Telephonic Press Briefing: African Land Forces Summit 2017- Cmdr U.S. Army Africa & Chief of Defense Forces Malawi
Africa Regional Media Hub
Telephonic Press Briefing
African Land Forces Summit 2017 with
Major General Joseph P. Harrington, Commander of U.S. Army Africa
and General Spoon Phiri, Chief of Defense Forces of Malawi
May 11, 2017
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the African Land Forces Summit Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question and answer session and instructions will be given at that time. If you should require any assistance during the call, you may press * followed the 0 and an operator will assist you offline. Also as a reminder, today’s teleconference is being recorded. At this time, I’ll turn the conference over to your host Director of the Africa Regional Media Hub, Mr. Brian Neubert. Please go ahead, sir.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the United States Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants who have dialed in across the continent and media gathered at U.S. Missions in Africa. Today we are joined by the co-hosts of the African Land Forces Summit 2017, Major General Joseph P. Harrington, Commander of U.S. Army Africa and his counterpart, Malawi Defense Force General Spoon Phiri, Chief of Defense Forces of Malawi. Our speakers will discuss the African Land Forces Summit 2017 and the importance of regional cooperation between military forces to strengthen security and stability across the African continent.
Our speakers join us from Lilongwe, Malawi. We will begin with remarks from General Phiri and from Major General Harrington. We will then open it up to your questions. For those of you listening to the call in English, you can press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you’re using a speaker phone, you may have to pick up the handset to press *1.
For those of you listening in French and Portuguese please submit your questions in English via e-mail to email@example.com. If you’d like to join the conversation on Twitter, you can use the hashtag #ALFSPress and #africanhorizons. You can also follow us at @africamediahub and @USArmyAfrica. Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 45 minutes. With that, I will turn it over to General Phiri. Thank you, sir.
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: Good afternoon and greetings from Malawi. My name is General Griffin Spoon Phiri, Commander, Malawi Defense Forces. Just to report that this afternoon we have concluded a very successful summit which covered 40 African Land Forces commanders and four of our partners discussing security challenges in Africa, trying to find ways of resolving those challenges. But also discussing the importance of partnerships and how we can enhance those partnerships.
It was a very successful summit and I really want to thank co-host and our great partner AFRICOM and specifically United States Army Africa and my dear brother here, Major General Harrington. Thank you.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: Good afternoon. My name is Major General Joseph Harrington and I will reiterate what my brother General Phiri just said. We just concluded -- and I’ll characterize it as the most successful African Land Force Summit in history with 44 countries present. And I have to make a special tip, tip my hat to the Malawian people. They should be absolutely proud that Africa came to Malawi this week. And with the Malawian expression, they’re the “warm heart of Africa,” they more than lived up to it. What a wonderful host. What a wonderful people. And they set the conditions for a spectacular conference.
If you don’t mind, I just want to take this moment and talk just a little bit more about the conference. The African Land Force Summit is about building relationships, looking through each other’s eyes and understanding how our unique challenges can be shared and overcome together. Sharing our accomplishments and learning from each other’s success is just as important. Our focus is long-term, developing relationships takes time. And something I’ve learned time and time again, you cannot surge trust. You have to build trust slowly.
And lastly, just as military leaders, we have priorities. And my number one priority as the US Army Africa Commander is to develop Army leaders. Not just American soldier leaders but African leaders too. And how I can work with our partners here is something I not only cherish, I look forward to, and it’s in our interest for all of us to work together in order to be successful. Thank you and I look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, General Phiri and General Harrington. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Again, for those taking questions, please state your name and affiliation. If you could limit yourself to one question, please. And the topic again of today’s briefing is regional cooperation between military forces to strengthen security and stability across the continent.
The first question comes from Luc-Roger Mbala with the Le Nouvel Observateur in Kinshasa in Congo. This is to both Generals, both of you, Sirs. How much is the United States involved in helping the armies of Central African countries promote stability and peace in the region?
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: This is General Harrington and I appreciate the question. The U.S. Army Africa is very involved. We conduct security cooperation events across the continent and in several essential African nations that focus on medical training, logistic support, counter-IEDs, and we also conduct annual multinational exercises that bring together multiple military partners from the region, Europe, and different U.S. military units to exercise the capability of the participants to support peacekeeping operations and counter violent extremist organizations. Thanks for that question.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, sir. We’re going to go now to Justin Lynch. He is calling us from Nairobi, Kenya with the Associated Press. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: All right, thanks so much. Both questions I have are on Somalia. Can you talk about coordinating with NGOs to make sure they’re not accidental targets of drone strikes? And second, Africa has been given greater authority to conduct (call drops).
