Department of Defense Press Briefing on U.S. Africa Command by General Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command
General Thomas D. Waldhauser
GENERAL THOMAS D. WALDHAUSER: Good afternoon everybody it's -- it's Friday afternoon in -- and I'm impressed that there's so many here (inaudible) slow news day in D.C., I don't know. Well, listen, thank you very much for coming out this afternoon, I really appreciate it. It's a great opportunity for -- to speak on behalf of those who work every day in AFRICOM and -- I -- I -- I really do view this as a great opportunity.
I don't really have any significant open remarks. What I just want to mention to you is that, on April 18th through 20th, in Stuttgart, AFRICOM will sponsor, what I believe, to be the first ever chief of Defense conference for all of the chiefs of Defense on the continent. We've invited over 50 to come and the purpose is really to discuss among other things, the global violent extremist organizations and responses.
But moreover, we're very interested in listening to -- listening to our African partners, what some of their concerns are, what they would like from AFRICOM to see more of or less of and give them an opportunity to come together and share their thoughts and ideas, that we don't want them to come to Stuttgart just for us to talk to them. We want them to come to Stuttgart so we can hear their message and that's going to in late April. And we're very, very excited about that. Again, I think it's the first that's taken place.
And so I just wanted to mention that before we started, so with that I go ahead and take questions.
Lita, thank you.
Q: Thank you and General, thanks a lot for doing this, we really appreciate it.
I wanted to ask you about U.S. authorities for Somalia. The Pentagon in the U.S. has asked for greater authority to do more and more flexibility with airstrikes and with helping local forces in Somalia. I'm wondering if you could talk about why you think that's necessary. What will that give you? What will that allow you to -- why -- why that's important. And would that increase the likelihood of civilian casualties -- casualties, do you believe?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, thanks very much for that question. There's a couple of different aspects I like to explore, if you don't mind.
The first one is, and I think it's obvious, that really -- regardless of what combatant commander was sitting here this afternoon, I think they would all tell you that it's very important and very helpful for us to have little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process and it'll allow us to give -- in fact, counter ISIS or in our case in Somalia, al- Shabaab.
It allows to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion. So that's obviously is a -- is something that we advocate for and is -- it -- it will if we were given that opportunity, given out those permissions and authorities will be very helpful to us.
The second thing I want to mention on that is, with regards to, certainty -- a level of certainty, I think it's very, very important and if we're given that authority, that the level of certainty we have, when a bomb or missile leaves the -- leaves the rail of an airplane, that we know exactly who we are attacking underground.
It's very, very important that the level of certainty that we have demonstrated in AFRICOM, whether it be in Sirte, outside Libya, whether it's being in southern Libya, it's very, very important that we have a very, very high degree of certainty, in order to, you know, re-mitigate or in eliminating all total civilian casualties.
And by the way, I may have said this before, I mean -- the group of -- of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and Marines who actually, you know, do this -- the actual execution of some of these missions. I mean their professional maturity is something that I think is very, very positive. And I think we need to underscore that.
As an example, during the Sirte campaign, I really only had to make about four or five decisions at my level, with regards to -- to when or when not to strike a target. The majority of that is down at a very lower level and I think it's important to understand that when you're in a urban environment, like Sirte was, in order to prosecute these targets, you've got to -- you've got to power down the decision-making authority, in order to be responsive.
And I can give a handful of examples, when I was in the operations center, where I witnessed the operators either pull a missile off a target or just stop their mission completely, when someone or something came into the view of the camera that we weren't sure who or what it was.
So, it's very, very important. And obviously the cardinal rule in these types of engagements is to not make more enemies than you already have. And I think we go to great pains to do that.
The final thing I would say with regards to Somalia, which I think is unique to us is we've got some significant issues, with regards to the famine. And what that means in terms of large numbers of people moving around a combat zone or a battlefield and what that means to us. So, within AFRICOM, we've really kind of war-gamed this already.
We've detailed discussions, we've war-gamed our procedures, because with the various non-governmental organizations who must work in a famine-type environment must maintain their neutrally, must have freedom of action. It's very, very important that we have a common operating picture as to where they are. Because it's our responsibility to make sure that we don't have any catastrophes and we don't take out a group of people who is moving to find water or food.
So, we are very, very conscious of that. We take that into our planning, and I think this idea of large numbers of people moving to where the food might be or water might be is an aspect of whatever authorities -- even the authorities we have today -- we have to take that into account, and that's something we take very, very seriously, and we talked in great detail about.
