TRANSCRIPT: Pentagon's Africa Policy Chief Huddleston Interviewed by Stars and Stripes
SPEAKERS: JOHN VANDIVER, CORRESPONDENT, STARS AND STRIPES
VICKI HUDDLESTON, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR AFRICA
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2009 KELLEY BARRACKS, STUTTGART, GERMANY
JOHN VANDIVER: Well, again, I appreciate you taking a little bit of time here.
VICKI HUDDLESTON: Sure.
MR. VANDIVER: Let's talk a little bit -- I was thinking that we could maybe start off -- one of the things I was thinking about coming in here -- you're coming in under the Obama administration, right, and this was rolled out under Bush -- the whole AFRICOM Command -- and there has been a lot of controversy around it.
And I'm curious if -- does this mean -- you know, do you foresee AFRICOM going in a new direction under a new administration, or is it going to be sort of continuing the business under the Bush administration?
MS. HUDDLESTON: You've got all these questions --
MR. VANDIVER: Yeah, it's --
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- and you've got 100 questions all rolled into one.
MR. VANDIVER: Yeah.
MS. HUDDLESTON: But I might start out by saying that, you know, just say congratulations to AFRICOM because its first anniversary is coming up.
MR. VANDIVER: Yes, yeah.
MS. HUDDLESTON: And it's really done amazing things in that very brief time. We have the Trans-Saharan Initiative; we have the African Partnership [Station]; we have support to peacekeeping, JCETs, civil-military work throughout the continent and in particular with CJTF-HOA. So I think they've done a very nice job despite all that criticism --
MR. VANDIVER: Yes.
MS. HUDDLESTON: And I'm really happy myself to be part of AFRICOM writ large since, of course, I'm with the Pentagon but I have Africa policy. To get to your question, you know, I suppose it depends on how you characterize this. I mean, the way I characterize the goals and objectives of AFRICOM is to build strong militaries in Africa that are under civilian control and are professional and respect human rights and can defend their country and provide a stable environment for development.
I also would define a second goal, which is building stronger regional organizations so that they, with their component membership, can address challenges to the stability of various African nations. And I think over the past year, AFRICOM has been doing that, so I would say that the Obama administration sees that as a positive and supports that as a positive and believes they should continue to go forward in that way.
If you're specifically referring to the Al-Jazeera interviews, which I haven't seen, but which I understand characterize the --
MR. VANDIVER: Centered around, I guess, oil and all of these things.
MS. HUDDLESTON: Yeah, I don't see AFRICOM as having such a limited objective as that. I see its objectives, as I just stated, as rather broad and beneficial to Africa as well as to ourselves.
MR. VANDIVER: What do you think -- and actually yesterday, before sort of preparing for this I was watching a speech, a talk that you gave maybe a few months ago, I think -- and I forget the name of the group, maybe the Brookings Institute or --
MS. HUDDLESTON: Chautauqua --
MR. VANDIVER: There we go, yes.
MS. HUDDLESTON: It was the Chautauqua speech.
MR. VANDIVER: That's it.
MS. HUDDLESTON: That's kind of been floating around the Internet.
MR. VANDIVER: Very interesting.
MS. HUDDLESTON: I think it's particularly interesting because it -- of course I had no idea I was going to get the job at that time.
MR. VANDIVER: Yeah.
MS. HUDDLESTON: But I --
MR. VANDIVER: A couple of points in it were interesting. One that jumped out was -- and I know a lot of people have talked about this and the question about the military sort of getting involved in some of the development things or some of these humanitarian things -- and you mentioned in there the need for, if there is to be peace and security, these things need to have a civilian face on it. To be sure, AFRICOM is engaged in some of these things.
MS. HUDDLESTON: Yes, they are.
MR. VANDIVER: Would you like to see some of that change and would you like to see USAID or State take over some of these things, and are you looking to move in that direction a little bit?
MS. HUDDLESTON: Yes. (Chuckles.) Let me talk about that a little bit because I think that's a really important issue. AFRICOM is engaged in civil-military projects, as we all know. One of the principal reasons they're engaged in civil-military projects is because that's what they inherited. That's what CJTF-HOA was doing in the Horn of Africa and continues to do it.
