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DoD News Briefing - Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs

Presenter: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs
April 02, 2002 12:15 PM EDT
 (The OSD/ISA/AFR Sub-Saharan Africa Policy fact sheet is available at , the Operation Avid Recovery document is available at , the Military Health Initiative is available at , the biography of Michael A. Westphal is available at )

Staff: Hello again. I'd like to introduce Michael Westphal. He is the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for African affairs; extensive experience in sub-Saharan African matters, both in the Pentagon and on the Hill and elsewhere as part of our sort of ongoing occasional roundtable series. The idea is just to get to know him a little better and to hear a little bit about the issues under his purview.

Mr. Westphal.

Westphal: Thank you. Why am I here this afternoon? Africa is not always a topic, which is high on the agenda list here in the Pentagon. But I'm here to tell you that it's actually something, which does matter, and we do follow it very closely. I'll identify a few points that I'll go through and then basically open it up for your questions.

To begin with, 15 percent of the U.S.'s imported oil supply comes from sub-Saharan Africa. This is also a number which has the potential for increasing significantly in the next decade. Poverty, unemployment and lack of capital development exacerbate social and ethnic tensions and create havens for conflict, insecurity and terrorism. Over 65 percent of the world's HIV cases are in Africa. And in the past decade over 25 U.S. contingency operations have been conducted in Africa.

Our security themes, dealing with Africa here in the Pentagon. We are developing partnerships with African nations and sub-regional organizations to help build sustainable capacity, both national as well as regional, for humanitarian, crisis response and peace support operations.

We are working creatively with African nations and sub-regional organizations to improve the counterterror -- sorry -- counterterrorism capabilities as well as our cooperation from these countries. We're also working to identify an African as well as U.S. awareness in the importance of African energy reserves.

The framework of our strategy, very simply: Working through sub-regional organizations, recognizing the important leadership roles of countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Senegal, Ghana and Botswana and a few other states, to satisfy the president's priorities to promote regional stability, to help improve the trade and investment environments and to combat HIV and AIDS.

We're focusing and orchestrating various security cooperation and assistance tools available to us to address three key areas of positive change. This is what we try and focus on in particular: Promoting civilian control of militaries, improving military professionalism, and building capacity of these militaries to respond effectively to national and sub-regional crises.

Because overall resources for military-to-military activities in sub-Saharan Africa are limited and we do not have U.S. military infrastructure on the continent, we wound up doing a lot more with a lot less. This means a certain amount of coordination, cooperation, information sharing and creativity from our office. We worked to see that our programs complement, dovetail, and maximize the effectiveness with the State Department, USAID and other government agencies, as well as with African and EU partners.

Four particular projects that I'd like to highlight for you. One is Operation Avid Recovery. I'll tell you about -- U.S. European Command is currently working with Nigerian and British servicemen and women in clearing unexploded munitions left from a tragic and deadly accident in Lagos on the 27th of January of this year. The EOD soldiers are helping to stabilize the area as well as provide safety training to the public and special ordnance handling training for the Nigerian military personnel.

U.S. crisis operation assistance and training. In its fifth year, the African Crisis Response Initiative has trained over 8,600 African soldiers and has graduated five individual countries. The program is being redesigned in concert with African countries themselves to further the enhancement of capacity of armed forces in Africa to serve in peace support operations and to respond to humanitarian crises.

The Military Health Initiative is a U.S. initiative, which assists in adapting and providing military-based HIV prevention programs to military and uniformed service personnel in selected African countries. The program implements, maintains and evaluates HIV preventive intervention programs and complements other U.S. government HIV awareness and prevention programs as well as those managed by allies in the United Nations.

And finally, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Since October of 1999, the Africa Center has brought together over 600 civilian and military leaders for programs in civil-military relations, national security strategy and defense economics. An annual two-week senior leader seminar is designed for civilian policymakers and military makers -- sorry -- military officers. They also conduct leadership seminars as well as sub-regional and topical seminars that are offered throughout the year.

I realize I'm quite new to this environment. I've been in this job for about six months. It's my first time to actually sit in this room and meet with you. I understand there's a protocol, and I've always seen Mr. Rumsfeld point to you first. We've never met, but I know that you're Charlie. So I'll just say -- I'll turn it over to you.

