Africom Commander Pledges Support to African Nations
By Kenneth Fidler
Special to American Forces Press Service
MORONI, Union of the Comoros, Jan. 23, 2009 The commander of U.S. Africa Command delivered an unwavering message of assistance during his recent travels to African nations.
Comoran Defense Chief of Staff Salimou Mohamed Amiri, left, talks with Army Gen. William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, Jan. 21, 2009. Ward met with Comoran government officials as part of his first official visit to the island nation of Comoros. DoD photo by Kenneth Fidler
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Africom officials are listening to and learning about security issues from their African partners and will help where possible, Army Gen. William E. Ward said.
Ward brought that message in person Jan. 21 to this island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa. It was the first official visit of a top U.S. military commander to the nation.
"Our command is dedicated to doing its best 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help the nations of Africa address their security concerns," Ward said to about 40 Comoran journalists, students and teachers gathered for a press conference.
"What you say matters to us," he said.
Ward and U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Eric Stromayer met with Comoros’ Vice President Idi Nadhoim, Defense Minister Mohamed Dossar and Defense Forces Chief of Staff Salimou Mohamed Amiri to fully understand the security challenges facing the country.
The previous day, Ward met with the president of Madagascar and top government ministers to discuss ways to boost its homeland security.
Africom, from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, works to assist militaries of African nations to increase their security capacity. Prior to the creation of the command, U.S. military relations with Comoros and Madagascar were coordinated by U.S. Pacific Command, headquartered in Hawaii.
"Africa Command works through U.S. embassies to provide military-to-military assistance to African countries when appropriate and requested," Jerry Lanier, Ward's foreign policy advisor, said.
"We only go where we are invited and where our presence and what we do reinforces U.S. foreign policy," he said.
Lanier attended the meetings with Ward and said they helped to provide general insight into each country's priorities and desires.
"What's important is that now the dialogue has been established," Lanier said. "When a request for military assistance comes to us from the ambassador, we will already have a good amount of clarity of what it is they are looking for."
According to Ward, the Comoran government asked for assistance with maritime safety and security. In response to this request, the United States will provide Comoros with a patrol boat later this year. The boat will be funded by the Foreign Military Financing program, which provides grants and loans to help countries buy U.S.-produced defense equipment.
Additionally, Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa has sent training teams to conduct basic maritime security training. The task force is an Africom subordinate command in Djibouti with direct oversight of U.S. military assistance programs in Comoros and other nations in the east Africa region.
The U.S. Navy also is working with Comoros to eventually install an Automatic Information System to identify and track vessels in the country's territorial waters to improve maritime domain awareness.
However, the most visible impact of U.S. military assistance to Comoros comes from a dozen U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion "Seabees."
Seabee teams have deployed in the region since 2007 to construct a six-room school building, which is scheduled to be completed in July 2009.
Comoros, comprising three islands that together are about the size of Delaware, is among the world's poorest and least-developed nations. Among its leaders' top priorities is improving education. This school, on the island of Grande Comore, is the third such project the U.S. military has built there since 2007.
"You're basically improving something for somebody who doesn't have anything," Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Beardsley, the project's leading petty officer, said. "You get a good night's sleep. You get to make some family's life a little bit better. Their kids are getting a chance to learn."
Built entirely of cinder block and hand-mixed concrete, the school will accommodate about 250 students attending the U.S. equivalent of high school and junior college.
Ward toured the site, presented his commander's coin to the Seabees, and listened as they explained how they were building the school.
"You're here to help in an area that makes the greatest difference for the children," Ward told the Seabees. "I'm proud of the work that you're doing away from home. This resonates louder and longer than anything that we can do. Well done."
(Kenneth Fidler serves in the U.S. Africa Command public affairs office.)