TRANSCRIPT: Press Briefing on the UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners

May 17, 2018


Africa Regional Media Hub

Press Briefing on the UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners

with

Michael Smith, Director, Office of Global Programs and Initiatives,

Bureau of Political Military Affairs

Colonel Brian R. Foster, Peace Operations Division Chief, US Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, and

Michael Bittrick, Acting Director, Office of Security Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs

via Teleconference,

Washington, D.C. and New Delhi India

May 16, 2018

English Audio File

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the UN Peacekeeping Meeting. At this time, all lines 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 need assistance during the call, please press * then 0, and as a reminder, we are recording. I would now like to turn the conference Tiffany Jackson. Please go ahead.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon 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 Mr. Michael L. Smith, Director of the Office of Global Programs and Initiatives, in the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs; Colonel Brian Foster, Peace Operations Division Chief at the U.S. Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, and Mr. Michael Bittrick, Acting Director, Office of Security Affairs in the Department’s Bureau of African Affairs. Our speakers will discuss the third annual UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners, which is currently being held in New Delhi, India. Mr. Smith and Mr. Bittrick are speaking to us from Washington, D.C. and Colonel Foster is joining the call from New Delhi, India.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from two of our speakers and then we will turn it over to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 45 minutes. At any time during the call, if you would like to ask a question, you must press *1 on your phone to join the question and answer queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on @StateDeptPM, @USAndIndia, and @africamediahub.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Mr. Michael Smith.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Tiffany, and greetings to all. On behalf of the Department of State’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs, I am delighted to speak with you about this important United Nations peacekeeping collaboration, the United Nations Peacekeeping Course for African partners. This is collaboration between India, the United States, and several African countries.

The demand for well-trained peacekeepers has been rising unabated for almost two decades. As my colleague Mike Bittrick will advise you in a few moments, African countries have responded admirably to this demand. India and the United States have responded admirably as well. India is consistently one of the top three troop- and police-contributing countries in the world. They have a long history of participation in UN peacekeeping, are widely respected for their contributions, and are interested in sharing their knowledge. The United States is a top financial contributor to UN peacekeeping and also leads the international community in building the capacity of countries to allow them to participate in UN peacekeeping. In fact, as a result of the peacekeeping capacity-building efforts of the United States’ Global Peace Operations Initiative, which we refer to as GPOI, from 2005 to present we have seen a 165% increase in United Nations and African Union military deployments by GPOI partner countries since they became GPOI partner countries. That 165% increase is compared to non-GPOI partner countries, increasing by only 47% during that same time frame. So, as both countries have much to contribute, this collaboration between India and the United States is poised for continued success.

For a word or two on our highly-valued African partners, please allow me to defer to my colleague Mr. Mike Bittrick.

MR. BITTRICK: Thank you, Michael, for this important opportunity to discuss the themes, and on behalf of the Acting Assistant Secretary Don Yamamoto, I wish all of you and I wish us in this effort on the continent the best in terms of meeting the requirements for peace and security and other challenges in the 21st century. As my colleague Mike Smith noted, the United States understands the need for UN and regional peacekeeping efforts to support conflict resolution in Africa, and indeed Africa and African states and organizations, and civil societies, are responding to state fragility and conflict in ever-dynamic ways: diplomatically, security responses, and in terms of development.

The U.S. recognizes that the African Union and regional economic communities and, yes, national states, are responding and supporting these security requirements. And we have seen a great response. Our peacekeeping assistance programs, as Mike Smith noted, are critical to our ability to address both current and future conflicts on the continent, and we do believe that our place as the number one capacity-building country on the globe has been very important in ensuring the effective training, deployment, and sustainment of peacekeeping forces, both in the UN and the region.