Q: I just wanted to ask you about counterterrorism in Sudan. How actively are they participating in counterterrorism activities now? Or are they?

Westphal: I think that it's -- I'm sorry.

Q: Or are they?

Westphal: Well, I think if you went to three or four different offices in this town, you'd get three or four different answers as to what they're doing to cooperate. I think that the Sudanese have expressed a strong interest in trying to cooperate with the United States in counterterrorism efforts since September the 11th.

Q: Other than expression of strong interest, has there been --

Westphal: This is probably not the right environment and I don't know if it's something that we should discuss, some of the details of their willingness.

Q: I know that in the past, a lot of the work that you've been talking about in Africa has been taken up by Third Group. And the Special Forces are extremely busy right now in other places. How much pulling away of Special Forces to other active theaters, how does that affect your policy in Africa, what you're trying to do there?

Westphal: Well, I would say that it has had a definite impact. I think that the events of September 11th had an impact on everyone, and Third Group is not excluded. Third Group has been working in other areas. As you know, sub-Saharan Africa is a big AOR for Third Group to cover. They have had, I think, a definite impact since September 11th in trying to deal with all of the various missions that they have. But to my knowledge, at this point they're able to meet what those missions are.

Q: Without cutting down on any of your --

Westphal: You know, I'm certain that there are other missions that we would like to do. I would have to take that question and get specifics on it and hear from Third Group. I'm kind of giving you the general answer and my impression of it.

Q: You talked about creative partnerships. Can you give an example of what partnerships would involve? What kind of things do they do?

Westphal: Creative partnerships. I think one in particular would be trying to work with ECOWAS, the sub-regional organization in West Africa; creative in that we work with ECOWAS as an organization as well as individual member states, in particular working to respond to events in Sierra Leone in the last two years, to be able to create a capacity to deal with the security environment in Sierra Leone, to support UNAMSIL.

Specific examples of working with ECOWAS to try and develop their capacity; we have been working on two initiatives in particular. One is trying to establish an effective communications network amongst the various ECOWAS member states.

A second would be we are potentially looking at establishing a logistics training and maintenance depot in ECOWAS in which we can bring ECOWAS members to not only utilize the equipment which is there, that has supported UNAMSIL as well as other operations in West Africa, but also to create something, a long-term sustained capacity dealing with logistics and supply and maintenance of important equipment that they've utilized.

Q: Does that -- I'm sorry -- does that require military involvement at all?

Westphal: Well, certainly in preparing these individual militaries for work in Sierra Leone, Operation Focused Relief is something, which we conducted successfully which helped prepare those military units specifically to go into Sierra Leone. It was something much more than just standard peacekeeping. And so, yes, working specifically with those militaries.

Q: My name is James Baty with West Africa Magazine. As you rightly said, sometimes we don't talk about Africa a lot in this building, so when -- at first, I didn't believe it, but we are here. (Laughter.)

What percentage of the program you outlined has to do with helping the United States to effectively carry out or conduct its war on terrorism, and what percentage has to do with sincerely trying to help organizations like ECOWAS or African regional organizations to at least try to maintain peace?

Westphal: Well, I think they're linked, to be quite honest. We talk about a certain level of stability. One of the things that I look at in Africa in terms of a terrorist threat -- I think that instability creates a vacuum, which can draw terrorists to it. And so, by working on things such as stability issues writ large, I think that is, in and of itself, something, which helps to deal with the war on terrorism.

To kind of get to your question, specific operations, it's more of a case-by-case basis, and I wouldn't want to give it a percentage. I wouldn't want to give you a percentage as to this is how much is spent specifically on the war on terrorism.

Q: Is it 50-50?

Westphal: Maybe I'll come back to you. I'll do an analysis of our day-to-day operations and give you a breakdown of the percentage, which is the war on terrorism versus everything else. It's a significant focus of the office, I'll tell you that. But working on how we're going to proceed and deal with the war on terrorism, that is a major focus of our day-to-day work here in the building.

Q: May I follow, please?

Westphal: Yes.

Q: The other concern is that we're talking about conflicts in Africa and that DRC, Democratic Republic of the Congo; they're trying to see if they can send U.N. peacekeepers in. One criticism of the United States is that you have all these peacekeepers all over Europe, but when it comes to Africa, you back up, you know.

