Tel. Press Brief with Marine Corps. General Thomas D. Waldhauser, (AFRICOM); Major General Lamidi Adeosun, (MNJTF); Lieutenant General Osman Noor Soubagleh (AMISOM) Ambassador Francisco Madeira, Special Rep. for the Chairperson of the A.U. Commission
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: I think General Soubagleh as the AMISOM Commander is probably best to answer that question.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL OSMAN NOOR SOUBAGLEH: Thank you for that. From the military side, AMISOM defeated Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is the native Somalis and some foreign fighters. Whenever you fight, they melt with the population and they have no confront with the AMISOM. So the territory they have, when you go there, they melt with the population and you cannot touch them. And we at the AMISOM, we are human. We look after the humanitarian and the human rights of the indigenous. We can’t punish all the people to tell us.
So that is why they are taking time, because we know the law of [inaudible] is for this. So, Al-Shabaab has no stronghold, strong position. But we avoid them to take collateral damage with the civilians. That is why Al-Shabaab is now dividing. But Shabaab, we will defeat them in the near future. We just need some intelligence-led operations and we are looking for the ISR and some aviation. It will not take longer if we get to that. That is for the operation.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Sorry, sir, go ahead.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL OSMAN NOOR SOUBAGLEH: After consideration that you mentioned, you know that President Farmajo just announced an amnesty toward the elements of Al-Shabaab who have joined that organization for other different reasons. And he has opened his hands. But you will have to be clear. Those who still want to persist in their evil activities and violent activities against the people of Somalia and against the government of Somalia, these ones will have to be confronted by the force of arms.
But also, in terms of power-sharing and result-sharing, you know that the President has just had a meeting with the regional presidents in the context of national security council. This is a very important initiative. It’s a clear understanding by the President that the stability and the future of the country in the capacity of the central government to interact constructively and in a complimentary manner with the regional authorities. Through those, the government will be able to reach out to the population and meet the requirement, the needs of the population. This is the way to go.
If they do that, the population will shy away from Al-Shabaab and join the government because they will realize that the government is there for them and not for itself.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, gentlemen. I have a question we received by e-mail from Celia Lebur at Agence France-Presse in Lagos. This is for General Adeosun. Sir, how have operations changed since the emergence of the new faction of Boko Haram led by Al Barnawi who has recently emerged and stated he will challenge the military in the region?
GENERAL LAMIDI ADEOSUN: Thank you very much. It is not just to say he will challenge. He has been challenging the military within the region. We are all aware of when it broke out from the mainstream Shekau faction and how it was a group was also recognized by some elements of ISIS. Given the name it doesn’t deserve Islamic states in West Africa which is [inaudible] threatening the big group that was definitely not fitting. Yes. The split is assisting the operation in the way and that the linkage between his group and Shekau has been severed and he is also isolated, which is good, and cornered where operation is going on currently.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We have a question in Lagos, Nigeria. We’ll turn to Mr. Akiinkunmi. Is Mr. Obakeye Akiinkunmi on the line? We seem to have maybe a technical issue. Let me turn to another question that came in from CNN Senior Producer Brent Swails for General Waldhauser. Sir, as the counter-LRA mission draws to a close, four of the top leaders have been captured. How important is it for Kony, the leader to eventually be captured given his psychological impact on that insurgency?
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: Well, I think we’d all agree that it would be important for Kony himself to be captured. But nevertheless, the time has come over the last several years where the numbers of that organization have dwindled, the leadership, as you said, to a large degree, has been taken off the battlefield. And therefore, the LRA itself is really fighting for relevancy.
So there comes a time that we need to move forward. So, we obviously have some concerns about the possibility of the LRA coming back to fruition. There could be another group in that area that would come up and fill that void. And yes, just like the partnering countries there, we’re concerned. But having said that, our transition, we will continue to work with those countries through training, through exercises, passing intelligence when required. Because even though we are officially ending the so-called counter-LRA mission, we are certainly aware of the fact that we don’t want to leave a void there.
So, we will continue to work with those countries to try to mitigate that, if at all possible. We’ll keep a close eye on it. But the time has come to move forward because the organization itself is really in a survival mode and has very little, if any relevancy.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, General Waldhauser. We have another question I think that you, sir, can address and certainly turn it over to your colleagues. This is from a journalist with Deutsche Welle and other outlets, Gaius Kowene asking again about the conference you’re conducting this week and how it has addressed the issue of violent extremist organizations, which you’ve already addressed in some degree. But also an additional related question about how Africa Command will be sure that the African partner forces do not develop a dependency on the support that AFRICOM provides. Thank you, sir.