We have helped 20 African countries build their peacekeeping institutional capabilities to train, deploy, and sustain peacekeepers through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program, and as noted by my colleague, the Global Peace Operations Initiative. Last year, such efforts supported the training of more than 27,000 African peacekeepers, going to UN and AU missions. This support, we see, has produced results. Africa today provides more special representatives, more force commanders, and more deployed peacekeepers than ever before. Ten years ago, working on these problems, 40% of the peacekeepers in Africa were African. Today that number is over 60%, and depending on the time period you look at, it’s been up as high as 70%. This is a true sign of African ownership, and it’s a proper support to meeting these challenges. The U.S. is pleased to be able to be working with such countries as India and other partners to be able to support African responses.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Mr. Smith and Mr. Bittrick. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: the UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners, currently being held in New Delhi, India.

For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speakerphone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to afmediahub@state.gov.

Our first question was submitted by email from the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad. Tededjim Roger, journalist at La Suggestion newspaper, asks: how long has the Office of Political and Military Affairs of the State Department been interested in UN peacekeeping training for African partners? And can you tell us, what are the positive and negative impacts of this cooperation between Africans, the United States of America, and the United Nations?

MR. SMITH: Thank you so very much for that question, which is a very good question. I’m going to defer to my colleague, Mr. Michael Bittrick, who has tremendous institutional memory with regard to questions like that one. The Department of State as a whole has been interested in peacekeeping and capacity-building in Africa, since the late 1980s, through a various number of programs. And with that, I’ll pause and let my colleague, who is from the Bureau of African Affairs, handle this question.

MR. BITTRICK: Thank you, Mike. Yes, indeed, since 1996, the U.S. Department of State, working with the Department of Defense and other partners, has engaged to support the African capacity-building in regard to peacekeeping. The name of that initial effort was called the Africa Crisis Response Initiative, and was a response to the horrible events of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Since that time, the program has developed, and with the support and collaboration within the Department of State, has evolved and expanded, as described, and is led now by Mr. Michael Smith here at the Department. As I noted earlier, there has been a great response on the part of the African partners in owning the problems, the challenges, the numbers of peacekeepers; not just deployed battalions, not just foreign police units, but also specialty units. Africans are deploying specialty units in larger numbers today, we think in part because of U.S. training inputs and equipment, for the provision of equipment and other kinds of support.

The UN and the U.S. have embarked on a very close collaboration and coordination in regard to peacekeeping capabilities being provided. So that has generally been positive. The UN has assessed the support from U.S. training programs as very positive, and has requested in many cases the U.S. to provide support to troop-contributing countries before they deploy, and the question that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations often asks is, “Has the U.S. been involved with this peacekeeper?” before they will give them a green light to deploy. We believe that training with India will be also a mark in the same positive direction. Responsiveness to UN and African Union requirements.

Negatives?

MR. SMITH: I would just completely agree with those. This is Michael Smith speaking again, and I completely agree with my colleague. I just have two small ones to add to that. One would be just the degree of professionalization that has happened within the African military is a clear positive impact of this focus on peacekeeping. They’ve improved in all possible ways in that regard.

And also, it’s given the continent of Africa, through the African Union and ECOWAS as well, especially, the ability to even forestall conflict. And we saw that even recently in Gambia, where the deployment of forces there was able to tamp down an outbreak that could have gotten much worse than it did. So there have been really tremendous positive impacts throughout. I don’t have any other things to add.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was sent in advance by Jesusegun Alagbe, correspondent from Punch Newspapers in Lagos. He asks, does any part of the training of African peacekeeping troops address the issue of atrocities such as rape, sometimes committed by troop members while on a mission?

MR. BITTRICK: Thank you. This is Mike Bittrick. Thank you for your question, which is a very appropriate one. The programs of instruction and the syllabus that are used for training programs are thoroughly vetted with a number of stakeholders before we undertake training activities. As such, protection of civilians and best practices in terms of human rights is a critical component of our training activities. In addition to that, sexual exploitation and abuse is addressed, both in terms of programming and our exercises, to ensure that the leaders as well as the rank-and-file receive all of the required program instruction to mitigate and answer the challenges of atrocities’ prevention and to answer the challenges of command and control and good order and discipline as required by peacekeeping forces.