But you can do all these things, you know, help the ECOMOG, but people -- at least the president of the United States will make a difference. People say that. Then they wonder why you have in Bosnia and Kosovo, and when it comes to Democratic Republic of the Congo, we have a difficulty trying to get peacekeepers there.

Westphal: Well, I would say that there are actually U.S. service members serving in U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa. They are supporting the IMET, which is a British operation in Sierra Leone. They're also supporting the peacekeeping operation in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In terms of always seeking U.S. service members to be participants in peacekeeping missions, as you can imagine, there is a significant need for U.S. service members right now, and we cannot always respond to each and every individual peacekeeping mission.

What I'd like to focus on, as opposed to just responding, what can we do to prevent such incidents and what can we do to support militaries to be able to respond to these sorts of environments on their own, with a certain amount of U.S. support, be it logistic or communications or other things?

Q: In your short experience here, maybe you can offer some insight into this. The experience in Somalia in '92-'93 was searing for the military. How much does that experience continue to inform the way the Pentagon deals with questions of Africa or peacekeeping?

Westphal: I think any military operation has an impact on how you go forward and how you deal with future operations. Being a former military member myself, any time you go and do something, you stop, you do lessons learned, you try to identify mistakes that you've made and how to do things better.

Has Somalia had that kind of impact? Absolutely. It goes without saying that it's had a significant impact.

Q: Well, sure, there's the one side of learning from it, and naturally they do that. But on the other side, does it create any tentativeness towards the whole continent, towards operations there? Does it make it scarier, given that experience?

Westphal: Well, I don't think it's a matter of what's scarier or not as scary. I think -- I've not had the opportunity to have this conversation with the secretary himself, but it's a matter of priorities as to where we can and will go and deploy U.S. forces. I think that's much more of an important factor as to determining where we're going to go, as opposed to past experience and whether or not it was successful.

Q: But you mentioned earlier -- excuse me, I have a brief follow-up -- you mentioned earlier that instability in countries creates a situation that can suck in terrorists. What is the United States doing, the U.S. military doing, in Somalia to increase stability? As you know, the government there controls very little of the country, and that's one reason why the reports that al Qaeda are there even now.

Westphal: Sure.

Q: What is the U.S. military doing now actively to increase stability there?

Westphal: I don't want to give you a bad answer, but I would defer to my State Department colleagues when it comes to stability of a regime or a particular country. There's not necessarily a military mission in which we are going to create stability in Somalia -- today, tomorrow or next month.

Q: So the U.S. military is not doing anything there now?

Westphal: Well, I am not going to get into what our specific operational activities are in the horn of Africa. But specifically addressing your question, dealing with stability and what are we doing about trying to provide stability to the TNG government in Mogadishu, we're not, and that's not a military mission.

Q: What kind of contacts do you have with that government? Do you have any kind of liaison relationship? Any training? Anything at all?

Westphal: No. No, not at this point.

Q: How closely are you, though, perhaps working with Ethiopia, which is one of the regional powers you referred to in your opening statement, which borders on Somalia, and has made incursions into Somalia? Is there a specific program under way much like what we have with Yemen, or in the works with Yemen, Georgia, as a regional effort?

Westphal: No. At this point there is not. I look at Ethiopia right now as a very large and professional military. And as part of the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea there was a call for a reduction in the size of the force. I look at this as an opportunity for the United States to work with the Ethiopians, to have an influence on the Ethiopians in how they develop their military for the future. But counter-terrorism specific? No, nothing is planned.

Q: And there seems to have been differing opinions between various branches of this government as to the extent of terrorist activity in Somalia, ranging between it's potentially a haven because it's got no government, to it is a hot-bed of activity and there are actually al Qaeda operatives there. What is your assessment on behalf of the department? And then, secondly, what other parts of the continent are you looking at as areas of instability that could be breeding grounds?

Westphal: Sure. I think the important point is you can -- from your question I think you will get a lot of information, in that when you have a lot of different perspectives the answer is you don't know. I think my own personal view is that we don't know to the extent the presence and activity at this point. It's something that obviously we are concerned about and focused on, but there is a matter we don't know the extent at this point.