And then they've expanded that through the Special Forces, to a certain extent, in Mali and in Senegal and some other countries on the West Coast. Now, is what they're doing good? Yes, they're doing great projects. I mean, you go to these schools that they've repaired or you go to some of the wells that have been done or the clinics and people are delighted, they're pleased.
Does it meet an objective of the United States government? Very definitely: stability, building up local capacity. So all that's good. Would I think that USAID and the Department of State and NGOs should be involved more heavily in this type of activity? Yes. So what does that mean for AFRICOM? Is it --
MR. VANDIVER: Funding maybe.
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- going to continue to be -- yes, they're using their own OHDACA [Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid] funds and they have always had these humanitarian funds. When I was an ambassador in Mali, we used them all over Mali but particularly up above the Niger, where the GSPC, at that time, the Group for Salafist -- Group Salafists for Combat and Prayer [Group Salafists for Prayer and Combat], of which the AQIM now, as the successor organization, was operating.
What I became convinced of when I was up in Mali and I was working on the projects up there with our DAT and our military people, and doing these wells mainly in the desert area up there, is that where these projects probably are most appropriate for AFRICOM and for CJTF-HOA is in areas that are difficult to reach and that the AFRICOM has a greater capacity to reach to, because NGOs were not working up in that area.
Number one, it was extremely expensive to get up there. It was hard to get people up there. And, finally, it was dangerous. So we would go with the Malian military, and we'd go out and we'd sit down and we would talk to the local leaders of the communities about what they needed, what did they want done. Then we would say, okay, so you need this forage (ph) and then we would contract locally.
And that was a key thing too because the contractor was generally associated with the village, probably from the village, and so he had a certain obligation to do the project and continue to make sure it worked. And this worked very successfully in the villages all around the Sahara region, around Timbuktu and much higher up.
My preference -- a personal preference -- and I certainly, you know, talk to AFRICOM and DOD about it -- is that as AFRICOM looks at its future projects -- because these projects end and they move into other places -- that in fact, they look at places such as Northern Mali where you have an isolated area or where you have a risk area, so that AFRICOM takes advantage of its natural -- I'm thinking of -- it's not abilities, but its natural advantages to go to places where there are security issues and where it can provide assistance that will provide greater stability on the ground by helping local civil society. And this will also then lead those areas that are more stable and easier to access to more traditional aid givers such as NGOs, religious groups and USAID.
MR. VANDIVER: This sort of maybe spins off a little bit into one other point you mentioned in that speech that I thought was interesting -- and I guess you were sort of alluding to sort of the scars of Somalia and what happened with the whole Blackhawk situation and everything -- but that the U.S. needs to be willing to put boots on the ground in certain circumstances -- that there is a time and place for that at times and America needs to do that. Can you maybe just sort of elaborate on that and maybe see some scenarios in which you could see that played out?
MS. HUDDLESTON: (Chuckles.) Well, you know, in general, I hope that the boots that we put on the ground in Africa are only those for training --
MR. VANDIVER: Yes.
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- and for civil affairs. And we will hope that that's the case, and if we do a good job of building African capacity, in fact that will be the case. And our people will be going to peacekeeping units like UNMID where, you know, we hope to -- UNAMID, where we hope to have people, and MINURCAT, where we hope to have people, and things like that, as well as doing the training and the civil affairs.
Boots on the ground in Africa -- I don't know. I mean, I think it would have to be a very, very difficult situation in which, first of all, the country involved -- the government -- would have to ask -- in which the international community, the African Union, the United Nations would have to want the United States to become involved. Those are the criteria I think that you would look for if you were going to think of combat boots is what you're saying --
MR. VANDIVER: Right. Right.
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- combat boots on the ground.
MR. VANDIVER: Are there situations since 1992 where you think there was a place for the U.S. military to do that and didn't do it? Rwanda, for example, or --
MS. HUDDLESTON: Well, you know everybody looks back at Rwanda --
MR. VANDIVER: Right.
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- and says, we should have done it differently. And we probably should have done it differently and I imagine the whole world wishes -- you know, we all wish we had done Rwanda differently. I don't know what the right way would have been. I guess if I look back at Rwanda, I would have said there needed to have been a lot more U.N. peacekeepers involved in this. Instead of going away, they should have been coming in.