We recognize that sexual exploitation and abuse and protection of civilians have become challenges for UN and African peacekeeping, and we are working with the UN and African Union and other partners are seeking to ensure that we address those challenges, both diplomatically, in the field, with force commanders, and the special representatives, but also in terms of our programming, to ensure that the commanders and the deployed forces have all that they need in terms of information.

MR. SMITH: This is Michael Smith again, and again I strongly agree with Mike Bittrick’s comments, and his comments made me think of two things I wanted to share that underpin the attributes that he mentioned. First, our Congress has legislation that requires us to make sure that atrocities are addressed, and that we do not convey any assistance to any country on any continent that engages in atrocities, if we have credible allegations. This is called our Leahy Law; that’s spelled L-E-A-H-Y, Leahy Law, that requires us to kind of put those countries under a microscope.

In addition to that legislation, our executive branch has myriad policies that require us, again, to address these atrocities. So I agree with the specifics that my colleague Mike Bittrick mentioned, and wanted to mention that those specifics are underpinned by the executive branch and also the legislative branch actions. Thank you.

COL. FOSTER: This is Colonel Foster from New Delhi. Just want [UNCLEAR] because that question is also directed at the course here in New Delhi. We’re about halfway through the three-week course, and both of those two subjects—sexual exploitation and protection of civilians—have been the most talked about and briefed on subjects thus far. We’ve already had several working groups and scenarios and case studies, on those issues, many of the senior officers, the general officers from India, and former force commanders, reiterate those things in those talks. So those have been going very well here in New Delhi.

OPERATOR: We have a question from Kevin Kelley, Nation Media Group. You’re open; please go ahead, Kevin.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks for doing this today. So, I noticed in the list of countries that are participating in the training that three of them—Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Uganda—are also troop-contributing countries to AMISOM [African Union Mission to Somalia], the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia. I’m wondering if there’s a component to the training that is geared specifically to AMISOM, to this situation in Somalia.

And ancillary to that, just in general, in terms of the process of peacekeeping, the progress of peacekeeping, can you say why it has taken so long in the case of Somalia to prepare—in this case national forces, not the countries that are participating now—national forces to take up peacekeeping duties in that country? It’s been years and years, and many millions of dollars have been spent on that. Do you have any comments you could make in that regard? Okay, thanks.

MR. BITTRICK: Thank you for your question. I’ll leave, maybe, Brian Foster or other colleagues the specifics in terms of AMISOM training. AMISOM training has been a highlight of U.S. assistance to all of the TCCs over the past ten years of AMISOM deployment. U.S. support, troop-contributing countries, that include, of course, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Uganda, that course, the courses we have provided, have actually transitioned and transformed because of the nature of the counter-terrorism mission that we’re fighting, that our African partners are fighting, there. So there’s been a long history and we have, over the years, been working closely with the African Union, working closely with other providers of support such as the United Kingdom; we’ve made adjustments to the programs of instruction to ensure that we were addressing the challenges specific to Somalia. And indeed, as you may well know, the African Union mission has expanded the terrain that is held by the Somali government and by the AMISOM mission itself, from a few blocks of Mogadishu to most of south central Somalia today.

The transition to Somali national leadership and ownership has been a long one. It has been one that the Somalis themselves have sought to lead, and yet because of the large challenges of both development and security—and security by Al-Shabab and development in terms of economic and other requirements—the federal government of Somalia today stands now to be able to make progress against these benchmarks. The national forces—the Somali National Army, the Somali National Security Force, and the national security architecture—that are now Somali run and led—are providing hope for the future in Somalia, and we are there to support that evolution, that transition, working very closely with the African Union, the troop-contributing countries, and other regional stakeholders.

OPERATOR: As a reminder, if there are any additional questions, please press * then 1. Once again, press * then 1.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was also submitted in advance from the listening party in N’Djamena, Chad. Louba Heinde Séraphin, blogger, asks, does the State Department’s support to African countries for peacekeeping consist of training armed men, or raising awareness among the entire African people?

MR. SMITH: Right, and we’re thinking through that even now because this was a complicated thing to answer. My colleague Michael Bittrick, can you take that on?