In terms of other areas in Africa, I don't think you always need to have a failed state like Somalia or an environment such as Afghanistan which can create an environment for terrorists to transit through, to actually station themselves there, to raise funds, to plan operations. And so when I look at the map of Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, I see many countries that are not failed states, but they may not necessarily have the government structures in which to deal with or keep track of who is coming in and out of their country and what they are doing. So there is plenty of potential throughout the continent, as I said, to serve as a haven, base of operations, et cetera, for terrorists.

Q: Any specific that you want to --?

Westphal: No, I think you could look at a map, and out of the 48 sub-Saharan you could pick 40 that present that kind of an environment that they could go to.

Q: What are the eight? (Laughter.)

Westphal: What are the eight?

Q: Would Liberia fit in, or --

Westphal: Would Nigeria fit in?

Q: Liberia.

Westphal: Liberia? You know, I think when you look at West Africa, the instability in the Mano River region, you know, it's easy enough to get in and out of that region with a certain amount of wherewithal and resources. So it's -- I think it's certainly possible. I don't know that specifically, but it's certainly possible.

Q: Could you list the eight countries that you all feel confident?

Westphal: I pulled that out of my head. I probably shouldn't have done that, should I? I get in trouble.

Q: Just a -- for as long as I have been around this building, which is about 20 years now, I keep on hearing people talk about it is a big AOR for U.S. European Command, and periodically you hear calls for a U.S. Africa Command. Would that help in the war against terrorism, and would it sort of symbolically say to the world that, yes, we think that -- the United States thinks Africa is important?

Westphal: I don't know. You know, that's something I have not focused on. What I have had experience with is trying to coordinate events at times between CENTCOM and EUCOM and the difficulties that naturally enough you could imagine that it presents. It's something I have not really focused in on at this point.

Q: Do you think it would help?

Westphal: I'm sorry?

Q: Do you think it would help?

Westphal: You know, I'd have to talk to -- I'd have to talk to various people and get their input as to -- I know it's been discussed. I've actually engaged in a couple of discussions. But it really is not something that I have focused on enough to give you a proper answer.

Q: You mentioned the ACRI program, and I know that program has been under review with the intention to modify it somewhat. Have you decided to proceed with offering combat training to certain countries? And have you begun to approach additional countries that might participate by joining the program?

Westphal: Well, you're right, it's under review. We have -- it's been an ongoing process. It has been interagency at this point, and we are beginning to move out, and we are engaging with some important countries in Africa in particular. We are engaging with previous ACRI participants as well as a few additional countries.

To give you a bit of history, when the ACRF, when it first came out, one of the complaints was that we just kind of put this thing together, rolled it out, and said, You can participate or you can't. This time around, you are right, we are reviewing -- we have identified changes that we may or may not want to make. But we are engaging with partner countries in Africa to determine that we get their input to say this was important, this wasn't important; we think you should focus here; we shouldn't focus so much there.

In terms of the nature of the training, there have been discussions about the level of training, which should be provided. ACRI, as you probably know, was peacekeeping strictly. And maybe we are not preparing certain troops to go into the proper environment that they were going to face. It is not something, which is resolved. Personally, I am interested in ensuring that the troops that are going to go in to serve in these various peace-support operations are properly prepared to successfully complete their mission, should they be a part of that particular mission.

Q: So lethal training is a possibility?

Westphalia: I don't want to get hung up on offensive or defensive or chapter six or chapter seven. There is -- you know, there's a certain level of training I think. I think of it as light infantry tactics. I think that the troops that go in should be able to successfully complete their mission.

I think that the important thing we are looking at is that there is no one approach which is right for each individual African country. I think we often get caught up on Africa as one place. There are many places, and we shouldn't have a program which approaches it as one place -- not one cookie cutter, but rather an evaluation of the individual African militaries, what their capacities are, what we think they should be able to do, and what we would want to accomplish with them.

Q: What new countries might participate?

Westphalia: We haven't gotten that far. We really haven't gotten that far. We have talked to the ACRI participants, those countries. We have also had discussions with South Africa and Nigeria, Botswana. And there are a few other countries that we are also going to do an assessment with in the future. But we haven't picked who are the winners and who are not going to be participants yet.

Q: Could you discuss your trip to Rwanda?

Westphalia: I'm not going to Rwanda.

Q: Oh, I heard you had.