MR. VANDIVER: Over to Somalia, I'm curious -- last week with the Special Forces operation that took place, would it be fair to deduce from this -- this is a change? I mean, in previous years there have been missile strikes and things like that into Somalia. Would it be fair to say that this is a new tactic where you're looking to be more surgical on how you do these operations and minimize civilian casualties, and when you do have this kind of intelligence on someone that you want, that you actually do use troops to do this and not --
MS. HUDDLESTON: I don't believe that the U.S. government has officially said they had anything to do with it.
MR. VANDIVER: Okay. So you can't confirm that this operation took place, then.
MS. HUDDLESTON: That's true.
MR. VANDIVER: Okay.
MS. HUDDLESTON: Well, I believe an operation took place. Obviously we could all read about it in the newspaper. (Chuckles.)
MR. VANDIVER: Yes, right.
MS. HUDDLESTON: But I can't confirm that the Department of Defense was involved in the operation. Obviously, there have been a lot of people talking.
MR. VANDIVER: Right.
MS. HUDDLESTON: But I can talk to you in general about our Somalia policy --
MR. VANDIVER: Okay.
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- and what we hope to achieve in Somalia. And of course, I think what we hope to achieve in Somalia isn't far different than what we want to achieve in Africa as a whole.
Somalia, unfortunately, has become one of Africa's most volatile and unstable states, and over a 15-year period, despite assistance from the international community, real desire on the part of the neighbors through IGAD, and involvement of the United States government, as well as most European governments, this hasn't happened, unfortunately. The successive transitional governments haven't been strong enough to make it to the point of having some kind of acceptable election that would turn itself or a new self into a permanent acceptable democratic or at least representative government for Somalia.
And U.S. policy obviously works with IGAD, works with the African Union, works with the international community to try to foster a strong enough transitional government so that there can be a true transition to a democratic government in Somalia that can begin the process of helping its citizens -- which, I love what President Obama says: Africans have to do it themselves; that's where the real impetus comes from -- but turn Somalia into a land where its citizens have enough stability to have a chance to make good livings and to provide stable lives for their children.
What we're doing to help facilitate that has been working with Uganda and other countries in the area to train the Transitional Federal Government forces. Also, as I think you know, the Department of State has provided funding to assist in this effort as well. AFRICOM itself has been very much less involved, but we certainly support the activities of the Department of State through the peacekeeping funds and have provided some assistance or advice to the Djiboutians, who are also training TFG forces.
And as the -- there is a Somalia DC going on. We've had two. There will be probably another DC and then a principals committee meeting. And so, in the framework for Somalia that will come out, I would say probably within the next month, DOD will, I assume, have a role, and it will be --
MR. VANDIVER: Do you perceive AFRICOM getting more involved?
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- the kind of positive role that its -- basically I would think it would be --
MR. VANDIVER: More training?
MS. HUDDLESTON: -- training and things like that.
MR. VANDIVER: So just for the record, you don't envision any boots on the ground in Somalia.
MS. HUDDLESTON: No, I don't.
MR. VANDIVER: Okay. Okay. I'm curious -- your own background -- career diplomat and ambassador and all these things and now you are over at the Defense Department. That seems to me to be a unique transition. I don't know if this is common or not common, but --
MS. HUDDLESTON: Not uncommon.
MR. VANDIVER: Okay.
MS. HUDDLESTON: I mean, I've had the -- Molly Williamson was a DASD for Africa -- she was not retired but she was a career diplomat. So we've actually had a career diplomat who has been a DASD prior to me, so that's certainly not the first time.
But I don't disagree with you there. We don't do it a lot but you do find -- I have in my office a diplomat from the Department of State, which is traditional in an OSD office. So there is a good interchange there. But my supervisor -- the boss right above me, the assistant secretary -- is Sandy Vershbow, which was our ambassador in Moscow and Seoul. So there is at least two former ambassadors. (Chuckles.)
MR. VANDIVER: Right. What made this an attractive position for you? Why did you want to take this on?
MS. HUDDLESTON: Mainly because I'm an Africanist. I've spent, you know, a good 13, 14 years of my life actually, you know -- well, over if I include working in and on Africa. And I really found it very interesting what AFRICOM -- well, it wasn't AFRICOM -- what our military forces were trying to do in Africa.