MODERATOR: It sounds like the line dropped. If perhaps we can answer that first question and then we’ll see if we can pick that line up again.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: Yes, this is General Harrington. And I’m probably not the right guy to answer this question because I would defer that to either AFRICOM or the Horn of Africa but I will say on a broader scale, whenever we can, we always look to work with the people on the ground, be it NGOs, local authorities or what have you. Because in the end, we want to minimize any potential civilian casualties wherever and whenever we can. Thank you.
QUESTION: And the second question was, AFRICOM has been given greater authority to conduct drone strikes in (call drops).
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: Yes, I’m going to go back to the Moderator and say you had one question each and I’ll use the same deferral. I think you should take that question to AFRICOM then. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay, let’s move onto our next journalist, Peter Fabricius ,calling in from South Africa. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks very much. I wonder if I could switch a bit to the FIB, Force Intervention Brigade. I saw in the press release that you put out about it that Malawi has trained up a new battalion which (call drops) so that does raise the whole question of where the FIB operation is right now, you know, or what have they been doing? There’s not published about their activities recently. And what sort of exit strategy do you see? When do you contemplate their departure?
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: Thank you very much for that question. Indeed, Malawi is part of the Force Intervention Brigade, mandated actually to deal with the armed groups in the Eastern DR Congo. Our mandate is robust and I can report that since deployment of the FIB, we have managed to stabilize the situation in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. We managed to deal with the M23. However, there are still challenges there that we need to deal with. Our focus now is on protection of civilians. And they, of course, this is something that from our analysis, will take a while. We are discussing very soon this month and the next month we will be meeting to discuss the way forward.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, sir. The next question we have is another caller or another journalist from Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Marie Nkambwa with L’Avenir and he asks about the criteria for ensuring good cooperation among African forces and if there are limits to that cooperation, how do you define success in cooperation for forces?
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: This is General Harrington and you know, that’s a timely question. Because the purpose of this conference was to ensure the cooperation and connectivity between partners. As I said in my opening remarks, you can’t surge trust. It takes time. It takes developing relationships. And the cornerstone of all healthy relationships is trust. And when you spend time together -- and this week we’ve spent the week getting to know our brothers across the continent, that is the best way to move towards being successful.
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: I think General Harrington has said it well. Trust, trust but also, we need to continue the discussion. We need to share experiences and knowledge. We need to find ways of developing leaders, future leaders that can take on the challenges. The challenges are many and some are emerging. So we definitely need to continue to cooperate, meet and discuss these issues.
MODERATOR: Thank you both, very much for that. As a reminder to our participants, if you press *1 on your phone, you can ask a question. You can also send us questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, I’ll turn to the next caller. Go ahead, please.
OPERATOR: Okay, Mr. Kelley, your line is open. Please proceed.
QUESTION: Sorry, I didn’t know that you were waiting for me. Thanks for doing this. Can you give me any specifics about what was discussed in terms of deployments of African troops? For example, coming back to Somalia where AMISOM has, with half a dozen countries, contributing to that force there? And also South Sudan, I realize it’s under UN auspices but there are a number of African troops involved there. And what kind of discussions did you have regarding improving coordination, improving effectiveness of African forces in both Somalia and South Sudan? Thanks.
MODERATOR: Sorry, just before the Generals’ answer, Kevin, could you identify your outlet? Sorry, I forgot to remind you to do that.
QUESTION: Yes, I work for the Nation Media Group in Kenya.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: This is General Harrington. Let me jump in and give a partial answer to that. One of the things that U.S. Army Africa takes pride in is we take a long-term approach to building partner capacity and success in Africa. Really a lot of questions that you just asked there that are current ops of what we’re doing right now. That generally was not covered in this forum. But what was covered in this forum was enhancing partner capacity and partnerships. And some of the topics were critical war fighting, peacemaking skills, building logistic institutions to maintain your equipment, peacekeeping and peace support operations. And then we had a host of subtopics including military leaderships, standardizing forces in order to increase interoperability.
But specific to those two points, we did not cover them in this conference.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that. And we will turn to the next caller, please. We have someone from Reuters and if I could remind those asking questions to identify yourself by name and your outlet. Thank you for that.