Westphalia: I'm getting ready to, actually next -- no, this month -- next -- let's see, two weeks. I'll be going to Angola, the DRC, Rwanda, and hopefully Burundi.

Q: How did your 2003 budget request look? Are you cut? Are you the same? Are you up? And, if so, where?

Westphalia: I -- to be honest, I am not prepared to talk with you about our budget numbers -- not that I've got anything to hide. I didn't focus on that in preparation for today. I'd be more than happy to take that back and give you our analysis of what we think the budget is. But suffice it to say that there is -- you know, the budget there is supplementals that are out there.

Q: But what --

Westphal: Let me come back to you.

Q: But don't you think this program is contingent of money, a budget?

Westphal: Which one?

Q: I mean, they work together.

Westphal: Overall, or --?

Q: Yeah. Without money can do this? Can you carry out these programs you are talking about? So I thought maybe that would be the first thing you need to have.

Westphal: To be honest, you know, we do a lot with not so much resources. So I apologize for not being prepared for that question, but I'll be happy to take it and come back to you.

Q: My question for you was since you mentioned Mano River union and the trouble area, one of the things that ECOWAS is discussing, particularly on the Liberian-Guinean border, is some kind of ECOMOG -- a peacekeeping force that can control that area so that the area -- the region comes back to some kind of normalcy. But one of the concerns is that maybe some ECOWAS country -- the last time ECOMOG went into Liberia, Nigeria footed the bill. Now, with Nigeria, with its political and some economic problems, people are saying, oh, it may not be able to. Would the United States then in the sense you wanted to work with regional organizations, help ECOWAS do that, sending the peacekeepers to the Guinean-Liberian border maybe Liberian-Sierra Leone border? Would you be willing to support that?

Westphal: How would they do that? Or --

Q: No. Would you be willing to finance -- you know, give them the money for them to do it?

Westphal: I don't know that the environment is right for that at this point. I have not looked at that as a specific proposal to even tell you whether or not we would be willing to support it.

Q: But what are you willing to do it to bring stability?

Westphal: You have to tell me what the individual case is.

Q: I have just given you an individual case.

Westphal: I don't know. I mean, what are we talking about? Are we talking about all-U.S.? Are we talking about ECOWAS? Are we talking about the U.S. providing -- paying the bill for ECOWAS? Are we talking about OFR troops? Are we talking about ACRI troops? I mean, the permutations are numerous. So I don't want to leave this environment in which you think that, you know, okay, they're on board for that particular concept when we don't even know what this is.

Q: May I ask one last question?

Westphal: Sure.

Q: Is the Africa policy together, or is this just something we are here -- or it's in the making? Is there an Africa policy here in the Pentagon?

Westphal: I kind of went through what our general parameters are as to what our policy is. Does policy evolve? Does it change? Do we have things that we have to respond to? Yes. But in terms of looking at the three specific strategies dealing with civilian militaries, professionalization and developing capacity, I would focus on those three as our strategic triad -- I've sworn not to use that word, but --

Q: You mentioned contact that you have had with South Africa among other nations in relation to the ACRI. Could you give us a flavor, the nature of those communications, what you are trying to achieve, what feedback you are getting? And also, more generally, what are your strategic goals with regard to South Africa -- South Africa particularly? Do you have any aims to extend training exercises, that kind of thing?

Westphal: With respect to the ACRI, South Africa and other SADC countries had been very particularly in seeking -- asking us to come and get input from them, as opposed to the last time we did this with ACRI, in which we put together a program and just presented it, and said, Do you want to participate or not? So that was the approach -- to be able to engage with these partners, to seek their guidance, seek their comments on what we were considering.

In terms of a broader strategic view of South Africa, we certainly have a -- South Africa is important. It's -- regionally as well as within the continent is an important country, is an important military. We are seeking to develop a very good professional military-to-military relationship with South Africa that could take the form of a number of things that you suggested, be they exercises, military-to-military engagements and other forms. Yes, that is something, which I'm focusing on.

Q: And what are they telling you in response to the ACRI? What do they want you to change?

Westphal: I think that their response has been positive. They are very interested in what we are developing in ACRI. And while they have not necessarily committed definitely that they will be a participate in whatever this -- you know, whatever this becomes, I think it's important that they have actually given us a positive indication that they would like to participate -- or they would like to cooperate with us, or they are very interested in how we move forward with this program.

