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Defense Department Briefing Via Satellite on Operational Update of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa

Presenters: Major General Samuel Helland, Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa
March 23, 2005 9:30 AM EDT
STAFF: Well, good morning, and I apologize for the short delay. But I can tell you that it will be well worth the wait.

 

            Today we have the privilege of being able to speak to Major General Samuel T. Helland. That's H-E-L-L-A-N-D. Many of you know him. He's the commander of the Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. The Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa oversees counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa for U.S. Central Command as part of the global war on terror.

 

            Today he's going to give you a brief update on what his task force has been doing and then take a few questions. But we do have a briefing immediately following this, so we will be ending it promptly at 9:50 so we can move into that briefing.

 

            With that, General, can you hear us okay?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Yes, I can, and good morning to all of you. And thank you very much for having me today. This is certainly an honor and a privilege to tell you what we do in the Horn of Africa.

 

            Q Can you clarify exactly where he is?

 

            STAFF: Sir, the -- you have the floor right now.

 

            GEN. HELLAND: All right. Okay. Well, thank you.  Let me begin by telling you a little bit about who we are, what we do and how we're conducting operations for General Abizaid and U.S. Central Command.

 

            Basically, we are a Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. "Combined" means that we have coalition staff officers on our -- in our organization. We're very fortunate. We have 13 of them. They come from many different countries -- Romania, South Korea, Uganda, Kenya, Yemen, Djibouti, France and Great Britain. And they comprise the portion that we call "combined."

 

            The "joint" portion is made up of all the services -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Coast Guardsmen, and of course we have representations from the interagencies as well.  We are tenants aboard a place called Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, Africa. And I would like to say just quietly that Africa is not a country. It's a continent, and it's very, very large. My area of operations runs all the way from the Sudan, including Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and the Seychelles. And I have interests in Tanzania and Uganda, only because they border the big countries of Sudan and Kenya.

 

            Basically, our mission is to conduct counterterrorism activities in the Horn of Africa. And we do it by using unconventional warfare. In unconventional warfare, we prosecute civil military operations, in accordance with the host nations and our partner nations.  As we work with them to meet their needs, we focus on capacity- building. And we identify core competencies that are resident in the host nations and our partner nations, and draw upon those to enforce and to reinforce and to facilitate those capabilities in areas such as border security training, maritime interdiction operations training; civil military operations, such as we help with the schools, the clinics; engineering. We drill wells.

 

            And we use all of this to interact with the host nations. And I guess the question would be, why? If we can build the foundation as we build our capacity building in the nations, we can build a better security, better stability, and a better life for the people who live there so they can have the process of self-determination. If we can separate the population from the terrorist activity in the region, then the terrorists won't have any place for support, nor will they have any group or population that they can use to pass on their extremist ideology.

 

            I would say that probably our most effective weapon is civil military operations because we're out there trying to win the trust, the confidence, and build the credibility of the people that we work for. And once they have trust and confidence, both in us, in our nations, our coalition nations, then they can get on to building a better life. And at the same time, we work with the -- for example, the Department of State. We exchange information, we work with USAID, we work with NGOs, and we provide the information that we receive from the different organizations to the host nations so they can prosecute the terrorists and they can take the actions that are necessary to counter the activity in the area.

 

            So, what I've just provided, I guess, is just a very short overview of what we do, and I'm open for your questions, please.

 

            STAFF: Thank you General for that, and we'll do something a little different; we'll start with Ms. Starr.

 

            Q General, thank you. It's Barbara Starr from CNN. Can I ask you to reflect more broadly across the entire CENTCOM AOR about the question of regional stability? And what I mean to ask you is, as you -- all the senior commanders -- have seen places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan shut down or be reduced, at least, as havens for jihadism or fundamentalism, what are your concerns about the spread of this type of violence and ideology to other areas within the region? And I ask you, as I say, not only about the Horn of Africa, but more precisely, perhaps, actually about the Persian Gulf, which I'm sure you also keep an eye on because you have seen so many of these types of small attacks now in that area.

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Thank you very much. I think that's an excellent question. If we take the region as a focus -- and we are regionally focused -- if we start, say, for example, up in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as we continue to build the stability in those countries and we move towards a better government -- governance, and we move to more rule of law and those sort of things, the terrorists are going to start looking for other places to exist. And we don't know where those are, but we know that around the world, especially below the Persian Gulf, there are places that they can find sanctuary, places where they can continue to recruit, places where they can continue to provide -- to get supplies, logistics, that sort of thing, to continue their efforts.

