Africom Commander Strengthens U.S. Relationship With Madagascar
By Kenneth Fidler
Special to American Forces Press Service
ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, Jan. 22, 2009 The commander of U.S. Africa Command reaffirmed his commitment to a security partnership with Madagascar during his first official visit to the island nation Jan. 20.
Malagasy President Marc Ravalomanana, left, greets Army Gen. William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, during Ward's first official visit to Madagascar, Jan. 20, 2009. Ward and U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar Niels Marquardt, center, met with the president and other top government officials to reaffirm Africom’s commitment to a security partnership with Madagascar. Photo by Kenneth Fidler
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward met with Malagasy President Marc Ravalomanana and other top government officials to discuss potential security assistance programs in this region.
"I am very, very grateful you are here," Ravalomanana told Ward. "Madagascar is a very important country. I need your help. I need your support."
Emphasizing the importance of Africa Command's relationship with Madagascar, Ward told the president, "I want to assure you that we will do our best [to work] with you."
Madagascar, with a population of about 20 million, gained independence from France in 1960. It is the world's fourth-largest island, located in the Indian Ocean about 250 miles east of southeastern Africa.
In a news conference with about 20 Malagasy reporters, Ward fielded questions on the Defense Department’s newest geographic unified command and its mission in Africa.
Africom, from its headquarters in Germany, works to assist the militaries of dozens of African nations to increase their security capacity. Until the creation of Africom, U.S. military relations with Madagascar were coordinated by U.S. Pacific Command.
"I am here today to listen and to learn -- to listen to your leaders [and] learn of your ideas, so I can do my best to work in partnership with you as you work to increase your capacity to provide for your security," Ward told reporters here.
During the one-day visit, Ward met separately with Prime Minister Charles Rabemananjara, Foreign Affairs Minister Marcel Ranjeva and Defense Minister Cecile Manorohanta. He also met with U.S. Ambassador Neils Marquardt and the U.S. Embassy country team.
Past military-to-military engagements between the United States and Madagascar, though few, have focused mainly on maritime safety and security. Africom officials plan to coordinate a visit by a U.S. Navy ship to Madagascar in July, during which U.S. servicemembers will work with the Malagasy Defense Force to enhance maritime skills such as small-boat operations and the protection of territorial waters from illegal fishing.
"Security takes many forms," Ward said. "In the case of Madagascar, I'm here to understand from you what security means to you. By listening to your leaders, I can gain a better understanding of what those requirements are."
Ward was scheduled to meet yesterday with leaders of the neighboring island-nation of Comoros.
(Kenneth Fidler works in the U.S. Africa Command public affairs office.)