Africa: Telephonic Press Briefing on the 2020 Africa Land Forces Summit

U.S. forces in Liberia (file photo).
interview

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by.  Welcome to the Africa Land Forces Summit Conference Call.  At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode.  Later we will conduct a question and answer session.  Instructions will be given at that time.  If you should require assistance during the call, please press * then 0.  As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.  I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Marissa Scott.  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 the U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, Commander of U.S. Army Africa and Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu, Chief of the Ethiopian Navy.

We will begin today's call with opening remarks from Army Maj. Gen. Cloutier and Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu, Chief of the Ethiopian Navy.  Then we will turn 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 and 0 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 @africamediahub.

As a reminder, today's call is on the record and with that, I will turn it over to the U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier and Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu, Chief of the Ethiopian Navy for their opening remarks.  Please go ahead.

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Well, good afternoon everyone and greetings from beautiful Addis Ababa.  Thanks for your interest in the African Land Forces Summit.  We affectionately call it AFLS.  It's being co-hosted by the United States Army and the Ethiopian National Defense Force.  I'd like to thank, specifically, Gen. Molla who is in ENDF leadership in the government of Ethiopia for agreeing to host the 2020 African Land Forces Summit.

And I really think we're strengthening the bond of friendship between the United States Army and the ENDF during this planning process.  We're also having a great week.  As you may know, this is the eighth African Land Forces Summit.  It's really a unique opportunity to bring together African Land Force Chief Senior enlisted leaders from 42 African nations and eight allies as well as other international partners.

So this week, military leaders from across the African continent have the opportunity to meet face-to-face, to build partnerships and really to discuss the various security challenges they face.  African Land Forces have a vital role in setting the convictions for increased security and stability throughout the African continent.

And so by connecting here at ALFS, African Land Force Chiefs and their senior enlisted leaders are really able to talk openly about their security challenges.  They're able to share their experiences and they're really able to discuss possible solutions.  So in keeping with this week's theme, which is "Tomorrow's Security Demands Leadership Today, we've been focused on the roles African Land Forces Chiefs and their senior enlisted leaders have in developing defense institutions that train capable and professional forces, the respect the rule of law and human rights and that contribute to greater security and stability on the African continent.

This week the team of academic experts from the African Center for Strategic Studies, guest speakers from diplomatic and defense communities, and experts on regional security issues have been giving presentations and sharing case studies.  The U.S. Army is proud of its partnership with the Ethiopian National Defense Force to host this year's African Land Forces Summit.  This partnership between the United States and Ethiopia demonstrates our shared commitment to a more secure African continent.  A secure, stable and prosperous Africa is really an enduring American interest and we're committed to investing and helping our African partners as they work to improve security and stability on the continent.

And we do this through events such as the African Land Forces Summit.  So thank you again for your participation today.  And I do look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu.

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  Good afternoon everyone.  Thank you very much for having this opportunity to share my experience in the ALFS that's been taking place in the last three days in Africa and the theme of Tomorrow's Security Demands Leadership Today.  And thank you for Gen. Cloutier and his command for choosing Ethiopia to conduct this summit here in Addis Ababa.  I do know that this is one of the strong partner with Ethiopia as that has been working together in the last several years.

And thank you and go ahead to the next question.  Thank you very much, again.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier and Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu.  We will now begin the question and answer portion to today's call.  For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one, I repeat one  question related to the topic of today's topic: the Africa Land Forces Summit 2020.

For those of you listening to the call in English, please press 1 and 0 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 and 0.  For those of you listening to the call in French, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by e-mail and you may continue to submit your questions in English via e-mail to afmediahub@state.gov.

Our first question goes to Michael Tantoh of allAfrica Media.  Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR:  The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Maj. Gen. the question is for you.  With the question of setting along the fire region, we are told that the Americans are withdrawing their troops or partially withdrawing their troops from the fire region. So the question is do we think it's a good idea — I mean with continuous escalation of violence in that  region, do you think it's a good idea right now for the Americans to withdraw, what's the situation is like?

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Okay, thanks for the question.  Well, really the review is focused on making sure that the resources we have in Africa are aligned with our National Defense Strategy. We also want to make sure that we're efficient with our resources, that we're not duplicating effort and that whatever we're doing on the African continent is complimentary.

So the bottom line is, the United States is not walking away from Africa.  We're committed and we remain engaged.  And as the U.S. Army Africa Commander, I can tell you that in this year, we have scheduled over 300 theater security cooperation events across the continent.  So my workload is going up steadily.  And activities such as the African Land Forces Summit demonstrate the commitment of the United States to our partners in Africa.  Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you.  The next question goes to Desta Gebrehiwot of The Ethiopian Herald Newspaper.  Operator open the line.

OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.  Desta, your line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you moderator, Maj. Gen and (INAUDIBLE) my question is to both speakers.  So the Eastern African region  is hit with militant groups and various other threats.  My question to you is to (INAUDIBLE) maybe to take another approach, and for the Ethiopian Rear Admiral. My question is what kind of assistance do you expect from the U.S. in  to realize the ambition to establish a Naval force. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, I had a hard time understanding that question and perhaps our speakers did too.  Were you all able to understand?  Desta, could you please repeat your question and pick up the handset if you're on the speakerphone.

QUESTION:  Yes, I'll try to be brief. Ethiopia is trying to establish the Naval force after 30  more years so do you think U.S. will be assisting with that ambition to realize such ambitions?

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  Yeah, Desta, that Ethiopia has a great ambition to establish Navy or to reestablish this Navy and we're in the process of building this Navy and to build a Navy like with one addition, capacity building is a priority more than anything else. With that, we believe that the United States is still supporting Ethiopian military or Ethiopian National Defense Force regardless of which services.

So, so far we have several undertakings, mainly focusing on training aspect and I believe that still the U.S. is on the Ethiopian side to supportand to build this Navy.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Yonathan Yosef of Addis Media Network.  Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR:  The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  This is Jonathan from Addis Media Network.  I do have some questions for Gen. Roger.  The day before yesterday, the Excellency of the State of Secretary Michael Pompeo announced the plan of the U.S. that the U.S. is going to decrease its military assistance for Africa.  Is there any plan that in Africa that we need to change security for our development?  Does this affect any plans from the U.S. military forces?  Thank you very much.

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Yes, sir.  We had a hard time understanding that question.  Could you please repeat it?

QUESTION:  Yeah, I do have a question for Gen. Roger from the U.S.  The day before yesterday there was a visit from the Secretary of State, his Excellency Michael Pompeo.  And he made some remarks on the military assistance in Africa.  The U.S. military presence in Africa.  And he said that the U.S. is going to decrease its assistance for Africa in military — in its military assistance for Africa and focus on their economy assistance sector.

And this is going to affect Africa in its detailed security issues.  Is there any plans from the military sector that goes with this plan?  Thank you very much.

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Okay, well thank you for the question.  So you know we always say that the military is part of the solution to the challenges that our African partners are facing.  But it's not the solution.  It takes a whole of government approach to help solve some of the challenges that our African partners face here on the continent.

But with respect to U.S. Army Africa, I can tell you that it was recently announced by the Secretary of Defense that the First Security Force Assistance Brigade was going to be allocated to US AFRICOM to help train, advise and assist in missions in Africa during the upcoming fiscal year.

As I said previously, I have over 300 theater security cooperation events scheduled for this year.  We have several exercises to include Justified Accord here in Ethiopia in 2020.  And as I stated previously, we're committed and remain engaged and the United States is not walking away from Africa.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Nick Turse of The Intercept.  Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR:  The line is open, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks to you both for taking the time to talk today.  General, last month an attack on the U.S. Outpost at Manda Bay, Kenya left three Americans dead and I realize this wasn't an Africa Army base but in the wake of that has U.S. Army Africa taken steps to bolster defenses at its facilities on the continent?  If yes, what's been done?  If no, why not?

MODERATOR:  General?  Gen. Cloutier, that question is for you.

OPERATOR:  The General's line has —

MODERATOR:  Operator?

OPERATOR:  — disconnected.

Line with speakers was disconnected

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you very much.  Okay.  Do we have — one moment.   Okay, that concludes today's call.  I want to thank U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, Commander of U.S. Army Africa and Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu, Chief of the Ethiopian Navy.  It appears that we have lost communications and we are unable to reach them again.

But I do want to thank all of you for joining us.  If you have any questions about today's call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at afmediahub@state.gov.  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for today.  Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Teleconference.  You may now disconnect.

Speakers get back on the line

OPERATOR:  Okay, we're on.

MODERATOR:  Okay, thanks to all of you.  Hello, thank you for all of you.  We had some technical difficulties but we are back on the line now.  We have our speakers back on the line as well.  Just a reminder to put your questions in the question and answer queue, you need to press 1 and 0 to get into the queue.

As everyone gets back on the call, I'll just ask a question to the General and the Rear Admiral.  What is the goal of the Africa Land Forces Summit and is there a tangible outcome or deliverable that we should expect?

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Well, thanks for the question.  Yes, so you know the African Land Forces Summit is really a unique opportunity for the United States and African Partner Land Forces to solidify relationships, to exchange information on current topics that are of a mutual interest and to cooperate in addressing challenges that are common to all.

And you know, really, really what this is about, we've had a great three days so far.  We have one day left.  We've had opportunities to discuss challenges that are common to all.  And the outcomes of this are our African partners getting together and discussing ways to solve some of the common challenges that they face.  So really, it's about building relationships.  It's about identifying challenges that are common to all and then it's about identifying regional and solutions that they can all work together on.