MR. BITTRICK: Yes, gladly. Thank you, Mike. Currently, the training programs that we undertake do not involve non-state armed groups. The U.S. government supports training of state-mandated forces, state-authorized forces. And so the support provided in the specific domain of peacekeeping is narrowly limited. We will, of course, in all of our training, employ scenarios that are meant to ensure that our peacekeepers get the latest of the programs, the latest in meeting the requirements of the operational environment, and in that regard we ensure that they are able to more adeptly work with civilian communities, local institutional leaders—the churches or the mosques or other members of civil society, local traditional chiefs. We give them also an awareness in working with other regional forces, and in fact working with the most important aspect of all peacekeeping, of course: supporting civil society more broadly.

I’m not sure if I‘ve answered the question perfectly but I’d be glad to follow up.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Just a quick reminder, to ask a question, please press *1 on your phone. State your name and affiliation before asking your question, and please do move close to the speaker or the microphone so we can all hear you.

Our next question was submitted also by email from Bayo Akinloye of THISDAY newspaper in Lagos. He asks, is the United States worried about the poor human rights records of Nigerian troops, both at peacekeeping and domestic levels, and will this kind of training entrench respect of human rights in their operations?

MR. BITTRICK: Thank you for this very good question. We are, as noted earlier, all of our training involves, number one, a vetting of all of the recipients of our training. This is what we call the Leahy law. This law requires that no security assistance from the U.S. government be provided to units that have committed gross violations of human rights. On many occasions over the past several years, we have halted training or prevented training to these kinds of units, when we obtain information about bad behavior and alleged gross violations of human rights. This is a very important part of the way the U.S. applies and undertakes peacekeeping support.

The human rights record of Nigerian forces is also examined before we provide any support, whether that be for counter-terrorism or peacekeeping training. The security engagement by the U.S. government, both political and technical, is meant to ensure better responsiveness from Nigerian troops and police in regard to engagement with local civilian communities and ensure that they have the best training, tactics, techniques, and procedures, so that the possibilities of abuse are mitigated and/or minimized. I hope this answers your question.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have two more questions that were sent in in advance, and then there is currently no one on the queue. If someone would like to ask a live question, please press *1 on your phone. One question that came in was, how has peacekeeping training changed from 20 years ago? How are lessons learned from peacekeeping operations incorporated into the current training?

MR. SMITH: Thank you. This is Michael Smith responding, and this is a tremendously good question, because it really underscores some of the challenges that we face in peacekeeping today. Here’s how it’s changed. First, peacekeeping today is much more concerned about internal conflict parties, whereas 20 years ago it was more state versus state. And because the problems are more aligned to internal conflict parties, this has made peacekeeping much more complex. So instead of state versus state, where the United Nations found itself with unarmed forces interpositioning themselves between the conflict parties, being states, now UN forces must deal with conflict parties within the boundaries of a state, and we’re concerned about myriad other challenges, such as protection of civilians, child protection, sexual and gender-based violence, peace-building, state-building. So there are more requirements now for the training. There are more capabilities now involved in the training. For example, never before did we have to worry about countering improvised explosive devices. But now we must worry about, in a great way, improvised explosive devices or IEDs.

So in summary, before I go to my colleague: more complex, more requirements, more capabilities, and training has changed accordingly.

MR. BITTRICK: Thank you. This is Mike Bittrick. I would just add to Michael Smith’s very good summary that we do see that the nature, especially in Africa, of state fragility has really interposed on these missions a very interesting and difficult set of challenges, in addition to the tactics employed by some of the local forces that we need to be concerned with, such as counter-IED, counter improvised explosive devices.

We also are needing to be concerned with transnational terrorist activities. As we prepare units deploying into the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, those forces have to receive very specialized training to ensure they can enter one of the most difficult peacekeeping environments ever. And as Mike Smith hinted, an environment that really is the most very difficult, robust counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, all of these aspects in this one particular mission in Mali. And these are the kinds of new challenges that we have to help our African partners to confront.