So, in sum, those three things. I mean, more authorities, more responsiveness, we do -- go to great lengths to understand the level of certainty is something that we have. And then I think we have to be very cognizant of the fact of this -- the famine and the impact it has inside a battle zone inside Somalia.
Q: How has the threat changed, such that you think these greater authorities aren't necessary?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: I wouldn't say the threat, in this particular case, we'll just mention. The threat hasn't changed. The threat is still there. When I think -- it's fair to say that our ability to strike al-Shabaab targets in this particular instance will have an impact on their ability to continue what they're trying to do.
I mean, with the new government there, President Farmajo, we have an opportunity here to move forward. He's a dual-U.S. citizen. He worked in Buffalo, New York for 10 years or so. He's got his Master's Degree from the University of Buffalo. He was a former Prime Minister in Somalia. Obviously he's now the president. He understands how -- it's important to pay the military. He understands what corruption does and does not do for the federal government.
So, we have a great opportunity to work with him, and we look forward to continuing our counterterrorism part, because the strategy inside Somalia, our continuation of counter terrorism operations and specifically against al-Shabaab, was a big part of our strategy.
Q: (Inaudible) Fox News.
What can you tell us about ISIS in Libya? You dropped a lot of bombs on the group since August. Do they remain a threat? Can you provide us with an update?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, thanks Lucas. I think the first thing I would say is anywhere you have a weak or unstable or no government, that's a breeding ground for ISIS. And consequently, with the situation in Libya as it is, ISIS has not left. And so, the second point I would make is with all the different factions inside Libya, and whether it's the Government of National Accord or the House of Representatives, and that drama that continues.
One thing unities pretty much everybody, to include those two organizations, as well as the various Misrata militias and the like, one thing that unites them is the idea that no ISIS is wanted inside Libya. So we continue to develop intelligence, even after an assertive course and the 18 January strike they have not left. We continue to watch. We continue to observe, to develop intelligence, and if requested by, at this time, the Government of National Accord for assistance again we'll provide that.
Q: What can you tell us overall about the terrorist threat on the continent of Africa? Is it increasing, decreasing, staying the same?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well it's hard to characterize it whether it's increasing or decreasing. You know we have -- I would like to -- I'd characterize it this way, if you view ISIS in Iraq and Syria as core ISIS, I think a good way to characterize ISIS on the Africa continent is a global ISIS. You have groups that affiliate or want to affiliate with ISIS.
You have groups that have been provided funding and training and so forth from ISIS, the interesting thing though about ISIS on a continent is -- and this is what our job is, our job is to make sure that those organizations, whether they're ISIS affiliated, A-Q, al- Qaida affiliated, or various terrorist groups or insurgent groups, it's our job to make sure that those groups stay internal to those countries or internal to those regions. And that they don't grow beyond -- move into Europe, move into the homeland.
What are the things that we try to do right now, by within through our partners, to a large degree, by within through our partners, is to make sure that those violent extremist organizations and ISIS or Al- Qaeda or whatever the group is described as, want to make sure our pressure on the network keeps those problems tamped down.
Q: Finally, what can you tell us about the Russian presence in western Egypt or even Libya?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, I think its common knowledge certainly in the open press, the Russians and their desire to influence the activities inside Libya. We obviously know that Haftar visited Russians. We also know Haftar was on board the carrier, Russian carrier while it was in the Med here a month or so ago. And we also know that Sarraj visited Russia here recently as well.
And so it indicates -- the things I would say is that in the Russian's and Haftar I think that linkage is undeniable at this point in time. I think that Sarraj was looking -- when his visit with Russians, was looking for them to try to get those two together because we talk about a political solution inside Libya. We always have said that it's never going to be a military solution, but you have to define what that means. And if you're going to have a political solution right now inside Libya, the requirement for -- and not to personalize, it's nothing against -- I think we make a big mistake if we try to personalize this Haftar versus Sarraj.
We should talk in terms of House of Representatives, Libya National Army, and the Government of National Accord. That said, those two individuals though are going to have to get together and come to some kind of accommodation because the larger issue here I think at the moment is the fact that it's such a volatile environment right now inside Libya that one of the things, in my view, that we need to do is make sure this doesn't evolve into an all-out civil war. And you're going to have to have those two individuals who represent those entities come together to make this happen at this point.
Please. I'll come over here next, I guess.
Q: Thank you, General.
On your afternoon meeting there were African partners, but one of the things that we always hear from them is that they want more equipment and more training for their forces. So do you see AFRICOM possibly doing more of that? And does DOD have the resources currently to do more training and equipping of foreign partners? Thank you.