 

            I would suspect -- and I'm just going to say that perhaps the Horn of Africa where I focus, especially Yemen into Somalia, may be, just may be a route that they'll take to continue on their activities because they will find ungoverned space, they will find chaos, and in fact, they thrive in chaos and they thrive in locations where there's no rule of law and where they can meld with the population. So, if we can isolate that and we can keep it under control and perhaps map it, i.e., understand who's there, what they do and where they go, then we can probably deny them the safe haven that they are seeking as they move throughout the -- around the whole CENTCOM AOR.

 

            That said, I would suggest that it's a regional approach, and it's a regional approach to stability.

 

            I think if you stop for a minute, we in the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa really aren't waging war here, we're waging peace, because we're trying for stability, we're trying for security, we're using our CMO projects to bring education to the people so that we can do as I mentioned before, isolate the terrorist from his support, which is the population, and maybe prevent him from moving into the safe havens that are available.

 

            Q If I could just very briefly follow up, sir, when you see some of the attacks, though, on the Persian Gulf side of the water against infrastructure, against Westerners, that type of thing, the things that then do become destabilizing, do you still yourself consider the threat to be just al Qaeda? Does it even matter to you whether the so-called bad guys are card-carrying al Qaeda, or is it something more than that now?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Is it something more than al Qaeda? Well, let's talk about that for a second. Al Qaeda is basically a worldwide network that doesn't know any boundaries, as we all know. They use the media information to process and spread their ideology. As such, they use surrogates, and surrogates perhaps are some of the upcoming terrorist organizations like, oh, perhaps the Eritrean Islamic Jihad, the Somali Mujahadeen, the AIAI, and as such they use these surrogates to run their operations. Now, those operations could be something as simple as cutting a railroad line, blowing up a supply line, an oil line or whatever, so they can disrupt the control of the government that's in place and therefore continue to have a chaotic environment for which they can find sanctuary. So I suspect these surrogates will grow over time.

 

            Now, not only will somebody like the Somali Islamic Jihad, they may team with another warlord or another terrorist organization or they may use the criminal element, the criminal surrogates who have the pipelines or the capability to move drugs, to move explosives, to move guns around the AOR. And if we can isolate these by giving the host nation the capability to protect their borders, to protect their maritime interdiction operations, to conduct those things that are necessary to protect themselves, I think that we can make a difference in security and stability in the region.

 

            STAFF: Thom.

 

            Q General, it's Thom Shanker from The New York Times. This department and this military like to talk about metrics for success, what the rest of us would call measurements, of course. I'm curious, what are your metrics for success in your mission? And how would you rank your progress so far? And a very small piece of that, sir, is it fair to apply the phrase "nation building" to what you're doing? Thank you.

 

            GEN. HELLAND: It is not fair to assign the title "nation building" to what we're doing, because we are not doing nation building; we're doing capacity building by focusing on core competencies and the functions that those nations require.

 

            Now, the question was measures of effectiveness. I'll give you a few examples, and this is what we look for. When we first started out doing our civil military operations, we did a medical and a veterinarian civil affairs project within the first two weeks we were in country. We got 50 people came to the medical side and about 250 goats, camels, donkeys, whatever, showed up at the Medcav/Vetcav. Last week we conducted a Medcav/Vetcav down in Kenya. We had over 3,000 individuals, people, men, women and children, and over 31,000 animals who showed up at the medical and the veterinarian civil affairs project. And we've learned over the time that if we announce what we're doing, if we tell the people the truth, if we tell them that we're sincere and that we're honest and we're trustworthy, they'll show up and participate with us.

 

            Another example is we've been invited to help repair mosques. Yes, that's correct, mosques. And another example, I would think, in the maritime interdiction operations is up in Yemen, where less than two years ago, we started out with no coast guard capability in Yemen. Today they have a very good coast guard capability.

 

            Since that time, we've been able to put two ships into Aden; one was a German ship, the other one is a British ship. And the price of insurance in Aden itself has gone down three times just because of the presence of the coast guard that we trained.

       So I would use those as just a few examples of how we measure our success in the AOR.

 

            STAFF: Okay, over here.

 

            Q Sir, it's Nick Simeone at Fox News. Do you have any reason to believe that senior al Qaeda people have drifted into your area, who may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan prior?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: I guess my comment to that would be they have to go somewhere. They cannot still exist because as we said before, with the increase in stability and security in Afghanistan and Iraq, they have to move around. The ability to move over the sea and to blend with the people who live in the Horn of Africa is very, very good. And I suspect they may have been there. I can't answer for sure because I don't have the definitive. But if I were a betting man, I would bet that they, either they themselves or one of their surrogates or one of their lieutenants, to use a word, was in the Horn of Africa either visiting, trying to recruit, trying to proselytize or to spread their ideology and to gain support for their mission.