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  Yes, to just add some points on this topic.  Having this summit together is a great opportunity for Land Force Commanders in Africa.  It helps us to understand what the future talks and mean from the panel and it helps us to know each other and to exchange addresses  if something happen in one of the countries.

It gives us to directly quote one of our friends to get assistance  and to have the proper information sharing among us.  So we benefit a lot from this summit.

MODERATOR:  Can you also tell us why Ethiopia was chosen to host this year's summit?

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  So, you know, this is the eighth time that we've held the Africa Land Forces Summit.  The first time was back in the United States in 2010 and seven African partners now have co-hosted with the United States.  And this year, it was Ethiopia's turn.  You know, for a lot of reasons, Ethiopia is a great partner.  We do a lot of activities with them the Justified Accord series exercises, the AU is located in Addis Ababa.  They have great facilities and they're great partners.

So what we try to do is rotate ALFS around the continent so that there's a different co-host every year.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Admiral Gezu, would you like to add to that?

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  Yeah, it's already been said by General Cloutier.  It is a good opportunity for Ethiopia to be chosen by the U.S. Armed Forces  Africa.  You know Ethiopia is a big country and Ethiopia plays a significant role in bringing peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.  And one of the most top contributing  countries for unity support  operation and we believe that we contribute a lot for the peace and the stability in the Horn of Africa and the most likely this is one of or some of the consideration for years to be chosen as the host country in addition to its turn.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I understand that the Africa Land Forces Summit encourages U.S. and African military leaders to discuss common challenges and to share best practices.  What are some of those challenges and what are some of those best practices?

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Well we've covered a lot of ground in the past three days.  We've discussed such topics as food insecurity, professional military education, humanitarian assistance, defense institution building.  We've talked about obviously terrorism and violent extremist organizations.

So we've really covered a broad range of subjects over the past three days.  You know, some of the best practices, I'll highlight for example today, we had a presentation on the Ebola response from the Liberian delegation.  They talked about best practices and lessons that had been learned.  And then USAID  also gave a presentation as part of that.  And we talked about ways that the international community and the interagency can partner with African and the U.S. military to help solve those problems.

So it's really focusing on lessons learned, things we can do better and how we can focus on prevention rather than response.

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  Yes —

MODERATOR:  Rear Admiral Gezu?  Yes.

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  — yes there are some challenges that we're facing today in Africa.  You know, in the discussion from the speakers, identified a number of challenges that have been affecting Africa regional stability like terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Al-Shabab and then Boko Haram in Western Africa and some other challenges including communal conflicts, building (INAUDIBLE), porous border, intercept conflict and illegal arms trafficking and contraband and human trafficking are some of  the challenges that are deteriorating security in Africa.  So having common understanding on those challenges and then looking for solutions now and tomorrow is very important for commanders — Land Force Commanders and all security operators in Africa.  These are some of the challenges which we are going to face and other best practices already mentioned by Gen. Cloutier.

So these are some of the points which I would like to add.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  So I see that we have a journalist who asked our previous question but that's when our line got disconnected.  So Operator, we'll go back to Nick Turse and ask him to ask his question.  Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  General, I'm not sure if you caught my question.  But I asked, last month there was an attack on the U.S. outpost at Manda Bay, Kenya that left three Americans dead.   And while I understand this wasn't an Army Africa base, wondering whether U.S. Army Africa has taken steps to bolster defenses at its facilities on the continent.  If yes, what's been done?  And if no, why not?

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Yes, so you know, securing our personnel locations is my number one priority and I know it's a number one priority of Gen. Townsend.  So you know there's an investigation ongoing into what occurred at Manda Bay and I don't want to get in front of the investigation.  What I can tell you about with respect to what U.S. Army Africa does on the continent is the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities are our number one priority.

We do a constant review of our posture locations and what our personnel are doing.  And you know, we look at it in the context of risk.   And so I, as the Commander look at what we're doing on the continent and if the conditions are not right and I feel like there's excessive risk, we don't execute that mission.

The other thing that leaders have to do is they have to get on the ground and they have to walk and train, they have to look at what we're doing.  And so I've been to our locations.  I've looked at what we're doing.  I've looked at our security posture.  We've made adjustments, you know, because the situation changes over time.  And what was good six months ago may not be good now.  So we're constantly adjusting.

I speak almost on the weekly basis with General Townsend specifically about protecting personnel and facilities and its our number one priority.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  To add to that you talked about a whole of government approach and building partnerships with African militaries.  Can the both of you speak about how building those partnerships have reduced the challenges of terrorism and other challenges on the continent?