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Thank you. So first of all, I think it's important regardless of pretty much where we are, whether it's Somalia, where United Arab Emirates and Turkey provides training; whether it's in Mali, where the French are heavily involved as well as others; whether it's inside Libya at the moment and others who are doing the training there whether it be the European Union with the Coast Guard and so forth. I think it's important to underscore there are a lot of partners who are there who are conducting training. It's not just the United States.
It's a large country. There's plenty of work to be done and I think it's important that we underscore and acknowledge that we have a lot of global partners who participate as well. In my visits and my travels, everybody, every country, all senior officials, really would like to have the United States forces train, advise, and equip them. And I think we have to acknowledge that's a compliment to our forces.
They do a very good job at this and they set a very, very high standard. But we can't be everywhere. And so training is one of the things that we do. Excuse me. So I think it's a compliment when they ask us to do it. Equipment is another story and you have to kind of break it down almost by country in terms of what the asks are, what their ability to absorb is, and do they have the logistical -- for example, a logistical infrastructure to maintain what we give them?
So for example, you could take a country like Tunisia that -- and AFRICOM does not do this, by the way, I mean this comes from the defense security cooperation agency inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense, this weapon sales and that type of thing. We get asked, can they handle this, do you think they need this? And so forth. But the details and the ownership of those programs are really outside AFRICOM's purview.
I think it's important to understand, though, that whether you're selling a country jet fighters or tanks or simply mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, the country has to be able to absorb whatever capability you are giving them and I think that's a big thing that we have to watch. The second thing I would just say is -- and I think I said this in testimony last week, is that I would not -- certainly never advocate to change the rules and how we -- you know, how that system is set up.
But I think on the African continent, when you have, you know, the top 50 -- whatever the State Department's scale is, the top 50 poorest countries on the planet, I mean there's a huge number of African countries on there, I think we have 7 or 8 of the top 15 and 33 out of the top 50 are African countries on that list. If we are going to work by, with, and through and ask our partners to assist us in the VEO – violent extremist organizations operations, then we've got to find a way to provide support to them for -- first of all, to give them what they need.
And secondly, to demonstrate that our commitment to their effort is genuine. Because if we don't provide them the equipment they need to counter ISIS, if you were Chad, for example, and you needed something to counter ISIS in -- in the Lake Chad Basin region, we've got to find a way to give them what -- what they need, even though their ability to pay sometimes is difficult.
Q: (inaudible) possibly for writing equipment to African countries? Have you seen that?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, China -- I mean, the short answer is yes. I mean, their weapon sales, the Russians, the Chinese, I mean this is common knowledge, some different countries. But I would say that if the question is, has that been an obstacle or a problem for us at the moment, I would say no.
Q: I think -- I'm not sure I understood exactly about new authorities for crisis response. I apologize. I think you mentioned about the strikes in Somalia. Did you -- do you have now new authority to carry out those strikes or is it still something that is being discussed?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Libya's a unique place for AFRICOM in terms of authority.
Q: (off mic)
GEN. WALDHAUSER: So the question then is do we have new...
Q: ...Do you have -- you mentioned that you -- the project to have -- so is it a project or is it something that you have?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: I think I understand. So what we have today in Somalia is we have the ability for collective self-defense. So if we have armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance up over top and we are training, advising, assisting and accompanying one of our surrogate forces there and the situation gets into what we call collective self-defense, then we are authorized to use that. But that's not an offensive capability.
This is a defensive capability to be used judiciously when a situation on the ground arises where that particular force cannot take on the opposition with their own organic weapons. So it's kind of an extremist authority that we have. That's what we have today inside Somalia.
Q: I have a follow-up on ISIS presence in Libya. You said that they have not -- we know that they have not left Libya. Could you tell us, do you have an estimate about their numbers or force size? Are they holding any territory in Libya or not?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: So, you know, after the Sirte operation, I'm very hesitant to try to put a number on how many are there. I mean, I think if you go back to Sirte that started in August of last year and ended in December of last year, I'd say what we probably did at the outset was we probably underestimated the number of ISIS who were there and probably overestimated the number of civilians who were still left.
It's -- and it's a -- you know, it's an educated guess. I mean, these -- these analysts go through and they don't just make this up, they have ways to get to these numbers but they're just a number. I would say inside Libya today, if you take away the East, the Benghazi area where really Haftar and the Libyan National Army have been fighting and you concentrate on the West where we have had most of our effort -- I mean, if you wanted to throw a number on top of it and you said 100, 200, you know, that's fine.
