years, is how we have balanced diplomacy with defense, with development, and I think that we’re doing quite well at it.
And then in terms of what things inside of defense, I would use one example of how they have improved, and I think that is the introduction of our security force assistance battalions and brigade across several countries in Africa where small groups of Americans have gone to African countries and in accordance with that country’s desires and requirements, helped train with and for that country to improve the capacity and capability of their military.
So that’s one example, I think, of how AFRICOM has evolved, and I’ll turn it over to Gen. Soko for the second part of that question.
Maj. Gen. Soko: Thank you very much for the question. You see, what is going on in Mozambique – to be specific, Cabo Delgado – may affect the whole of the SADC region. So it’s important that some countries – of course, all the countries in the SADC region are involved. Eswatini, South Africa, they have sent troops there. We are simply saying what affects Mozambique affects the whole of SADC, because the spillover will be refugees maybe coming to Tanzania, coming to Malawi, or even Zambia or any other country in the southern part of Africa.
So we say, what affects one country affects the whole of SADC region. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. We’re going to kind of stay on that topic, Gen. Soko, so get ready. [Laughter.] The next question is from Ms. Rebecca Chimjeka of the Time’s Group in Malawi. Her question is: “Malawi has seen an influx of refugees from Mozambique and other parts of the African continent. This is posing a security threat to the country. What is the U.S. Government” – so for you, Maj. Rohling – “and then the Malawian Defense Force doing as some refugees are coming in bad faith?”
Maj. Gen. Soko: You see, the – we cannot stop refugees from coming to Malawi if, indeed, in their countries they are facing persecution. So, but Malawi, we just need to look out for those who come with sinister activities, they say they would want to come to Malawi and organize themselves for illegal activities. Then the Malawi Defense Force is on top of that, because that becomes a threat now to our country. They say some come for drugs, some who come to be agents of human trafficking, then we are on top of that and we, indeed, act, and we have acted. But we cannot stop completely the refugees flowing to Malawi because, again, we will stepping on human rights. We can only manage them. Thank you.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: And in terms of from the U.S. side, we will continue – have and will continue to work with our regional partners and bilaterally to increase the security, stability, the capacity and the capability of those partners to help reduce the conditions and the environment that makes the refugees want to move from their home country to help resolve some of the problems.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go live. We will go to Nick Turse of Vice News out of the UK. Mr. Turse, you may ask your question.
Question: Good morning. Thanks to you both for taking the time to talk today. You both spoke about U.S. partnerships in terms of leadership and building resilient institutions. Now, since 2008 by my count, U.S.-trained officers have attempted at least nine coups and succeeded in at least eight across five West African countries alone. So, Gen. Rohling, my question to you is: Why are attendees of U.S. exercises, U.S. trainings that are designed to promote stability instead overthrowing the very governments that the U.S. military is attempting to bolster?
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Well, thanks for that question, Nick. I think it’s similar to the one you asked the other day. The answer remains the same. It is the United States policy – well, I’m not going to – yeah, the United States policy is to promote human rights, to promote values, to promote civil and democratic law across the countries. Exercises – or events such as today’s African Land Forces Summit bring those values to the forefront, and we will continue to hold meetings and training exercises that continue to promote human rights, human values, the ethos of the United States Government, the United States Army, and then we will do our best to ensure that the countries that participate understand what we’re training and will present a viable role model for those countries.
Moderator: Gen. Soko, do you have anything to add to that? Gen. Soko.
Maj. Gen. Soko: Thank you very much, but look, I will not comment much on the coups in West Africa. For us in the SADC region, we respect our constitutions and the – we go by what is in the constitution. So we are comfortable in the southern part of Africa. I will not say much on West Africa.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we will go to a question in the chat. Let’s see. I’m sorry, some people have just put their names and not their question. Okay, this question comes from Lenin. Lenin, you did not identify which media outlet you’re from. “In what ways, if any, are you collaborating with Zimbabwe’s National Army?”