QUESTION: Hi, this is Joe Bavier from Reuters in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I have a question about the operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army. They are being discontinued. The Ugandan forces that were involved are withdrawing. I was just wondering if we had any information on what’s being put in place to ensure that this won’t create a vacuum, a void into which the LRA can rebuild, since this is something they’ve done repeatedly in the past.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: This is General Harrington again. I appreciate that question. The U.S. mission in the region has shifted at the end of April from countering the LRA to continued AFRICOM engagement, exercises and security cooperation activities in the region. U.S. Army Africa is responsible for assisting the AURTF, the regional task force to help them move their personnel and equipment out of the area of the operations and we expect to be complete sometime this summer.
As mentioned on an AFRICOM press release in late March, the U.S. military mission there has transitioned due to AURTF reducing the effectiveness of the Lord’s Resistance Army from about 2,000 fighters several years ago to less than 100. So, looking at it as the LRA is no longer a relevant organization.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. The next question, again from Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Malou Mbela wrote in. He is with Radio Television Nationale Congolaise. And he again is addressing the Malawi Defense Force troop contributions to the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC. General Phiri has already discussed these components but sir, if you could elaborate on future plans and will there be additional programs for Malawi Defense Force to contribute to the peacekeeping mission in Congo.
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: Thank you very much for that question. The Malawi Defense Force stands ready to contribute more to the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC is a member state of SADC and it is of our interest that there is peace in SADC. So Malawi Defense Force will do all it can to make sure that there is peace and that development is taking place in the DRC. Yes, we have plans for future development in the DRC.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: I wouldn’t mind just adding, part of the conference this week, some of the forces that Malawians plan to deploy in the future to the DRC put on a demonstration for them. And from the American perspective, I could not have asked for a more professional, well-executed operation that showed us that the Malawians really know what they’re doing when they go into that. So my hats off again to my counterpart, General Phiri for not only their success on these deployments but in the preparation of how they prepare for them. It’s evident.
MODERATOR: Thank you both again. Just a reminder to participants, you can press *1 to join the question queue. For our callers, a reminder to state your name and affiliation before asking your one question. We’ll turn it over to another journalist calling in. Go ahead.
OPERATOR: Julia Steers, your line is open. Please proceed.
QUESTION: Hi. I have a question about Somalia, specifically the recent incident involving the death of the Navy SEAL there. I’m wondering if you can explain why the account of the incident has changed several times over the last few weeks and give an updated account of what happened.
MODERATOR: Julie, could you just state your outlet for us, please?
QUESTION: Oh, sure, sorry. I’m with French 24.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Go ahead, sir.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: Hey, Julia, this is General Joe Harrington again. Thanks for the question. A couple comments. As you said how the account of the situation has changed over the last several weeks a few times: I believe, if I’m not mistaken, the event actually happened a week ago, just less than a week ago. So, in most military operations -- and I will personally have no insight to it. This is not my organization. But, just, it is a common rule in military. The first report you’ve always got to be careful of. And it takes a while to understand the complexity of what actually happened. And I don’t have that information but I’m sure the people between my higher headquarters and the folks in Somalia are trying to discern that.
MODERATOR: Thank you again, sir. We’re going to turn now to another questioner. If I could ask you again to restate your name and outlet.
OPERATOR: Peter Fabricius is in queue. Please state your outlet.
QUESTION: Yes, hello. I’m Peter Fabricius. I’m here with the Daily Maverick. I wonder if you could -- sorry, General Phiri, more specifically tell us who have the Force Intervention Brigade been fighting most recently? I mean, OK so as you pointed out, they defeated the M23 fairly resoundingly back in 2013. For example, how is the battle going against FDLR? How would you describe the status of that particular conflict, that particular contest, since that was supposed to be the next big item on the agenda then?
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: Thank you very much for that question. Right now we are dealing with the FDL, that are causing some problems there and together, the FIB and the entire MONUSCO [United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo], we are very optimistic that we will be able to deal with that threat coming from the armed groups, especially the ADF.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question was written in by Michel Arseneault with Radio France International in Paris. This question is in another region of sub-Saharan Africa turning to the Sahel and if one or both of you, sirs, could address the new group that has recently been formed and announced calling itself the “Support Group for Islam and Muslims.” Do the forces, the partner countries in the region of West Africa need a new strategy to address this group and should they adapt to this group that’s just recently been named? Thank you.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: Yes, tell Michel thank you for the question. And since both General Phiri and I are not familiar with the group, we would not be qualified to answer that though. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay and we will follow up with other authorities on that question. We have additional questions here that have been written in. But I will remind those who are live on the line to join the question queue, you can press *1 and when you are on the line, please do state your name and your affiliation. We have just about 10 or 15 minutes left for your questions.