I think the point is, and the trend line is, the numbers are down. And the point is, and the trend line is, that their ability to occupy or their desire to occupy real estate is probably not there. I mean, I think what -- if you had to characterize it, they're probably in small groups, they're staying -- they're staying off the communication lines, they don't want to surface and talk, they're just trying to maintain a presence because they don't want to leave and they're not -- they're not going to gather in large groups and make a -- an obvious target.
Q: Then just a follow-up. The flow of migrants from Libya to Europe and Turkey, today we also heard about a boat of refugees sank offshore Turkey. Could you -- could you tell us about the African efforts living with that problem of flow immigration migrants?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: So obviously the migrant problem is a huge issue. If you start at the -- you know, out in the -- out in the water, so to speak. You know, the European Union is training and working with the Libyan Coast Guard to bring a capacity and capability up there to combat it that way. But I think -- and I don't have a good answer but I think it's just important at least to understand the problem from the standpoint that these routes that the migrants and these traffickers use are -- have been in the African continent historically for many, many, many years.
And I think there's -- what we've looked at, at AFRICOM recently and just a very interesting phenomenon, I'm not sure how we're going to use this information yet, is the business aspect of migrants. And how if you take a country like Niger for example where the average salary is like $400 a year and you do the math with what we think the charges are along the way for migrants, if you will, coming out of Nigeria up in through Niger and moving up into Libya, everybody along the way is part of the business.
I mean, there are drivers, there are hotels to stay at, and eventually you get to a point where you're paying somebody maybe around $4,000 to put you on a boat to get you out in the water. And if you look at the numbers in the last week or so, you look at the numbers on an annual basis and you do some math with those dollar figures, you can see that this is millions and millions and maybe even billion-dollar industry.
So this is -- this is livelihood for a lot of the people along the way, to include government officials and the like. So this phenomena -- and it's hard to come up with a profile whether -- are these ISIS fighters, are these people looking for a job and so forth. But there's a lot -- a lot of data that we see indicates that people will take a risk, they'll collect some money, they'll have the money they have, they'll get themselves up in the air and if possible they can get a job, eventually provide remittances back to where they came from, and maybe eventually get their family into Europe.
But this is a huge business aspect of this. There's a huge dollar figure to this that has been there for many, many years. Now that doesn't solve the problem but I think it gets -- at least helps us, to a certain degree, try to understand what the problem is. Please, in the back.
Q: Can you go back onto the Russia-Libya question for a minute and a couple other things? On that, can you be any more specific about what you see the Russians doing on the ground? Are they crossing the border from that base in Egypt into Libya? What are they doing inside Libya? Are they delivering weapons? Are they conducting overhead surveillance?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: You know, it -- it's very difficult to answer that question from a classification standpoint. I would just say that they are on the ground, they are trying to influence the action, we watch what they do with -- with great concern. And you know, in addition to the military side of this, we've seen some recent activity in business ventures whether it's oil, whether it's weapon sales that perhaps were stopped when the Gaddafi regime took place.
There's several aspects here that are very important. I would say influence is the most significant. But at the same time, there's a -- there's some business activities that are ongoing and we just need to understand that.
Q: When you say "on the ground," when you said that, to be clear, you mean on the ground inside Libya, right?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: I would -- I would just say that there are Russians on the ground in the area.
Q: (inaudible) ...Somalia, if I may. When the administration announced several days ago the ban on taking electronic devices with batteries into passenger cabins, they cited al-Shabaab and the threat from al-Shabaab, in particular the attack that happened with the Somali aircraft as one of the factors in making that decision. So what can you tell us, possibly, about the capability of al-Shabaab to threaten airliners with these types of explosive devices?
Or do you -- I mean, do you see it as strictly al-Shabaab or have you now seen al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula migrate that capability to al-Shabaab or even ISIS? Why -- what can you tell us about that base threat coming out of Somalia?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, I think the best way to characterize would be -- would be this way; you know, with the election of a new president in Somalia and what that brings and opportunities that it also brings -- al-Shabaab needs -- has to -- needs to decide how they want to deal with that. Does al-Shabaab want to continue to try to attack, attack, attack? Does al-Shabaab want to try to figure out how they can perhaps reconcile with the new government?