In particular, when I was talking to you about Mali and the civ-mil teams and what the potential is there for trying to help stabilize areas, and stabilize areas particularly which are being used as safe havens by extremist groups, because here you have these isolated communities; you have very little hope in these communities for any kind of job or future for its citizens; you have these extremist groups that are kind of preying on them. They use their water; they use their food; they try to recruit their youth.
And so here, it seemed to me, is an opportunity that we could try to work with these villages like we had worked with villages throughout Mali -- but I've kind of forgotten those where there were more problems -- to help stabilize them so that they wouldn't become prey to these kind of extremists. So I would say those were the motivating reasons.
MR. VANDIVER: What about -- what opportunities do you see for the military in Darfur to provide some more assistance there? I think we've done a few flights and delivery of supplies and peacekeeping troops and that sort of thing. I saw a mention maybe in some article somewhere of advisors going, sending --
MS. HUDDLESTON: Yes.
MR. VANDIVER: What do you see happening there?
MS. HUDDLESTON: I mean, basically, it will be advisors to UNAMID.
MR. VANDIVER: Okay.
MS. HUDDLESTON: You know, a lot depends on what the special envoy sees. Hopefully as the Darfur situation begins to be resolved, the refugees will return, as will the internally displaced people. I don't really see a role for the U.S. military in that.
So I'm just basically -- you know, in looking at Darfur now and looking at a future peace agreement in Darfur, I don't actually see a role for AFRICOM other than some advisors and things like that. I think maybe there is more of a role for AFRICOM at some point in dealing with Southern Sudan in just helping them on the training of their military so that they can deal with the issues within Southern Sudan because there seems to be considerable lawlessness, a lack of a good command-and-control structure at this point.
So I see more the United States -- AFRICOM becoming more involved in a positive way, perhaps with Southern Sudan. Right now, our involvement is very limited and I think that a lot of it will depend on progress on both sides, the North and South, and working toward elections and a referendum.
MR. VANDIVER: Maybe just to sort of wrap it up, just sort of highlight your coming into this position over the course of your tenure in this job, your top bullets, what you want to accomplish. I'm sure you sort of made a couple of goals -- maybe the top three -- and what are those and how do you seek to accomplish them?
MS. HUDDLESTON: Rather than answer the accomplishments because, you know -- I mean, you can be very specific and say I want to do this or I want to do that, but I think that it really is more useful to look at whether and how the AFRICOM achieves its goals and objectives. And so the context I would put that in is to go back and say, you know, the overall objective of the United States is, as the president just said at the United Nations, is a peaceful and prosperous Africa that is engaged with and is part of the world, with Africans in charge of this.
What does that mean? That probably means that the various agencies of the United States government, whether they're AID or Department of State or Department of Defense, are playing certain roles in helping Africa get to that point. And so State obviously is doing the peacekeeping, doing the development with AID, doing the diplomacy, and the role of AFRICOM comes to the Defense.
And so I would say the goal of AFRICOM in the Department of Defense for Africa is, as I said, the stable militaries that are professional and working in governments of civilian control. But if you want to say then, okay, why and what are you trying to achieve in Africa in addition to the stability and capacity of these militaries, then I would say, well, we want to seek U.S. and African goals, which would be that Africa is stable so that it can deal with transnational threats on its own and with some assistance from the international community and ourselves.
And that, you know, brings you to Somalia and it brings you to the Trans-Sahara Initiative, in which we helped countries build capacity so that the can deal with a transnational threat such as AQIM in the Maghreb, which includes any number of countries. It includes North Africa as well as West Africa. We build capacity so that countries can prevent and deal with human tragedies, such as you mentioned Rwanda, obviously so countries can deal with disastrous situations such as in eastern Congo.
So that's very much vital in our interests is that we work with these countries so they avoid and address tragedies that lead to massive loss of lives, which also means trying to reinforce states that are weak or unstable, and I think in some ways that's where you find the civil-military camps so useful.
We also want to work with African countries so that they can address illicit and illegal activities such as smuggling of drugs, smuggling of people, smuggling of arms, because as long as you have this kind of corruption and illicit activities, it undermines the whole basis for democratic government. Where we've been I think successful on this is through the African Partnership [Station] in which, you know, we have U.S. vessels coming into the area for training, local law enforcement on board and doing things that help build a capacity there.
