Algiers, Algeria — At a press conference in Algiers, Algeria, September 30, 2012, U.S. Africa Command Commander General Carter F. Ham answered questions about the situation in Mali, and the security challenges in the region.
Of the various courses of action that can be taken in Mali, General Ham said this: "...the one course of action that we are not considering is U.S. boots on the ground in Mali."
This was General Ham's fourth visit to Algeria.
Of his visit, the General Ham said, "But the purpose of my visit today is to continue the dialogue, the interaction with senior Algerian leaders, and to - frankly, to extend my thanks to the Algerian government for the security that they have provided to the United States embassy and to our ambassador during these past weeks of what have been some difficult times in neighboring states."
The complete transcript is provided below.
GENERAL CARTER HAM: Well, let me just say that it's wonderful to be back in Algeria for my fourth visit and it's been a very productive day so far. It's always good to come, because it's a beautiful country with beautiful people, and I very much enjoy that.
But the purpose of my visit today is to continue the dialogue, the interaction with senior Algerian leaders, and to - frankly, to extend my thanks to the Algerian government for the security that they have provided to the United States embassy and to our ambassador during these past weeks of what have been some difficult times in neighboring states.
And we have continuing discussions about our cooperative efforts in helping to contribute to regional security. So with that, I would welcome your questions.
Q: (Through interpreter.) So the first question regarding the situation in Mali. (Inaudible) -- that this issue would be discussed in the Security Council of the U.N., and he's saying that it is the position of France, of Algeria, and he would like to know what is the position of the U.S.
GEN. HAM: Well, first of all, it's not - it's not for me to describe the position of the United States government, but we do encourage further discussion about Mali in the Security Council. One of the things - one of the principles we believe in is a first Ã? the first step, and necessary step is the re-establishment of legitimate government in Bamako.
And we think it is primarily the responsibility of the neighboring countries to help Mali address their challenges, and the United States, I think, will assess how the United States may be able to help after the Security Council and others decide what path shall be followed. And if I may, just one final statement: the one course of action that we are not considering is U.S. boots on the ground in Mali.
STAFF: Second question.
Q: (Through interpreter.) In a few weeks there will be - in a few weeks there will be a strategic dialogue between the U.S. and Algeria; he would like to know what will be the strategic dialogue.
GEN. HAM: The strategic dialogue is a - is a continuing conversation between our two countries. There are a number of issues that will be discussed, from political to economic to developmental. As part of the strategic dialogue, there is also a joint military dialogue, where representatives from Algeria will meet with defense representatives from the United States to discuss matters of mutual concern and interest.
But just to reinforce, the military discussion is a subset, a smaller part of a much larger discussion, but it is very, very important to us, and I believe, in the discussions we have had today, it's also very important to the Algerians.
Q: (Through interpreter.) He's saying that France is engaged in two military intervention, and even special troops and helicopters have been sent to Burkina Faso, and apparently the U.S. and France don't (agree ?) at this point, and can the U.S. put its veto for a resolution through the Security Council to avoid or prevent such military intervention?
GEN. HAM: Well, this is, of course, a political question that you're asking of a soldier, so it would be inappropriate for me to answer specifically, but I would say that the U.S. government has been very clear in our support for the Malian people and for the resolution of the current challenges in the northern portion of Mali. And again, we believe very firmly that this must begin with the re-establishment of legitimate government in Bamako, and there must be dialogue with the various elements and groups inside northern Mali, with the exception of those terrorist organizations. And again, we believe that this is a matter that is best resolved by Mali and by its regional neighbors.
Q: (Through interpreter.) You already declared that the U.S. is open to help the countries of the region to fight against transnational traffic. How can you help, and what are the steps on which the U.S. can assist the countries of the region in this subject or on this matter?
GEN. HAM: The best way that the United States military can help is through training, exchange of ideas, working in partnership with the - with the actors, the nations in the region. This involves, sometimes, conducting training exercises in the region with our African partners. It sometimes is seminars, either here in the region or in the United States, to afford the opportunity to share ideas about how to address the security challenges of the region.
