19 November 2012

Mali: Transcript - Ham Interviews With France 24's Marc Perelman

interview

Paris, France — PERELMAN: Hello and welcome to the France (inaudible) interview. Our guest today is General Carter Ham, who is the commander of the US Africa Command which is based in Germany, but covers all the African continent.

Welcome to the show.

Thank you very much.

We're obviously going to be talking mostly about what some people say is the coming war in Africa in Mali, especially there's been lots of talk, lots of preparation. The Economic Community of Western African States just presented a plan to send 3,300 troops for a year to try to make sure the groups were holding, controlling northern Mali are expelled. Do you think this is a realistic project?

Well, the situation in northern Mali as it exists today is unacceptable. There are groups, terrorists groups operating in the northern portion of Mali, that operate outside of any government control. But I think before we leap immediately to a military solution there should be - and are - ongoing efforts to resolve this situation without having to apply military force. But as a military commander, I understand why the ECOWAS heads of state have directed their military chiefs to prepare for the possibility of military intervention so that if such intervention is required, ECOWAS is prepared to execute. But, clearly it would be preferable to find a negotiated settlement and apply military force only if it is necessary to achieve... to reestablish Malian government control in the northern portion of the country.

So you still believe there is a diplomatic, political solution. Some heads of state in the region believe there should be no discussion with terrorists, that there should only be war as an option.

Well, I think that one of the areas where, at least in my discussion with regional leaders, both military and civilian, I think that what they agree upon is that not all of the entities that are operating in northern Mali are terrorist organizations. Some of the entities, some of the organization in northern Mali have more of a political agenda, and efforts undertaken to separate those politically-motivated organizations and persons from those ideologically committed terrorists - most notably al Qaeda and the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb - I think those efforts must be fully explored.

There's discussion with a group called Ansar Dine right now, there's been declarations that maybe they would abandon Sharia (??), that they might be willing to abandon violence. Is this a group with which there should be discussions?

In America we have a phrase that says, you have to not only talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Ansar Al Dine has said that they wish to pursue a non-violent, non-terroristic approach. We need now to see positive steps, positive actions that give credibility to their words.

Let's say the political option doesn't work, and it's a war on the horizon. There've been a number of people who are doubting that the African forces will be able to do the job. First of all because no one really knows who will contribute, and there are serious doubts about whether the soldiers will be able to accomplish the task.

I believe that if military intervention is required, the militaries of the region will, with some additional training and equipping, be prepared to undertake whatever missions their heads of state give them. ECOWAS will, as you are aware, submit its plan to the United Nations Security Council for consideration. And I believe in that process there will be lots of discussion and dialogue with regard to timing and size and troop contributing nations, what international community support might be required. But I'm convinced that from my personal discussions with military and civilian leaders in the region they are committed to reestablishing Malian government control in the north.

But, do you from your military judgment, 3,300 troops, is it enough to do this? Or do you think there should be more troops?

Well, it's 3,300 from the neighboring countries. But remember that there's also a Malian armed force. Certainly they require some additional training and equipping. But it should be and will be, in my view, Malian armed forces who take the lead. In my military judgment, it's less about the number of troops and more about the capability of those troops who are committed. So the training and equipping of those forces becomes a very important part of the upcoming discussions.

And the U.S. is currently involved in that training and equipping?

We're not with Mali. We have had some discussions with neighboring countries who are likely to be troop contributing. But we expect in the dialogue between ECOWAS and the United Nations at some point ECOWAS will ask the international community for some specific capabilities - equipment, financing, logistical capability, training. And when that discussion occurs, I think the Unites States will very seriously and carefully consider any specific requests of us.

What could the United States do if there is a military intervention? Logistical support, you mentioned it. Intelligence, drones maybe doing surveillance, or even more than surveillance?

Well, we haven't been asked anything specifically by the ECOWAS forces. We expect that we probably will be at some point, but to date no specific requests. But we are thinking about what are the likely areas that we might be asked, and certainly those that you mentioned, logistical support, equipment for the ECOWAS forces, the provision of intelligence, and more than the provision of intelligence, mechanisms for the multiple countries to share the intelligence that they have more collaboratively.

Drones are flying in some places in Africa sometimes hitting targets like in Somalia, for example. Could this scenario unfold in the Sahel region? Could American drones be called to strike some targets because it's the most efficient way to do this?

Well, first and foremost, any military activity that occurs in northern Mali must be in fact and in perception be African lead. And we believe very strongly in that view. So we'll wait to see what ECOWAS may ask. Mr. John Brennan, deputy national security advisor for counterrorism and homeland security, earlier this year gave a public speech in which he outlined the legal basis for the use of unmanned military systems by the U.S. government. I would refer people to that speech as the clear articulation of U.S. policy. From a military standpoint, I think it is not helpful for me to talk about specific instances of what we might do or what we might not do. I like it that our adversaries, the adversaries that Mali and the ECOWAS countries face, I like it that they don't know specifically what capabilities might or might not be applied.

Is the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi a turning point in terms of U.S. interests, I would say, in that region? Did it refocus, some people in the region say well, the United States was not really focused on this. Did this really maybe focused minds in Washington on what's happening there.

The loss of Ambassador Stevens and three other official Americans in Benghazi is a tragic loss, and it does convey the seriousness of the terrorist network that is forming and is becoming stronger across the north and west portions of Africa. While perhaps for some people that may have been a turning point, for those of us at United States Africa Command, we've been focused on this problem, we recognize the growing threat that particularly al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb presents, and we believe we're at a point now, at a decisive point, where the international community, African-led, has an opportunity to really act decisively against this threat.

What about the role of Algeria? Secretary of State Clinton went there. There are a number of efforts to try to get them to play a role because they should play a key role. Could they maybe control their border with Mali a little more? Is this what you would want to see from them?

There's no question [about] the absolutely essential role of Algeria in this more comprehensive strategy. Like all of Mali's neighbors, Algeria has a significant role to play. Algeria has great capability in every domain, politically, economically, and humanitarian assistance and development, and certainly in the intelligence and military realms. I believe - in many visits to Algeria, to include just a few days ago - that Algerians are very seriously committed to controlling their borders to prevent the movement of fighters and weapons and explosives across their border into northern Mali. They are looking, I'm convinced, they are looking for increasing opportunities to cooperate with those nations with whom they share borders to prevent illicit trafficking.

Just a very last question on some events that have been unfolding in Washington - the resignation of David Petraeus, lots of issues involving generals. Do you think that there's maybe a malaise and maybe a witch hunt in Washington against senior Pentagon staff?

Whenever any senior military official , particularly a general officer, missteps -- makes errors in judgment, lapses in judgments -- that reflects poorly on all of us who are entrusted with the leadership of America's young men and women in uniform. The essential ingredient for us is trust. And when there are shortcomings, when senior officers do not fully meet their personal, professional, ethical obligations, it has a tendency to undermine the trust between senior leaders and those we are privileged to lead, and also undermine the trust between senior military officials and the American people. So this is a serious undertaking. Secretary of Defense Panetta and General Dempsey have charged all of us with refocusing on the principles of honorable, selfless service, and we'll do just as they ask.

Do you think that those generals betrayed their mission, or do you think this is exaggerated?

Well, that's for others to judge. But I do know that any time the conduct of a senior officer is brought into question it has a tendency to blemish the entire cohort of senior officers.

General Carter Ham, thank you very much for answering our questions.

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