If I could address a question to both General Harrington and General Phiri, if you could provide a little bit of background on why U.S. Army Africa launched the African Land Forces Summit originally. You’ve said this has been a very successful one, unprecedented. But if you could give us a little background about where and why this started?
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: Let me take you back to my comment about relationships and trust being the cornerstone of relationships. That’s it. I mean that is it in a nutshell. It provides a unique opportunity for U.S. and African partners to solidify relationships, exchange information on current topics and mutual interests and cooperate on addressing challenges. And as I said on day one of the conference, I said the fact that we had 44 countries in that room, that was success because people built relationships on that.
And the other point I reiterated is, now the richness of the dialogue and the discussion is how successful the conference is. And in my opinion, that is the key. It’s the relationships that are fostered, the trust that comes out of it. And then the follow-on activity, be it a phone call when someone’s in an emergency and they need help from their brother-neighbor. We had this conference several years ago and one of the relationships we have in the United States, Liberia has a partnership with the Michigan National Guard. They started experiencing the Ebola problem.
It was the Liberian Chief of Defense, the Army Chief, that called his counterpart in the Michigan U.S. Army National Guard who said I have a problem, can you help me? And it was based on that relationship that U.S. Army Africa, four years ago, was launched into Liberia to help stem the flow of Ebola. So tying in relationships, helping those relationships, foster them - t is the right way to proceed and accomplish many of the most difficult challenges.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, sir. We have another question from Kinshasa, from Ludi Cardoso with Le Potentiel, and he notes that the European Union Parliament recently deemed the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo to be ineffective and the Democratic Republic of Congo Foreign Minister recently expressed similar criticism. Could one or both of you share your opinion about these evaluations of the UN mission in Congo?
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: Thank you very much for that question. We have heard those comments to say that the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not effective. But I can only speak for the Force Intervention Brigade and to say that honestly speaking, if people are to be honest with themselves, the FIB has been very effective. We have been able to deal with the M23. We are now dealing with the illegal armed groups, particularly the ADF, and for sure, I think the region has stabilized. The condition, the involvement is not as one would love to, but at least there is resurgence of peace there.
So speaking for the FIB, and the way the FIB is operating, it is our view as a Malawi that probably the UN could want to revisit however UN missions are planned and conducted, and I think the FIB points to what we could be doing going forward. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, General Phiri. We’ll turn back to Justin Lynch back on the queue with another question. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for the help. I’m wondering if you could talk more about your role in Somalia and particularly in terms of advising and assisting the Somalian National Forces and AFRICOM, and what exactly advising and assisting means. If you could kind of expand on that. Thanks, so much.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: This is General Harrington. And I am the wrong command to ask for that. We have the Horn of Africa Command that’s subordinate to AFRICOM. With that said, the Somali government starts working towards codifying and building and making their army more effective. When and where we can help with that, we will look for those opportunities.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that. I will remind our callers and participants in our network, we did have a call just about two weeks ago with AFRICOM Commander General Waldhauser. We can make that transcript available to all of you if you don’t have it already. Not all of your questions were addressed on that call. But some of the similar topics were addressed and I also do take note, while our Generals are on the line here have very big responsibilities, very big jobs, they’re not responsible for every conflict in Africa. So we will try to help you direct your questions to the right people in the cases where it was not for our people today.
We have just a few more minutes. Again, if you could press *1 on your phone, you can join the call and Peter Fabricius is on the line with one last question.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks very much. I wonder if you could give me an idea particularly, perhaps this would be addressed to General Harrington, about South Africa’s role. I mean I think I gather that South Africa participated in the Summit. Perhaps you could confirm that. And more generally, I don’t know if you can give an overview of the quality of cooperation with South Africa military-to-military, the U.S. to South Africa.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: Peter, I appreciate the question. This is General Harrington again. Two things. I can confirm that South Africa sent a Brigadier General and he spoke this morning and he talked about looking forward to increasing and growing the relationship with the United States. This summer we will have an exercise in South Africa. In fact, it will be our largest one of the year. And I’m personally excited about the opportunity to work with them.