And what are their capabilities vis a vis what the African Union mission in Somalia is trying to do as well as the forces from the Somali National Security Forces, how they're trying to combat that? I think that one of the things you're seeing right now is al-Shabaab continues to try to do -- I hate to use the word spectacular because I'm not sure that's a fair way to characterize it, but they continue to attack in the Mogadishu area, to demonstrate that the new federal government is weak and cannot, you know, mitigate or cannot break -- break their -- their cycle of violence, if you will.
So, I think that it's important that we stay after al-Shabaab; I think the CT part of it, as I described earlier, still will remain part of our strategy.
When I think that at this particular time, al-Shabaab -- and let me just step back to (inaudible). The famine is effecting their operations as well. I mean, there's reports that their -- their soldiers aren't being paid, they're not able to charge taxes to the villages because they're simply -- there's no money to made.
There's some reports where al-Shabaab, in terms of information operation campaign, is trying to demonstrate through social media that they are handing out food and water.
So, the famine has a very significant impact, not only on the Somalia people, but al-Shabaab and their ability to continue their -- their attacks.
Q: Respectfully, could I try the question one more time?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: You can but I'm probably not going to answer it either.
Q: Can you at least try because there will be a transcript of this. Can al-Shabaab make these types of explosive devices and do you see AQAP influence operatives or technology in Somalia with the al-Shabaab organization?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Look, I think -- I think al-Shabaab has demonstrated they could do this in the past. I think that, you know, they had demonstrated this capability capacity, so I think it's something that we just continue to watch and have to stay after.
Let's go back here, please.
Q: Thank you, General.
Last year on October, it was reported that U.S. was flying drones out of Tunisia. Is that still the case and I contacted the embassy back then and they said, well, it's just a training operation. Can you comment on drones (inaudible)?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Sure, I -- I -- I certainly can. And I would just start by saying that Tunisia, as far as our African partners are go, is really one of the bright spots.
I mean, I think that have -- are making great attempts to transform their military into a more of a counter terrorism force. We work very closely with them and they are a very, very good partner.
You know, flying intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones out of Tunisia has been taking place for quite some time, and I forget the exact timeframe, I'd have to check this, but, you know, the -- the Washington Post story that said "Flying From the Secret Base in Tunisia," it's not a secret base.
And it's not our base, it's the Tunisians' base. And, you know, they're a fledgling democracy and they -- nobody ever expected that to just be a secret, but it was something that they had to deal within the press because there's some political revocations in some of these cases and Tunisia's being one of them.
And I think that, you know, we can -- we -- we fly there, it's not a secret, but we are very respectful to the Tunisians' desires in terms of, you know, how we support them and the fact that we have low profile, that type of thing.
It's -- and I think the key though, the bottom line of that whole Tunisia story is it's not our base, we have no intention of establishing a base there. We are there in conjunction with them and to a certain degree at their request, and we are working with them.
And I think that's the best way to characterize it.
Q: And I would like to -- different subject, picking up on a Senator's question, do you have any military or military relationships with China? Can you talk with any of their people at all?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, look, so as you well know, the base in Djibouti is roughly a several miles from our base and our commander down there, who we have a two star general who commands the -- the task force for East Africa, routinely has the Chinese on the base as an engagement piece.
He has met with them. So, the short answer is if that's a mil to mil engagement, we have it. I mean, I think without getting into great detail on the whole China-Djibouti piece at the moment, we're there, they're there.
They're a couple miles away; it's the first time that they've ventured into a base overseas and you know, there are certain -- we're both learning as that grows, but I think to -- to establish a relationship with them and try to work with them where we can is something -- is a positive we should try to keep doing.
Please, in the back.
Q: General, it's two questions on Somalia. First, on al- Shabaab. Do you assess that they have the intent to attack outside the region now and to attack the U.S., the homeland?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, I think -- I think a lot of these groups, al- Shabaab included, has the intention to do that, it's the question of whether they have the capacity or capability to do that. And al- Shabaab has not really demonstrated that -- by the canyon border is a different story, to a certain degree, but I think the intent is always there. It's a question of capacity and capability, more than it is intent.
Q: Back to Lita's original question about the authorities, I'm still a little unclear. So how does -- has the White House approved this new authority for AFRICOM? And if so, can you just give us a sense of exactly what it is that was approved?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: So first of all, the White House has not approved anything on this yet. And so, for me to kind of project what it may or may not say is probably, at this point in time, not the smart thing to do.
I would just tell you though, again, I think it's fair to say, to characterize it, if we get some type of approval, eventually, that gives us authorities, that'll give us more flexibility, it will give us -- you know, we'll have the ability to operate probably quicker and I think -- and with that though comes at the same time -- this is really the point I want to make.