 

            Q You say "have been." Do you mean they're still there or you've taken action?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Well, as you know, there are terrorist networks alive and well in the Horn of Africa. I referred to them earlier: the Eritrean Islamic Jihad, AIAI, the Somali Mujahideen, you have the Lord's Resistance Army which is very active in the northern part of Uganda, southern part of Sudan. So they're there and they all know each other -- I wouldn't -- couldn't believe they don't. And I suspect that they are connected to the worldwide network, just like we are.

 

            STAFF: Will?

 

            Q Sir, Will Dunham with Reuters. Just to follow that up, are you saying that you believe that senior al Qaeda figures who have fled Afghanistan, Pakistan or somewhere else, are currently in the Horn of Africa?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: I cannot -- no, I'm sorry, if I led you to believe that, I must tell you that I cannot say one way or another. I have no evidence to either say yes or no to that question.

 

            Q And to follow that, have you taken -- have you had any operations in the past, after hearing intelligence that these people may have been there recently, to try to find them?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: The Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa has not conducted any operations such as that.

 

            STAFF: Bob, go ahead.

 

            Q General, this is Bob Burns from Associated Press. I'm just wondering if you can sketch out what sort of -- a little bit more detail about the force you have there now; numbers of troops, is it mostly active duty? And also, what's the near-term future; are you going to be building up or cutting back?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: The Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa is one of the tenet commands aboard Camp Lemonier. Our size is approximately 650. We have different capabilities assigned to us; we have well-drillers, engineers; we have security forces as well, so when we go out into the AOR we have civil affairs personnel with doctors, veterinarians and -- I'm forgetting someone else here. We also have the well-drillers that do a tremendous job bringing water to the desert.

 

            Our mission will stay the same for the time being. We are working very, very hard with our coalition partners to see if they have some of the capabilities that we can use to further our reach and to provide more assistance to the people in the Horn of Africa and provide them perhaps either mil-to-mil training or some sort of security assistance in counterterrorism, especially.

 

            Q Can I follow that just briefly?

 

            STAFF: Yeah, if I could, before you do, though, too, I would just commend to you some of these fact sheets that we have, that we'll make available to you, that talk about not only the mission but also some of the timelines in terms of what the Combined Task Force has been doing -- Combined Joint Task Force has been doing.

 

            So there's some good information that we can provide to you after this.  But go ahead. Follow up.

 

            Q I've found that those papers say there's 1,300 Americans at task -- he said 650. Can we get the clarification?

 

            STAFF: Right. So we'll -- go ahead. Ask your question. We'll get a clarification, then.

 

            Q General, I don't know if you heard that follow-up question about whether it's 1,300 or 650, or how you got from 13(00) to 650. But also, are there no combat forces among those? You mentioned support-type forces, I believe.

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Okay. I think that requires some explanation. There are two commands in the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. We're one of them at Camp Lemonier.

 

            The other one is Marine Forces-Djibouti or MARCENT. MARCENT has security forces assigned who protect the base, which make up a number of individuals.

 

            We also have service support from Kellogg Brown & Root, which also are counted in those numbers.  And I personally have a security company, which are National Guard. And I'd like to comment a moment, if I may, about the combination of active-duty service members, Reserve duty service members, and of course our National Guard. We don't differentiate in the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. We -- all of them are performing superbly. I couldn't ask for a better staff. I couldn't ask for a better group of individuals who are doing the Lord's work out in the AOR -- very professional, very forward-looking, very energetic and willing to work outside the box, because, as you know, unconventional warfare takes a little bit of getting used to, and it take a little bit of imagination to be effective, especially with the resources we have and the distances we have to work in.

 

            Q General, Sally Donnelly from Time magazine. You said you've been asked to work on mosques. Are you doing that? And how many? Can you characterize that?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Right now we've been asked to work on two mosques down in a place called Gode. It's in Ethiopia. They are two very small mosques. The first one had a problem with their fence. Believe it or not, there are wild animals in Africa, and sometimes they get into the mosque areas, and they kind of tear it up. And they wanted to protect the people and to protect the mosque itself.

 

            The other one had some doors that were coming off the hinges, and they had some repairs that had to be done to the roof. And we went in and repaired the roof, and we repaired the doors and of course the fence on the other one, and did some touch-up painting, et cetera, et cetera.

 

            So it was just a -- it wasn't a small project by all the standards. But the capability or the fact that they were willing to come and ask us to do the work for them probably is what's more important than the amount of work that was done itself.

 

            STAFF: Joe, go ahead.

 

            Q General, this is Joe Tabet (sp) from Al Hurra TV. My question is, how much do you think the government in your region are cooperating to fight terrorist groups?