Q: Yes. Have you got any mil-to-mil relation with Zimbabwe? And do you have any comments on the continuing presence of the Zimbabwean army in the Congo?

Westphal: In terms of the military-to-military -- no, we do not have active military-to-military programs. I guess I would caveat that with we do -- we have a de-mining program that we have worked with the Zimbabweans for a number of years. But that's the only thing, which remains active. I believe we are working on an HIV and AIDS program potentially in the future. But that will be the extent considering the elections and how that has transpired.

In terms of Zimbabwe and the Congo, I am sorry, there -- what was the rest of the question?

Q: The continued presence of the Zimbabwean army in the Congo -- do you have any comment on that, considering the allegations of -- about the allegations against that army over there?

Westphal: About the Zimbabwean military and their --

Q: Right, yeah.

Westphal: As to --

Q: And their use of natural resources over there, et cetera.

Westphal: I have not focused specifically on that issue. I would have to come back to you with a response to that question.

Q: Can you tell us more about the health initiative? Exactly what is it that the U.S. military is doing? How much money? How long has it been going on and what kind of an effect it is having?

Westphal: Sure. It's a program that we have -- it's been ongoing for about two years. It started off last year with $10 million; and this year we have $14 million. We have approached 19 countries in Africa, basically working on -- with our military to their military in developing prevention programs -- five of them currently we have active programs with them.

Q: What does that involve?

Westphal: It is two aspects in particular. One is identification -- basically the -- I am going to get this wrong, but basically the lab work to identify who is and who is not HIV positive. And the other aspect in terms of prevention is developing peer counselors, to be able to talk about HIV and AIDS.

Q: And no condom distribution or anything like that?

Westphal: I'll have to -- I don't know. I'll have to come back to you on that one.

Q: Could you give which five countries?

Westphal: The three -- I can only give you three: Angola, South Africa and Nigeria. The other two I'll have to come back to you on.

Q: In that connection, I am curious about this trip that you have planned, and specifically the destinations -- Angola, DRC and Rwanda -- cease-fire after a civil war -- we don't know yet in Angola, and we have this civil war in Congo, and we have Rwanda accused of -- (inaudible). What do you hope to -- what's the point of your trip?

Westphal: Well, it's not as glamorous as it sounds -- and maybe it doesn't sound glamorous to some. Basically since I've been here in October, I've been to East Africa, West Africa, southern Africa -- and it's basically been an orientation. It's a chance for me to go and meet with my counterparts in the military, both civilian and in the uniforms, to say I am the new DASD for the Bush administration. I'll be working with you for the next three or four years -- maybe more hopefully -- and basically to get to know them. This is now my opportunity to go to Central Africa.

Is there more to it? Certainly. You know, Angola -- it's a very interesting time right now. For the longest time we have been trying to work past the war. It seems that maybe we do have an opportunity right now to end the war. The truce has -- is prepared -- is supposed to be agreed to formally in Luanda on the 4th of April. So, yes -- you know, I don't have a specific mission. I don't have a specific message that I am bringing to this process. Will I engage with the Angolan military? Yes. Will I take the opportunity to talk with UNITA leaders? Absolutely.

Q: And in that connection, have you had an opportunity to have any contacts with any UNITA officials, official or informal since taking your position?

Westphal: Sure. Well, running the risk of getting into trouble, but I feel the environment is actually quite different from before. Yes. The answer is yes. When I worked on the Hill obviously I had contacts with UNITA. They sought me out to talk and discuss. UNITA continues to seek out. They've called. I know they've called other people also within the State Department.

And to be quite honest, I think that now is the time for communication. UNITA has to be able to transition from a military force to a political force. They have to do that by communicating amongst themselves and with others, including us.

Q: (Inaudible) -- getting very specific, can you tell us who you talked to?

Westphal: No, I won't do it. (Laughs.) When in doubt, I'll just say no.

Q: Can you talk about the role of private military organizations in this policy review? Are you going to be maybe emphasizing it more or less than the previous administration?

Westphal: I have not even begun to consider private military organizations in this role. I'd have to come back to you.