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Well, thanks for the question.  So we focused on building partner capacity and really increasing the capability of our African partner land forces.  We do this through mil to mil activities with our theater security cooperation events.

But you know the one thing we have to remember is our African partners get a vote. So it's not us coming in and saying this is what we're going to do for you.  It's us, in cooperation with our African partners identifying some of the challenges or capability gaps that they've identified and seeing how we can support them.

The other thing we like to focus on is defense institution building.  So helping them build capacity in their defense institutions to promote increased capacity and capability over time.  So that's where we focus.  Admiral?

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  Yes, it's very important to discuss the partnership in between Africa military and the U.S. because already we have boots on the ground which can perform our job but the problem is the manpower that we have is really required to have appropriate training with appropriate procurement which are fit for the purpose of the mandate.  And that realizing we need to have this kind of technology or intelligence stuff.  We need intelligence of information from our partners.  If we've got that support, you know this is kind of mutual support for common purpose.

So, if it comes to fighting against terrorism, we may deploy troops to the bush.  But we may not properly know where it is.  So in that case, the United States plays a significant role by deploying technology and support us in the engagement.  So that's really important to increase and start partnership to challenge the security problem that is in African country today.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  General, the U.S. has multiple partnership efforts going on in Africa.  Currently we know that of the Flintlock Counterterrorism Exercise going on in Mauritania.  What is the relationship if any, between this summit and other exercises that are going on in the region?

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  Well, you know, right now African Land Forces Summit has 42 African Land Chiefs, 12 of our state partners, eight additional allies and global partners that are here discussing common issues that affect everyone operating on the continent.

Flintlock is an exercise that's conducted by SOCAFRICA, it's not tied directly to the African Land Forces Summit. We at U.S. Army Africa do several other exercises, the Accord Series, Exercise African Lion and they're all connected in that the land chiefs that are here at ALFS represent countries that are participating in Flintlock, that are participating in the Accord Series and then African Lion.

So again, it goes to the overall strengthening of partner relationships and networks.

Power outage in Johannesburg cut line of Africa Regional Media Hub

OPERATOR:  And ladies and gentlemen, Marissa Scott has disconnected.  One moment, please.

MODERATOR (2):  Hi, unfortunately it seems like Marissa will not be able to come back onto the line.  Do you have any closing remarks, sir?

REAR ADMIRAL KINDU GEZU:  Yes, just again I would like to thank you.  The U.S. Army Africa for having this opportunity, the theme for this year, for the eighth African summit is very, very important.  Because Tomorrow's Security Demands — Tomorrow's Security Demands Leadership Today.  And this is all about leadership.  Most of our problem arises from lack of leadership, particularly military leadership that will have to deal with the problems that we face in the base.

So, this theme is something that gives us to think developing our military leaders today in order to face tomorrow's problem.  This is also has another implication.  If we do our assignment yesterday, we may not have a problem today.  We tend to develop our leaders yesterday and today we're challenging because of that.

So, to alleviate problem tomorrow, we have to focus on capacity building particularly military leaders. We have to train them, equip them with appropriate knowledge and skills.  And this is very important and thank you again for the years  Africa Army Command for giving this opportunity to take place in Addis and we are very glad to host our brothers from the continent and of course our great partner U.S.

And I wish you all the best and I believe we'll have the great takeaway from this session and I believe this will benefit a lot for all of us.  Thank you very much and wish you all the best, thank you.

MAJ. GEN. ROGER CLOUTIER:  And I'd like to just close by saying it's been a great conference so far.  We have had three great days of discussing, focusing on security challenges that are common to everyone operating on the African continent.

And I want to personally thank Lt. Gen. Molla and the entire ENDF for being great partners and for co-hosting this event with us.  I'd also like to say that I think we should be really proud of the young men and women in uniform that are out here on the African continent serving every day.  They're great ambassadors for the United States.

The other thing I'd like to highlight about ALFS, it was a whole of government conference.  So it's not just militaries represented.  You know, there are interagency partners, there were other international agencies represented here.  And so it's really been a great opportunity to talk about issues.  But      ALFS is just the beginning.  It's kind of a catalyst to start the dialog and to look at ways that we can solve the complex challenges that our countries are facing on the African continent.

So this is just the beginning that's going to lead to more fruitful dialog and practices in the future.  So thank you everybody for giving us an opportunity to talk about ALFS.

MODERATOR (2):  Okay, thank you very much, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, Commander of the U.S. Army Africa and Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu, Chief of the Ethiopian Navy. We really appreciated having you on this call.  And we look forward to engaging with you in the future.  Thanks to all the journalists that have dialed in and who have survived all these technical challenges. We really appreciate it.  We'll have a transcript coming out to you shortly, probably tomorrow at the latest.  Thank you very much.

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for  today.  Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Teleconference.  You may now disconnect.

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