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General News of Monday, 25 May 2009

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AFRICOM Meets Foreign Press In Washington D.C.

The need for a concerted world approach in dealing with current multi-facetted international crises came to the fore at a recent Foreign Press meeting held by the Foreign Press Centre and AFRICOM in Washington, D. C. on May 12th 2009. Briefing the Press, Deputy to the Commander of the U.S Africa Command, civil-military activities, Ambassador Mary C. Yates, gave an outline on lessons learned and implications for the future of the Command. She had this to say: “I’m very, very pleased with what we’re building inside the Command…there are nations in West Africa who really want to work with U.S. Government agencies to help them fight the scourge of the drug trafficking… which has doubled over the past three to four years, to the point where about $2 billion is flowing through West Africa in cocaine trade into Europe.”

Ambassador Yates who has been working with the Command since its inception a year ago has played key role in developing capacity-building model that unites military operations and African governments efforts. In March 2009, she visited Ghana and was in Western Region, Sekondi, where she discussed with the Ghana Navy cooperation in combating illegal flow of drugs and illegal fishing and other criminal trafficking.

She disclosed that of the four major target areas of its mission-statement, which explicitly are, reducing conflict, improving security, defeating violent extremism and supporting crisis response. The three words that highlight the Command’s activities are “sustained security engagement”.

Though the Command has hitherto been sporadic in its military and security engagements on the continent, it is hoped that if the Command concentrates seriously on Africa, it will be able to acquire enough resources for a more reliable partnership with African nations.

Due to some initial negative reaction to the formation of the Command, Ambassador Yates, in response to a question on strategic communication towards letting the good people of American know the role of U.S. in this important initiative, revealed that the Command has been speaking in a number of Universities and will do more to educate the masses.

Honored to serve as a first civilian in a military command in a very senior position, Ambassador Yates disclosed that though not an easy responsibility, it has been rewarding.

“When I was U.S. Ambassador in Ghana, we had a robust military-to-military program. We started the State Partnership Program. What we want to do is to find the African partners who are looking to build peace and stability in their nations and in their regions – partnering with those African standby forces as they build their goal is to come online with battalions for each of the five geographic areas by 2010”.

To a question on AFRICOM’s priority areas in Africa, Ambassador Yates said the Command works with limited resources; so nations of Africa who want to partner and who are leaders in trying to bring peace and stability not only to their nation but to the region, are the ones that naturally become the first partners, if there is the need to prioritize funding and programs. She underscored the importance of setting priorities and abiding by them: “One thing that I can say the Africa Command has done and that we’re doing much more on an integrated basis is State, AID and Defense, sit down and talk and prioritize”.

On where Ghana fits and her anticipated role in respect of AFRICOM’s National Guard Program in West Africa in particular, Ambassador Yates stressed the importance of Ghana’s partnership on all levels. She noted with pride her three years stay in Ghana, and Ghana’s leadership role in ECOWAS and the fact that the ECOWAS has moved ahead with the African Standby Force. She expressed with hope, the probability of ECOWAS having its first battalion that is ready for action. She acknowledged that ECOWAS has already been active in the West African sub region.

The Ambassador spoke recently in Nigeria at the ECOWAS conference on security sector reform.

She observed that the deliberations there covered entire West Africa including Guinea Bissau. Ghana’s key role in leadership and democracy, she stressed has made the military assess Ghana as one of its strongest partners in Africa. As the U.S. Department of Defense’s newest geographic unified command, AFRICOM in its mission statement to U.S. Congress in March 2009, specified the command’s responsibility for the Defense Department’s programs on the African continent and its island nations.

The statement discloses the engagements with dozens of political and military leaders from across Africa over the last year. The desire of these nations is to develop a security infrastructure at the national, regional and continental levels with legitimate and professional security forces and organizations. The U.S. thus finds this goal consistent with its own national security objectives for self-sustaining stability and security in Africa. AFRICOM is not chalking these positive results alone, it is, with the concerted efforts of a wide range of U.S. government, African and International partners. Aside Defense, the combined efforts of diplomacy and development promotion, the command partners with U.S embassies and Chiefs of Missions do ensure its activities are consistent with foreign policy and unity of efforts of interagency.

Author: Katherine Carboo (Mrs.) Washington, D.C. Ghana Mission.