And then finally, I think overall it's very important for AFRICOM to be dealing with the regional organizations because the regional organizations have to be the ones that make the call on when intervention of African peacekeepers are needed, and when they make that call they have to have countries to call upon to provide that kind of peacekeeping effort.
MR. VANDIVER: Maybe just to wrap things up, sort of your thoughts. One of the controversies or issues that was discussed during the rollout of AFRICOM and I guess subsequent to that -- was sort of the relationship between the Defense Department and the State Department and turf and all of this kind of thing. As a State Department person now coming in to DOD and, by extension, AFRICOM, what's the state of relations there? How do you see it, the communication between State and --
MS. HUDDLESTON: Well, it's excellent right now. I trust and plan to see that it remains the same. You know, the president articulates the policy. The Department of State follows up on, you know, the policy for specific countries in Africa. The Department of Defense supports those efforts of the president and the Department of State, and we should work very closely together.
We have distinct roles because the Department of State is diplomacy; we're defense. But we also have overlapping roles because the Department of State is so heavily involved in peacekeeping through contractors in Africa. Therefore, we want to make the Department of State's roles with peacekeeping even stronger by providing African advisors to those peacekeeping units where it's using contractors.
We want to follow up when the State Department indicates, you know, the Congo is a priority, Liberia is a priority, with getting into these countries and doing the training that the State Department and the president have asked us to do because by doing those trainings in Liberia and Congo, we reinforce our country's policies toward Africa and we also help those nations, especially in the case of the Congo, be able to begin a process that should, over time, lead toward greater stability and protection of its citizens.
MR. VANDIVER: And during that -- I'm sorry -- and during that speech you went through a bunch of misfires, I guess, over the years, with U.S. policy --
MS. HUDDLESTON: Oh, I was afraid you were going to go for those. (Laughter.) I was waiting, actually.
MR. VANDIVER: Oh, but there were a lot of Fs right?
MS. HUDDLESTON: Yeah, there were lot of Fs.
MR. VANDIVER: The audience -- it was, you get an F for this and an --
MS. HUDDLESTON: Yeah, F for that, yeah. That's what you can do when you're not in government. (Laughter.)
MR. VANDIVER: Are there any Fs right now that you want to turn around?
MS. HUDDLESTON: Well, I mean --
MR. VANDIVER: Or Ds or even C-minuses?
MS. HUDDLESTON: The administration has been in power for all of what, nine months?
MR. VANDIVER: Right.
MS. HUDDLESTON: And I think they're doing a pretty good job on Africa writ large, and particularly, I think, in the way President Obama has addressed Africa, saying, you know, I want to see Africa as part of the world, not separate.
You know, visiting Ghana on the way back from Europe -- because this, you know, reinforces the idea that Africa isn't something different; it's really part of the whole, and things that happen in Africa are very much affecting the rest of the world. Whether, you know, it's good things and music and statesmen and stateswomen who come out of Africa, or whether it's unfortunate things such as instability and conflict that we see in Sudan and the Congo and Somalia, it's part of a larger picture.
I think what I would like to see all of us do better -- and I think the secretary of state's trip very much contributed to this -- is, you know, show all these good, well-governed countries in Africa. I mean, on the whole, Africa's doing quite well. And, unfortunately, because news does, as you well know, focus on the bad spots, people don't hear about that.
You know, just look at Liberia. It's come out of a terrible war and is really doing quite well. And AFRICOM has a nice role there in training the Liberian military to be a responsible, capable military. Look at Mozambique -- you know, what was it, 20, 30 years ago -- one of the worst civil wars in Africa -- is doing extremely well.
South Africa is doing very well. They're going to be doing the FIFA and handling that beautifully. Then you have Tanzania, you know, that's economically and democratically doing extremely well. And we just saw a democratic election in Ghana, and we've had a couple in Mali, Senegal.
So, you know, you can pretty much go around Africa and point to some nice success stories. And so I think we need to try to convince the public and your readers that there's lots of good things in Africa, and Africa is definitely making progress.
MR. VANDIVER: Very good. I think that will do it. Fantastic.
MS. HUDDLESTON: Okay.
MR. VANDIVER: Thank you for taking some time.
MS. HUDDLESTON: Well, you're very welcome.
Transcript by Federal News Service Washington, D.C.
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