With some countries, we have a very specific program of training and equipping their security forces. Everything we do is at the request of the individual nations and with - fully with their consent. So basically, our role is best if we are supporting and enabling the forces - the security forces of the region.
Q: (Through interpreter.) So in case - back again to northern Mali - in case there will be a military intervention in northern Mali and ECOWAS is ready to send some troops over there, how will be the U.S. reaction and position?
GEN. HAM: Well, we don't know exactly. Like Algeria, the United States is not a member of ECOWAS, so we do not have a detailed understanding of what they are considering. Should there be authorization for some military activity and should ECOWAS decide to ask for international support, I'm sure that the United States will consider that, but we've made no decisions so far.
Q: (Through interpreter.) He would like first to present his condolence for the death of the U.S. ambassador. And then secondly you mentioned the military cooperation between Algeria and the U.S., and he would like to know, is this military cooperation limited to exchange of intelligence, and - or also to provide Algeria with weapons?
GEN. HAM: Thank you for your expression of condolence for the loss of Ambassador Stevens and the three other American colleagues.
Our military cooperation with Algeria is wide-ranging and growing stronger. We - for example, we do an exchange of ship visits to include the most recent visit of an Algerian ship in New York City. We have cooperated on areas - on missions such as addressing terrorist threats and better understanding the threats that are presented to both of our nations, and there is a wide range of other activities.
At present we do not conduct any foreign military sales - military sales with Algeria, but that certainly is possible in the future, and this is a matter that the two nations can discuss.
Q: (Through interpreter.) So back again to northern Mali, you said that there will need to be - there need - there is a need to have negotiation with groups in northern Mali. Do you -first question Ã? do you consider that Ansar Dine is a terrorist group or not? The second question, the Ã? one of the main mission of AFRICOM is to protect the U.S. interest in Africa. So do you think that through the death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya, your organization have failed in one of its missions?
GEN. HAM: One of the key aspects of seeking a resolution to the security challenges in northern Mali will be to separate the terrorist organizations from non-terrorist organizations. We have had discussions - I have had discussions during my visits here to Algeria, to include today, to try to gain a better understanding of the various groups that are acting in northern Mali.
As is obvious to you, we are not from this region. We do not have the same understanding of the various actors in the region. And so we are trying to better understand what is the role of Ansar Dine, what is the role of MUJAO, what is the role of MNLA in the northern Mali context. So when you ask if a - if a specific group is a terrorist organization or not, I have to respond that the United States has a very formal process to make that determination.
To your - to your second - to your second question, the loss of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans is indeed very tragic, but as is the case in every country, it is the host nation's responsibility to provide security for the diplomatic presence of other nations, and I would again commend the government of Algeria for providing superb security for our diplomatic presence here in Algeria.
STAFF: Last question.
Q: (Through interpreter.) So the - so regarding this military intervention in northern Mali, what are the dangers or threats of military intervention in northern Mali? And through your visit here in Algeria, do you think political resolution or settlement of the country could be better?
GEN. HAM: Ultimately, the situation in northern Mali can only be resolved politically or diplomatically. In my view, there is - there is likely to be some military component to address the concerns in northern Mali, but the military component will be - is not sufficient, nor will it be decisive.
To put it, perhaps, another way, there are a number of different challenges in northern Mali today. First is the absence of legitimate government in Bamako that we've already talked about. Second is the necessity to address the concerns of the people of northern Mali. That should be done through diplomacy rather than military means. Thirdly, there is a significant humanitarian crisis across the region where people need food and water and other aid, and Algeria has been very, very effective in providing that. And the fourth problem is the presence of terrorist organizations, and that problem may require the use of military force.
What I - what I - what I do know is that the situation in Mali is extraordinarily complex, and it will require the best efforts of the Malian people, the regional states and the international community to address this challenge. So thank you all very much, and I hope to see you on a future visit.
Source: AFRICOM Public Affairs