Q: You mentioned your contacts with UNITA. I wonder, because I think UNITA was ecstatic, you know, that the Southern Africa Development Corporation, I think, they identified by UNITA because of its atrocities in Uganda -- (inaudible) -- Angola, as a terrorist organization. Does the U.S. feel comfortable meeting or talking to UNITA?

Westphal: I'm not sure who all has identified UNITA as a terrorist organization. Certainly this government, I don't believe, has identified UNITA as a terrorist organization. Besides, I think -- let's get beyond that right now. I think -- let's really focus on the opportunity that we've got.

For 25 years, we have had a conflict in Angola. Four million people are displaced from their homes; a country which could absolutely be an incredible economic machine, not only in southern Africa but also for the entire continent. Let's get off this spot right now of dealing with the past and the history. Let's find a peace. Let's move forward. And so that's what I would say.

You get the first and you get the last, right?

Q: No, I'm just asking you -- you had mentioned earlier that -- you say you can still accomplish your missions in Africa, but you say that you are having a problem because troops -- the call-up of troops elsewhere. Is this a symbol of the problem, the long problem of the United States neglecting Africa, politically and militarily?

Westphal: No.

Q: Are you the first -- is Africa the first to give up troops, the first to give up military resources, when they're called from other areas of the world?

Westphal: I don't know that that's --

Q: The Philippines --

Westphal: I don't know that that's necessarily the case. I don't even believe that those would be the proper troops to be utilized for the Philippines in the way that the groups organize themselves and focus on a particular region.

Q: Well, where are you losing resources and troops? Resources -- (inaudible).

Westphal: Not necessarily resources. I think that Third Group has just naturally -- they have picked up in their operational tempo. I think they have done more to support operations in CENTCOM's area of responsibility.

Q: There was a Third Group guy killed in Afghanistan.

Westphal: Yeah.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's a very large maritime interdiction operation going on around the Horn of Africa -- (inaudible) -- and coalition allies. What do you think the likelihood that al Qaeda people have gotten through that net and are in Somalia right now, or other countries, for that matter?

Westphal: I think the answer is I don't know. I think that's what we're trying to do in identifying the nature of the threat within the Horn of Africa as part of that operation, as well as others.

Q: I know that aircraft are observing ships and boats and tracking them and so on, but what do you do to follow up and actually find out -- it would seem to be a very daunting task to, you know, intercept every little boat that crosses that water. So what happens? You've got this, but what do you do about it?

Westphal: Well, I guess this is one you answer that I don't want to get into the knickers of the operational commander. You know, he's got to do -- he's trying to accomplish his mission. I'm not going to second-guess how he's accomplishing it, successfully or not. I'd be more than willing to take that on and see if I can give you a better answer.

Q: But are you saying that al Qaeda possibly had its fingers in Somalia? Is it your assumption that that is the case right now?

Westphal: What I believe is that we don't necessarily know the extent of the threat. I think we're very concerned about reporting of transit into and out of Somalia. I just don't think we know.

Q: (Inaudible) -- from the Pentagon here that Somalia was the next to be attacked?

Westphal: I don't think that that's been clearly stated, no. (Laughter.)

Q: But it's never been said here?

Westphal: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q: Oh, okay.

Westphal: I've read it in a lot of newspapers, but I don't believe it's --

Q: That's what I'm asking.

Westphal: Well, I'll just say, in closing, that I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. And I would offer myself up in the future to discuss with you various issues that you might be interested in.

Q: Hopefully you could be more specific about areas of interest, like Somalia and Sudan and other areas, because that creates a problem.

Westphal: It's a learning experience this morning. Now I know what you guys want. I'll study harder. I'll work on that unified command plan.

Staff: We do have one more from the back of the room.

Q: (Inaudible) -- about HIV and South Africa; I don't know if the question was asked. Are you in touch with the South Africans about the particular way the government sees the fight against HIV?

Westphal: We have not had a broad discussion with the government. We have had a military-to-military relationship dealing with HIV and AIDS; so, no. And we have not discussed with the government their broad policy of HIV-AIDS.

Staff: A couple of quick admin announcements. There are a number of handouts on the back table. One of them is about the military health program, which I think will answer some of your questions. Also, Major Tim Blair over here is the press officer for Mr. Westphal and he can help with some of those taken questions or other follow-ups that any of you may want to do.

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