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: And let me just add that South Africa is indeed a senior partner in Southern Africa and in most of our exercises, we cooperate, we plan together and it was very exciting to have Brigadier General with us who spoke passionately about what we are doing and informed us that South Africa looks forward to being a more active participant in these regional and partnership settings.
MODERATOR: Thank you both for that. And General Harrington, thank you for mentioning the event coming up in South Africa later this summer for our participants on the call. For any event like this, the Africa Regional Media Hub tries to do a telephonic press briefing like this one and we are in the early stages of planning to do that for the event here in South Africa. And of course, we’ll send the details out to all of you as soon as all of that is confirmed.
We have another caller on the line. If you could state your name and outlet affiliation, please.
OPERATOR: And Geoff Hill, your line is open. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: This is Geoff Hill from the Washington Times. I’m calling you from London today. General Harrington, you talked about relationships. One of America’s most important relationships on the continent of course is with Djibouti. I don’t know if they were represented at the conference. But with the growing Chinese military presence in Djibouti, could you tell us something please, about your relationship with that country?
And to General Phiri and to General Harrington, we hear so much these days about drones, cyberwar, and nuclear threats, but I’m 60 years old. I spent my life going around Africa in helicopters. We never hear much about them these days. Has time moved on or are they still important to your military mix?
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: This is General Harrington. I’ll start on the first half. Djibouti was not present at this conference. And I don’t recall the exact reason why they weren’t here. Because they’ve been in previous exercises and gatherings with us. They fall in with the commander, as I said, of the Horn of Africa. So I’ll defer the operational aspects of that to him. But Djibouti is a contributor. We had an exercise in Ethiopia about a month and a half ago and they sent a very senior delegate to the conference there, to the exercise. And it was value added.
Regarding interventions or relations with other countries, I will defer that to either AFRICOM or to the folks at Horn of Africa.
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t really get your last question directed to me.
QUESTION: Being in military ops and as a journalist getting around Africa as well, we don’t hear about them much these days in the military context. We hear about drones, cyberwar, nuclear deterrents. Could you tell us, are helicopters still a key part of your operations in places like Malawi, in America’s ops across Africa?
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: If you’re asking for America’s operations across Africa, of course we use helicopters at different periods of time. I do not have any assigned to me now. But let me tell you what I did see this week at the Malawian demonstration they put on. They integrated the helicopters into a peacekeeping crowd control operation extremely effectively. And during the exercise, the observers got to learn how they use helicopters for a particular mission, not just as a means of transportation.
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: Thank you. Yes, it is our desire that if those assets were available to us, we could use them. Unfortunately, we lack in that area. We don’t have those assets. But should we have them, they would be great assets to use in operations even in the DRC.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you again. And before we conclude, I don’t think we have any questions in the queue, I want to ask General Phiri and Major General Harrington if you would like to offer any final words or offer anything more about the Land Forces event there in Lilongwe.
GENERAL SPOON PHIRI: Thank you very much. I will conclude by saying thank you so much for organizing this press conference. Just to reiterate what we said earlier on, we have a very successful summit and I can attest to say that partnerships is the way to go. Building trust, working together, sharing ideas, notes; that’s the way to go. And as Malawi, we want to pledge to say that we will be a very active partner and get very much involved in issues of peace and security in Africa and beyond. Thank you.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH HARRINGTON: This is General Harrington again. I can’t overstate the importance and value of this Summit and what it means to the African land power network. And now that these chiefs, these army leaders can work and link together and strengthen their relationships. Because undoubtedly in the future, any number of these countries, my own country included, leaders of the country are going to send soldiers somewhere. They’re going to send them to an ambiguous environment. The orders will come a little late. The equipment and the organization that they go in won’t be quite the perfect fit for the requirement. But if we focus on developing these young leaders in exercises and engagements that we have across the continent, they will learn. And then when they enter these situations, which they undoubtedly will in the future, those leaders will know how to react in difficult situations. Hence why leader development across the continent and with my own army is my most important focus area. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you today.
MODERATOR: Thank you both. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Major General Harrington and General Phiri for joining us. And thank you for all of our callers for participating. Again, the Generals joined us from Lilongwe in Malawi where the African Land Forces Summit 2017 has been held. And again to reiterate in General Harrington’s words, you cannot surge trust. This is about a very long-term investment.
If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at email@example.com. Thank you very much, everyone.