We have a very, very strong requirement to make sure that we utilize that authority appropriately. We are not going to Somalia into a free fire zone. We have to make sure that the levels of certainty that have been there previously, those are not changed.
Q: ...in giving you flexibility and more -- not having inherent resources to AFRICOM, how does that impact? Do you think with these new authorities, assuming they're granted, that it will come some -- especially now, we now have all of this extra money that may be coming into the DOD budget, do you anticipate getting more resources that would be inherent to AFRICOM that you could use for this kind of fight?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: This might be heresy for a COCOM to say this but I would say in the case of Somalia right now, we have adequate resources that if we were given some type of new authority, unless something significantly changed on the ground with al-Shabaab, we have adequate resources to support this.
Q: (Inaudible) Magazine.
You mentioned the famine. Twenty-some years ago, when there was a famine, we went in to try to stop the gangsters from interrupting the relief supplies. What's your situation now? Is humanitarian relief organizations able to get any food to the people who are fleeing the famine area? And is there a need for additional security, like we did back then?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Thanks. That's a great question and if you don't mind, I'm going to kind of take this up here and then bring it down.
So, one of the most significant missions AFRICOM has is the whole idea of crisis response. I try to describe crisis response as a dual- sided coin. On one hand, there's the kinetic side. There's the strikes in Libya, there's the potential or strikes that we've done in Somalia, the kinetic type of crisis response. And that's something that for the military side everybody understands, and we do it well.
GEN. WALDHAUSER: The other side of that coin though is the crisis response. It has to do with humanitarian disasters, pandemics, the Ebola crisis, that type of thing. Because even though things have changed -- life has changed in the 10 years that AFRICOM has been in existence, that was one of the fundamental pillars when this command was stood up -- excuse me -- this ability to use soft power was a big part of what this command was supposed to do. And to a large decree that has not changed.
So, as a result of that, we have been very -- we have aggressive -- been very aggressive in our dialogues and discussions with USAID, non-governmental organizations, the Somalia government through our embassy. That's actually located in -- in Kenya but works out of Mogadishu.
We have been very aggressive in trying to determine what we can do to contribute, to assist in this famine. Because, if for no other reason -- obviously there's the -- the human suffering part of this and that's certainly a, you know, a big reason as to why we're interested and concerned.
But on the other hand, the brand new Somalian government -- national government needs to demonstrate that they can deal with their problem. Because if you think about it for a minute, if you're a 21- year old young girl in -- in Somalia, you have never experienced what a federal government can do. You don't know what it's supposed to do.
And so if you go through all this and you have elections and you have a federal government and they cannot contribute positively to this -- this catastrophe then -- then why do you have them? And their job will become that much more difficult.
So the second point I'm trying to make is that it's very important that this famine is taken care of -- obviously for the human suffering part. But for the ability for the federal national government of Somalia to move forward.
Now, interestingly, from the -- the side of the -- the mechanics of this; I mean there's -- a lot has been learned since the, you know, the post -- since the marines went a shore there many years ago. And of course there was a -- a famine there 2011. So what we -- and I am sure there will be problems as this goes on.
I mean, think about this for a minute, in that region; 22 million people, 6.2 million people inside Somalia itself. Those are large numbers that are affected by this. And so it's a significant, significant problem.
But I think the -- the government agencies, the non-government agencies and USAID have learned a lot of lessons over the years. And so there is -- I -- I don't want to use these words adequate. But let's just say there's a -- there's -- there's a good amount of food and water that are pre-staged and it's not like we haven't seen this movie before.
So there's been lessons learned. And I think, you know, one of the concerns always is distribution. I mean, you know, you see the pictures of food that's spoiling on the docks somewhere because the -- you can get a lot there but then the distribution becomes very difficult. Bad roads, not enough trucks, whatever.
All I will tell you is this, we have offered our assistance first of all with assets that we have. And at the moment people acknowledge that, groups acknowledge that, governmental agencies acknowledge that. But there's no requirement for us to do that.
Meanwhile, we've been communicating -- in fact, I just talked to the chairman, General Dunford about this yesterday. And in my reports to the secretary, we have highlighted this; so they're well aware of this.
Because we want to make sure that if it gets really bad and we have to -- and we're asked to do things which would require assets that we currently don't have with us, we want to make sure that -- that has already been told and we're not starting from ground zero there either.
So, in sum, it's a significant problem. The government of Somalia needs to demonstrate they can assist, the non-governmental organizations and our own State Department and the United States Agency for International Development are postured to -- to take this on. We've offered our help, but so far have not been asked to contribute.