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: Well, I’ll go first and then I think everyone at the table probably would like to contribute as well. The first thing I would say is when it comes to the violent extremist organizations, one of the things we concentrated at the conference this week was where we have common ground to do such things as share intelligence; to do such things as take on certain networks that have human trafficking, drugs, weapons and the like, where we can share that intelligence.
And so, this is a big part of it. And this is a way to get to a regional approach that ultimately will take on a global effect. Because not only in the AFRICOM AOR, the other U.S. combatant commanders are also looking to try to find where there’s common ground, to get at the defeat of any counterterrorism organization, primarily ISIS of course. But at the same time, how we can work together to do that.
Now, with regard to the second part of the question of African forces becoming dependent on U.S. support, this is something that gets right to the heart of our philosophy of how we work with our African partners. And our job is to try to get African solutions to African problems. And so if you take the Lake Chad Basin, for example or you take Somalia for example, we have forces that train, advise and assist and we accompany on certain occasions. And it’s our job to get those particular armies to take care of the challenges that they face. We’re very cognizant of that.
And so, in sum, part of our overall philosophy when we train with our partners is to make sure that we develop their capacity and develop their capability so that they can take these challenges on, on their own. Because they want to do that on their own. And it’s our job to help them get there and we are very aware of the fact that we do not want to make sure that they have to depend on U.S. support or U.S. backing in order to solve these problems.
It’s a fundamental part of how we work with our African partners. And I would just ask General Adeosun to go ahead and comment if you would like.
GENERAL LAMIDI ADEOSUN: Thank you very much, General. I think you have said it all. The fear that African countries will not develop a permanent dependency on everything, the types support coming from our strategic partners, particularly the U.S. is not necessarily there. Because the support is based on common ground. Where the national or multinational outfits lack some resources and so it is possible from strategic partner, they provide. But largely, all the operations, both national and multinational rely on their own main logistic line of support for all the operations. What comes is an additional and it helps to bolster the performance and activities of all the forces. Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR FRANCISCO MADERIA: Just I was to add. What we are dealing is a terrorist. And a terrorist have no ground, to have no front. So, this is an international. So, we are helping each other to defeat the terrorist. We are, every country, is taking its share so there is no dependency to each other but it is a common synergy to defeat the enemy which we face. That’s what I add.
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: Okay, thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, very much. Just a quick reminder in the last moment here to our callers to press *1 in order to ask a question. And if we could impose on our guests for one final question, if my computer will cooperate. If I could go to Mr. Chris Stein in Nairobi, Kenya, please.
QUESTION: I am from AFP News Agency here in Nairobi. Question for General Waldhauser. Given the order recently of kind of loosening up regulations on targeting and air strikes in Somalia, as well as the deployment of the 40 ground troops, do you see the U.S. returning to a role like it had in Somalia in the early 90s where there in fact were boots on the grounds in the conflict?
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: Thanks for the question. And let me make sure I’m very clear how I characterize this. The ground troops that were sent, as I indicated earlier, these are logisticians, there to work with what we call defense institution building; supply lines, how to account for equipment, how to make sure operations are appropriately supplied and so-forth. These are not ground troops in terms of infantry so to speak. This again, has been a long, scheduled deployment that helps get at the logistical training of the Somalian National Army.
Now, on the second issue, the first one you addressed, I also want to clarify that we have not been given loosened rules for authority to strike. What we have been given is we’ve been given authority to assist AMISOM forces that are on missions where, if they cannot take care of the situation on their own, then we are authorized to assist them there.
We are also authorized to develop targets on our own and take appropriate action if required. Now, one of the things that I want to truly emphasize is the fact that the levels of certainty needed to strike, remain very, very significant. So the requirements for near-certainty and reasonable certainty to make sure that there are no civilians, no women and children and so forth that get struck on the battlefield, we go to great lengths to ensure that that does not happen.
And with all the issue of drought and famine and movement of large numbers of people in Southern Somalia, combined with non-governmental organizations who are there to provide food assistance and the like, we go to great lengths to ensure we have a common operating picture on the battlefield so we know where everybody is. So, if we decide to strike then we know exactly what is on the ground and who, in fact, we are striking.
This certainly is a challenge but again, it goes to the point that we’ve been given a little bit more authority to strike. We believe that this will not only help the Somali National Government with regards to their efforts. And by the way, we do this in conjunction with the Somalian National Government. And it’s unique because this is the first time we have a political architecture that we work with, coordinate with and conduct these strikes in conjunction with the Somalian National Government. And this is a very, very important point.