 

            And my second question is, what are the latest information related to the suicide attack in Doha in the weekend?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: I think I -- if I understood you correctly, sir, you asked how the other governments in the area are working with us to help fight the global war on terrorism. I will tell you that all of the countries that I work for in the Horn of Africa and Yemen are very pro- --counterterrorist. They're very pro-working with us. They're very happy that we're there helping them out to build their capacity, to work on their core competencies. They're engaged with us.

 

            And the last part of your question, sir -- I don't think I have an answer to what their concerns were up in Doha, if I got that question correct, sir.

 

            Q Thank you.

 

            STAFF: Let's go over to Al.

 

            Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. Are you concerned about arms smuggling through Kenya, especially through the -- coming in through the ports? And I ask this question because I'm told that there was a U.N. monitoring team that reported last week that there's a guerrilla group that's planning attacks against the new Somali government, if and when it gets located in Somalia, and that they've been equipped with weapons that came through Kenya. Is that an issue that you're dealing with?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: We keep track as much as we can with the smuggling. But as you know and you're aware in that part of the world, what we call smuggling by Western standards is one day in the life of the folks that work in that area, whether they come from Yemen or Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia or Eritrea. Whether or not those weapons were smuggled in through Kenya, I couldn't tell you. Whether or not those weapons are in the hands of the warlords in Somalia, I couldn't tell you that either. But I can tell you that the warlords in Somalia themselves are very well armed, very well equipped. They have techmobiles They use the AKs as a personal weapon. And whether or not they can control themselves in Somalia and allow the transfederal government to come in is a question we'll have to see in the weeks to come.

 

            I applaud the efforts of Abu Yousef and his folks who are trying to bring stability to Somalia. I think it's -- I applaud him in his efforts. I wish him the best of luck. But I think that stability and security will come to Somalia when the Somali people want it.

 

            Q Is there anything that you can do from your location, your operations, to assist in that?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Right now all we can do is watch and provide our support. We have to wait for the political process to work before we can engage. And we're standing by, but until things become better and more stable, I think we'll just continue to watch and monitor.

 

            STAFF: Thom?

 

            Q General, it's Thom Shanker again, sir. I wonder if you would reflect for us on the evolution of your mission. The reason I ask is, in late 2002 when the task force was set up, we all wrote stories that its goal was to sort of stop the expected flow of terrorists coming out of Afghanistan along those drug-smuggling routes. But as you've described the mission today, that's really not what you're doing. Did that flow not occur? Did it stop somewhere else? Did it turn left at Iraq? Why did that not become the primary mission?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: I think you're exactly correct. I think we've matured over the season. I think we're forgetting a very, very large equation here, and that's the Combined -- correction, the Coalition Task Force CTF 150. One Fifty is on the seas in the Gulf of Aden. They are stemming the flow, or attempting to stem the flow of smuggling that goes through the Gulf of Aden. And we work with them on a daily basis. We share information with them. We provide them support when it's necessary. We protect their ships when they come into harbor. And we work with them across the lines of communication. I think that the combination of CTF-150, the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa and the utility that we bring, that we're still continuing to prosecute the original mission that was assigned, and that is to stem the flow of terrorist activity in the Horn of Africa.

 

            STAFF: Very good. It looks like we have one more. Al, go ahead.

 

            Q Yeah. This is Al Pessin again. I'll try one more. It sounds like the Combined Joint Task Force is mainly engaged in the civilian-military sort of things that you've described. Are there also operational aspects? Blocking terrorists, confronting the networks, assisting local governments in disrupting cells, and that sort of thing?

 

            GEN. HELLAND: I would say that we're more into, again, capacity building. I mentioned the areas that we do work in, such as mil-to-mil relationships. I mean, we still do mil-to-mil training, we still do border security training, we do maritime interdiction operations, which are military operations. We provide the capability for the host nation to do their work. I would tell you that the host nation's information and intelligence networks in that part of the world are very, very good, and if they -- if all they need is the capability and the capacity to exploit the information they have, then we are helping a lot.

 

            I would tell you, personally, that they have been very, very successful in what they've done working by themselves, based on the capabilities that we've brought to them.

 

            STAFF: General, we'd like to go ahead and thank you for taking the time today to talk to us about your mission and the activities and what you've been doing and how you've been enhancing the long-term stability of the region with your forces there. We hope to talk to you again sometime soon. And thank you very much.

 

            GEN. HELLAND: Thank you very much. And as you all know there sitting in the room, this is not a -- this is a long fight; this is a generational fight and I think we need to stay engaged, we need to maintain our access, we need to maintain our presence, and we need to keep reengaging and reengaging to build that trust, that confidence, and the credibility of those nations in the Horn of Africa so can we can continue to prosecute this war against terrorism.

 

            Thank you.

 

            STAFF: Thanks.

 

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