Q: Another one here. Recent ship -- highjacking. The first time in -- you know, since we've -- you know...
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Since 2012, I think.
Q: Yes. You (inaudible) strong naval patrols international effort. Do we need to -- do they need to restore that international effort? Or is -- was this a one time thing? You don't think we're going to have another epidemic of highjacking.
GEN. WALDHAUSER: So with a terrorist organization, or in this case a Somali pirate organization, I would never say this is a one time thing. But we're not at a point yet where I think we need to kind of sound the alarm.
The European Union still does patrol those waters and you're right, there hasn't been a hijacking for -- I want to say 2012, but we can get that exact number for you. But let me just say this about this particular is incident. First of all, this was a very small ship that had oil that was moving from one place to -- I think it was going to Somalia -- I had a very low freeboard, not a lot of security, small vessel, so it's a -- a pretty -- let's just say a pretty intriguing target if you were a pirate.
The second thing I would say is, that there's issues with fishing and limits and, you know, outside agencies coming in on that part of Somalia there, the horn of Africa, the Puntland area up there, were the people's livelihood is fishing. And if these outside trawlers come in, drop their nets close to shoreline, you can understand what the problem is,
So there's a combination of those things and then whether or not this -- it was resolved, I mean the crew was let go and the -- the pirates left whether there was ransom paid or not, is something I don't have any idea. But I think there were several factors that I would -- that -- basically, what I just said, small ship, oil, close to -- close to the coast, fishing has been a problem there -- off- limits fishing.
And so, I think it's too early to say that now we have an epidemic, but it did catch our attention.
Please, Mr. Martin.
Q: Has the hunt for General Kony reached the point (inaudible) returns and if so, what do you intend to do about it?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, I think, as you well know, since 2011, we've had an ongoing effort to hunt for Joseph Kony and his -- and his bandits. Over those years, the -- the task force, which has members of the countries around there, Uganda, South Sudan, Democrat Republic Congo (inaudible) and our forces have contributed to that effort.
Over the last five or six years, we've taken really several hundred, maybe thousands of Kony's, you know, team off the battlefield. Some reports will tell you that we've gotten four of the five top lieutenant. He's down now for the last -- actually the last couple of years, if you go back and read the reports, AFRICOM has pretty much said the same thing for almost the last three years, down to about 100 people, survival mode, Kony's not an issue, he's irrelevant and so forth.
So we've been saying that now for several years, we've reached the point and -- and some of the figures that you see as low as $600 million, as high as almost close to $800 million spent on that overall operation. It's at a point now where, really, when we have that size unit, which is not very large, you know, in the size of Texas or California trying to find Kony, we've probably done -- not probably -- we have done a lot of damage to his organization.
And so, if you take a look at what you would suspect to be Kony's health and all that I've just described, kind of say, OK, where do we go from here? Now, we're obviously, you know, the first question is obviously is, well what about a (inaudible), if you guys stop now what happens, can he re-emerge himself, so forth. Obviously that's a concern to us.
And so what we want to concentrate on here, as we -- as we move into the perhaps the final stages of this, is that we have a steady- state transition plan, that number one, keeps our interest in the area, for example, through engagements, through the, you know, continuing the relationships that we built, providing intelligence as appropriate when required. You know, that's something that we want to cement.
So we've talked with our partners in that region, Uganda, for example, we've -- we've talked to them about where were going and how we're preceding, but the bottom line is, I think that, you know, this thing is coming -- is -- is coming to an -- it's coming to an end to be very frank and we made a lot of progress.
GEN. WALDHAUSER: We're concerned about a potential vacuum, you know, I don't see how you cannot have that thought, but we think that we have a plan in place for a steady state, sustainable transition that will, not only look out for Kony or any other groups that would emerge in that -- that part of the country.
The bottom line is, this operation, although not achieving the ability to get to Kony himself, has essentially taken that group up the battlefield. And -- and for the last several years, they've really been reduced to irrelevance.
Q: This steady state replacement that you're -- you're talking about, that would -- that would no longer be anything that could be characterized as a hunt for Kony. It would be simply a presence that was there to detect a resurgence of the -- the Lord’s Resistance Army Is that correct?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, I think what I would say to that is I think it's -- it's important that we talk with our partners there. I mean it's up to -- they still wanna continue.
If the Ugandans, for example, still want to continue because they provide the bulk of the forces to this effort. If they still wanna continue that, and they wanna call it a hunt, that's up to them.