COL. FOSTER: This is Colonel Foster here in New Delhi. Just wanted to comment that we do have a system in place to collect the lessons learned [UNCLEAR] real world operations and for the training. And so we take care of that at the Army War College some of those, and we incorporate that into the training and into the doctrine that we do on peacekeeping.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our last question was submitted in advance from the listening party at N’Djamena, Chad. Joel Zelamngolo Matna from Chadian National Radio asks, at the international level in general, and in Africa in particular, the UN peacekeeping missions are decried and lose credibility day by day among the actors concerned, for example the rulers and the population. Tell us, what does the U.S. intend to do to improve the image of the institution, especially in Africa?

MR. SMITH: Thank you so much for that question. I’ll start and then my colleague Mike Bittrick will add. Mr. Zelamngolo asked, what are the United States intending to do to improve the image of the institution, especially in Africa? Importantly, we’re less concerned about the image of the institution than the actual performance of the institution. And that’s what the United States is working on: performance. And we’re mostly concerned about the people in these conflict areas being protected. For people to be able to return to their homes in these conflict environments. So we’re working on things like performance. We’re working on getting the right capabilities in the country with well-trained peacekeepers, whether they be military, police, or otherwise. We’re also working on efficiency, so that the money that we’re spending allows us to deploy the adequate amounts of peacekeepers in each of the conflict areas that we’re concerned about.

And then finally, in terms of overview, I would say that the United States is very concerned about addressing the multi-dimensional nature of these conflicts. So it’s not only the peacekeeping, but also peace-building activities, peace-making activities or the negotiation amongst the conflict parties. All these things must work in concert to be effective and to restore peace and stability to countries affected by these conflicts. Mike?

MR. BITTRICK: Thank you, Mike. As Ambassador Haley has said, in peacekeeping, the UN must strive to ensure the ability of people to live in peace and security without the UN’s presence. So we always have to keep in mind that the UN peacekeeping is not a permanent operation, and that we are looking toward outcomes in terms of stability that allow for the departures of UN peacekeeping. So I’ll just underline that. And we have seen that to be the case successfully in Sierra Leone and Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire, and in these three cases, UN forces have now fitfully drawn down, and the country has moved past the peacekeeping engagement to a very positive trajectory.

There is a need, but as Mike Smith noted, and ask the questioner points out, there is a need for reform. There is, in fact, a commitment of the United States, working with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to undertake a very thorough review of all the missions and mandates for the UN. A recommitment to clear mandates, a serious focus on misconduct, and a renewed attention to costs and inefficiencies. This is something that we do not suggest that the UN peacekeeping is a perfect solution, with perfect troop contributors, with perfect representation.

So we are working on reform day by day. We do see that the path to better outcomes, in terms of peacekeeping, is there, and we have seen it in the case of some of the countries in which UN peacekeeping has deployed. We have also seen, where you have seen cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, the UN has taken a very hard line and has sought to ensure that National Information Officers are appointed and trained and respond to allegations.

There is also, on the reform side, a UN effort to ensure that there is now a roll of troop and police-contributing countries and units on a standby roster. This standby roster ensures that the UN is more able to quickly respond to evolving conflict and stability challenges in its peacekeeping operations, and we believe that this effort by the UN in New York and working with the member states to have this kind of a capacity is important to be able to deal with some of the shortfalls of UN peacekeeping.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Mr Smith, we have no more questions. I would like to ask if you have any final words for our journalists.

MR. SMITH: Not at this time, but we do appreciate the interest shown in peacekeeping and look forward to the opportunity to follow up on this at any time.

MODERATOR: And with that, that concludes our call today. I want to thank Michael L. Smith, Director of the Office of Global Programs and Initiatives, in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs; Colonel Brian R. Foster, Peace Operations Division Chief at the U.S. Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, and Mr. Michael Bittrick, Acting Director, Office of Security Affairs in the Department’s Bureau of African Affairs. Thank you all for joining us today, and I thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at afmediahub@state.gov. Thank you.