And so I just want to emphasize the fact that all appropriate measures will be taken to ensure we know exactly what we’re doing should we decide to use these additional authorities we’ve been given.
MODERATOR: Thank you again for that, sir. We are coming very close to the end of our time. We have had a little bit of an issue with our question queue. If I could impose on you gentlemen there at Africa Command for just one final question from Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Tomi Oladipo.
QUESTION: Yes, I just wanted to stay on Somalia and just ask if there are any benchmarks regarding the timeframe of the deployment in Somalia, what are you looking at? And what are you hoping to achieve? Are there a certain number of troops you’re looking at to train and how long will this go on for? Is it indefinite?
AMBASSADOR FRANCISO MADERIA: Well, first of all it’s very important that the highest authorities at the African Union have decided that a draw-down starts in 2018. I can’t say whether it will be January or February. It’s 2018. And it is draw-down, beginning of draw-down. That’s first.
Second, we have a reality in Somalia we can capitalize on in order to build an effective Somali National Army or effective infantry groups that can fight alongside AMISOM effectively. For instance, at this very point in time, we have something like 10,900 Somali troops who are already benefiting from some kind of stipends and logistical support from the UN and other partners.
Our idea is to see if we can give these troops the appropriate training, appropriate commands and the degree of logistics and equipment that can allow them to be more effective on the ground in fighting alongside AMISOM and eventually take over from us, slowly, gradually, but effectively. That is it.
And in doing so, we are discussing with partners, the ethnics and others to see how this further training of these troops, so that they can work as a common force, an organized force; so we are having those discussions. Some training is already taking place through these ethnic countries. So, some logistical support is required. And we believe that through this, we might reach and achieve some targets by the time we have to start the draw-down.
QUESTION: All right, I was referring to the U.S. troops, please.
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: So just to refresh, the question is are we looking for benchmarks and are we looking to have like a cap in terms of number of troops? Was that the essence of the question?
QUESTION: The number of troops being trained. So this is about the U.S. deployment.
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: I think it’s important to realize that the training part of this, as the Ambassador just indicated, is done by partners, not only the U.S. So Turkey, UAE, EU, U.S., AMISOM; are all training forces in there. So it’s a combined effort to get the numbers, if I can use that term, it’s a combined effort to get the numbers that are necessary so the Somalian National Army can take over security on their own.
So, it’s a combined effort. We participate in that. And I would ask General Soubagleh if he had anything he wanted to add. But I think that from the U.S. perspective, that would be my answer on that question.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL OSMAN NOOR SOUBAGLEH: I just want to add that the draw-down will be depend with some conditions. We have to prepare the Somalian National Army and Somali National Integrated Forces must be prepared in order to take over their security. And on that, we have to look every period, periodically that if they are ready or not. But this is what is going on. And as the Ambassador said, this is the troop-contributing countries and our strategic headquarters decide that in 2018, is the start of the withdrawal. Meanwhile we are busy training the Somalian National Army and unifying the training program for the Somalian National Security Forces. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you again, to our participants. General Waldhauser, would you like to offer any final words before we conclude today, sir?
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: Well I would just like to say that as indicated at the outset that this week was the first time that AFRICOM and all the Chiefs of Defense from the African Nations were gathered in one place to have a discussion so that we could learn how we at AFRICOM could better support our partner nations so we could meet new friends, establish relationships and also really a big goal was to establish trust between all of our partner nations. And I think that in the day and a half that we were here, we had a very, very good turnout. I think we had some frank discussions and I think all participants were very, very forthright. I think there were a lot of good opinions put forward. And I know in AFRICOM that we’ve got a lot now that we’re going to go back and look at and process all the information from the last day or so and will do that in order to be a better partner with our African partner nations and assist really with those long-term goals, as I think Colonel Cheadle talked about at the beginning, which we all want; which of course is security, stability and prosperity on the African continent.
So thank you very much for taking the time this afternoon to ask us the questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you again, sir. That concludes today’s call with General Waldhauser and his counterparts from the African continent, General Adeosun, General Soubagleh as well as Ambassador Madeira. The U.S. Africa Regional Media Hub will make the transcript available to participants and to others. We will also distribute information about the French and Portuguese translations, which will be available on Sound Cloud. We had enormous response and participation today. We did not get to every single question and we have some from you that we will do everything possible to work with our colleagues at Africa Command to get answers to your questions. And of course, if you have additional questions about today’s call, you can reach the Africa Regional Media Hub at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again to our principals at Africa Command and your guests, and thank you to all of you who have participated today.
GENERAL THOMAS WALDHAUSER: Thank you.