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Zimbabwe? In fact, I’m trying to remember real quick. I’ve got to put my – get my thoughts together on that one, as we will. Yeah. I mean, we continue as – Zimbabwe is part of the regional partner, and any specific exercises we – they – to be honest with you, I don’t think I can give you a solid answer to that one off the top of my head.
Moderator: That’s fine. It was quite a specific answer. And Lenin was from News24.
The next question is another question that comes in for us regarding the outcomes. “What should African military participants get out of this year’s event?”
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Thank you. I’ll give a first stab and then I’ll give it to Gen. Soko to answer what he hopes to get out of this event. What we’re hoping is that our African partners and our American partners and our European partners, to include allies such as Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, our National Guard representatives from our state partnership adjutants general from at least 14 of our states across the United States – we hope what they get out of there is the ability to make – or to make relationships, to get to understand the issues in a personal manner, to discuss amongst themselves regional issues. In fact, I think what you will find if you ask some of our members that although their countries are sometimes geographically right next to each other, they don’t get the opportunity to actually see each other very often, and this forum is an opportunity for each of those land force leaders to have a formal and, more importantly, an informal dialogue about issues that are important to them and help build those relationships so that in times of crisis, it’s not the first time they’re having to call their neighbor, and that we can peacefully resolve problems and work towards a more sustainable and common objective.
And Gen. Soko, I turn to you.
Maj. Gen. Soko: I cannot add more to what he just said. But coming here, we have seen – as I said earlier, we have seen how these soldiers, or a civilian is transformed into a soldier, and then after that, sharpening his skills personally and, again, sharpening his skills in leadership – leadership way. And all this put together, we have learned of the too many steps that makes a soldier value his organization. Let’s say the military. And this is very important to showcase in a summit like this. For some of us, yes, we have been here, but there are lots of generals who have never passed through the corridors of Fort Benning, and now they have seen what a soldier goes through here and the respect, again, a soldier is given.
I will give an example. As I was coming here, at every airport, they were saying “soldiers first,” and I liked that one. It’s the respect the United States gives to a soldier.
So these are the things that we learn as we move, so I’m happy that this summit happened here in the United States. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to a question sent in to us from Ethiopia, from Mr. Silabat Manaye Dessalegn from freelance, Ethiopia. “Recently, the U.S. Army general recommended President Biden’s administration to rethink sending soldiers to Somalia again. What are current and future plans to fight al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia and in the Horn of Africa?”
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Well, thank you for that question. What I would refer you to, though, is two weeks ago, Gen. Townsend, who I think is the general that you’re speaking of in this question, testified before the United States Senate and was asked a similar question, and I will only recap his answer, which was he has given his recommendations to his civilian leadership. They are looking at those options. Once they, our civilian leadership, makes those policy decisions, the United States AFRICOM and, subsequently, the Southern European Task Force will then act in accordance with those activities. So for me to comment further would limit our civilian leadership’s ability to make decisions.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we will go to a question from the Q&A from Ghana, from Diana Ngon of Citi FM/TV, Ghana. “Would you say Africa’s partnership with the U.S. has improved security on the continent, and how?” Maj. Gen. Soko, how about we start with you?
Maj. Gen. Soko: Yes. Malawi Defense Force has been a partner of the United States ever since. In fact, we several times trained with the United States. A good example is when we are doing our deployment training for, let’s say, the UN missions, we always partner with the United States. So they are our validator. Believe me, a Malawian soldier when deployed into any mission will perform any duty that the UN requires. All that is a credit to the United States Army, and we are still continuing as we are talking now; in two weeks’ time, we will have a delegation from the United States Army as our guests for the Malawi Defense Force.
Moderator: Thank you. Gen. Rohling, did you want to add about the partnership increasing security on the continent?
Maj. Gen. Rohling: I think training through allies and partners is how we achieve our shared security objectives. We pursue our campaign objectives in close cooperation with our allies and partners, and our relationships enable us to coordinate our actions to enhance interoperability and share the costs and risks to achieve our mutual security goals. So, and I think the rest Gen. Soko answered quite well.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we will go to a question in our Q&A from Nigeria. Kennedy Nnamani from Realnews Magazine in Nigeria asks: “How is the U.S. and Africa land forces under your command partnering with the West African region, like Nigeria, to solve the insecurity challenges plaguing the region?” So similar to the question you had, but focused more on Nigeria and Western Africa.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Yeah, thank you. Thank you very much. The – I think that the rapid expansion of Sahel-based VEOs outside of Mali and Burkina Faso calls for a stronger international action, and so the AFRICOM and Southern European Task Force are key in that activity. So I would highlight one area where we are, and that is with our security force assistance battalions and where they are across West Africa. Specifically, right now we have a strong SFAB [inaudible] in Ghana, and that’s beginning [inaudible] months, and I think across there. We had discussions during this [inaudible] the land force commander from Nigeria, and looking at ways that we can expand the security force assistance capabilities in Nigeria to help promote regional peace and stability.
So events like this, the African Land Forces Summit, allow us to have that dialogue and look for future opportunities in Nigeria and the Sahel writ large.
Moderator: This year there was also a focus to share on – during Women’s History Month, and we understand that Gen. Aida Borras spoke. What was the purpose of that event, and what value do you think it adds to the African Land Forces Summit?
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Sure, I’ll make a quick statement and then I’ll ask Gen. Soko how he perceived it. So as you know, this is the United States Army’s focus on Women’s History Month, so having Gen. Borras give her thoughts as a female general officer and a female soldier – before she was an officer, she was a private soldier – her views of how it has been over the years to be a woman in the United States Army and the value that women have given and remain vital to our success as an Army. So her talk to – on Tuesday night was a way to show our African partners that value and how we in the United States value women in the military and all they have accomplished over the course of the years.
Maj. Gen. Soko: Thank you for the question. I met Gen. Borras yesterday and I congratulated her. She is a fine general. She is somebody I would invite to come to Malawi and speak to our soldiers, not only females but all the soldiers, on the participation of women. These days, okay, Malawi has got – has had female soldiers since the year 2000, but we are progressing very well and the – what she does is quite inspirational. And really, I’m – I will ask the general here if this type of role models could be traveling the world, because it would inspire lots of women in the military. And you see, in fact, she would tell them that there is no limit to what ladies can achieve. It is all in the mind. It’s all in the mind.
So congratulations to the general, and she is doing very well. She is doing very well. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you. So we’re going to wrap up, but as you consider your final remarks, we know that the title of this year’s exercise was “Resilient Institutions Build Resilient Leaders,” and this reminds us of President Obama’s statement several years ago that Africa doesn’t need strong men, Africa needs strong institutions. So I leave you with that as I ask you both to give your final remarks. We’ll start with Gen. Soko and we’ll end with Gen. Rohling. Your final remarks.
Maj. Gen. Soko: Thank you very much. This summit – but this [inaudible] what we already have. It strengthens our resolve as military people that the policies made by our civilian authority should be implemented, and implemented with a humanitarian side of it, because they say each and every role the military plays, there is a human face to it. So this one here, the training we are going through, is just to make sure that we do our job perfectly well. And this forum, we shared lots of things that pertains to the soldiering in our world today. Thank you very much.
Maj. Gen. Rohling: Thank you, General. So thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for participating this morning and thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit more about African Land Forces Summit. Thank you to the African – you, the African Media Hub for setting up this event, and thank you, Gen. Soko, for joining me on this call.
The African Land Forces Summit is the most important partnership event that we do at the Southern European Task Force, Africa, and this year once again the African Land Forces Summit brought together land force chiefs from across Africa to have a constructive dialogue about security issues and project a shared vision that we can all work towards. We talked about building resilient institutions and showed our partners what we know to be great examples. And again, I thank each and every one of you and I wish you the best for the rest of the day.
Moderator: That concludes today’s briefing. I would like to thank the Commander of the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, and Maj. Gen. Chikunkha Harrison Soko, Land Forces Commander, Republic of Malawi, for speaking to us today, and thank all of our journalists for participating. If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AfricaMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you.
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