But I think from our perspective, the steady state would -- would -- you would not call it a hunt any more. It's -- it's to maintain let's just say the -- the level of -- of that type of group -- that type of activity in that area, maintain it where it is today.
Q: Thank you, General.
When we see ISIS losing territory in -- in Iraq and Syria, are you seeing combatants come into your region?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: You know, it's interesting. You know, that -- if you'd have asked that question like six or seven months ago, I mean that was the plan.
I mean that was the open source ideology, don't come to Iraq and Syria, go to Libya. Libya's where our backup plan is if Iraq and Syria fail. You don't see that any more.
And, you know, we don't see that report. I can't -- I wouldn't characterize this -- what -- what I would tell -- I would say this. There's a lot of movement of foreign fighters right now. And I think that the whole issue of reconciliation is something that's gonna come to the surface here in the next six months or so, whether that's -- whether that's out of the al-Shabaab arena, whether that's -- I --I wouldn't say ISIS, but in the al-Shabaab forest where really, you know, many of the soldiers, whether it's ISIS, West Africa, or
al- Shabaab, these are young guys from these countries who just need a livelihood and need a job.
Ideology is not the driver there. They want to reconcile. There's already been indications that through some of our efforts that they -- they -- they welcome the opportunity.
So, these countries are gonna need the -- be able to have to deal with that problem. So, reconciliation is on the -- the headline -- is on the radar screen.
I think it's something that'll happen in the future. But I -- you know, I -- there's a lot of movement.
I -- I would hate to characterize that ISIS is all coming to -- to Africa. We've got plenty there already.
Q: But are you seeing (it stem ?)?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, I think we always do. I mean, I think this -- the issue of -- if you take Somalia for example, al-Qaida, which is in the northern part up there, there's always movement back and forth between Yemen. Whether or not there's large numbers coming from the Middle East to Libya and places like that, I would just tell you today that large numbers are something that we haven't seen.
Q: Luis Martinez, ABC News.
During the siege of Sirte, there were American special forces that we assisting in the (Strata ?) Brigade that have been in prisons prior to that.
What -- what is the U.S. presence in that part of Libya today? What is their role? What future activities do you plan for them?
And just going back to the numbers that you cited earlier about ISIS strength, am I correct in hearing that you said that the estimate is now that there are between 100 and 200 ISIS left in Erbil
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Yeah, I mean I -- that's -- I think that's fair. I don't think that -- yeah, you probably -- that's probably a fair number.
Let me just make a couple statements about the people on the ground in Sirte. So, I think early on -- because that I -- I took over in July and about 10 days later this operation started. So, a lot of this is just kind of fresh in my mind. It just -- 'cause it's kind of the early days of -- of my tenure at AFRICOM. I think there -- at -- initially there was a lot of discussion about do we have people on the ground in -- in Libya, and that was kind of a story for a while because, you know, it was newsworthy.
But the point I want to make is that when you conduct precision airstrike, close-air support operation in an urban environment with the requirements to not have civilian casualties, with the requirements to be careful about infrastructure, destruction, and the like, I don't think -- you can't do an operation like that without somebody on the ground to interface, to work. So I mean, I think it's just important to understand that.
You have to have that contact, you have to have that face to face because if you think about it for a minute, you have let's just say aircraft drones coming from all over the planet, you've got people that are making decisions in various locations all over the planet. You need to have somebody on the ground talking to these people to make sure we can do it with this skill and the precision that's required. And these guys helped in that.
Now one of the things we said when -- before the operation was over, we came out in the fall -- I want to say November -- we came up in the building and said when Sirte ends this is what we are going to do. Calling it a strategy is probably a stretch but this our way forward in Libya. And one of things was that we said we're going to continue to keep people on the ground, and we're going to continue to develop the intelligence that's there.
So, you know, and that's what we've done among other -- we had five things we're going to do. But two big things, we're going to keep a presence on the ground because you have to have that there and we're going to develop intelligence and take out targets when they arise.
So that's what happened on 18 January. It took us roughly a month, we're in no hurry. But using the assets that we had, we developed the targets, we developed a level of certainty that we knew what we were striking and we did on the 18th because time really wasn't a big factor. It's a consideration but it wasn't the driving factor of what we did. But yes, I mean I think it's fair to say that we have some people on the ground and you couldn't do these things without that.
Q: (Inaudible) maintain them as a persistent force there for the near future?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, we're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required or to us to be able to assist if required again with the Government of National Accord to take out ISIS targets.
We'll make this the last one, Andy.
Q: Thanks, General. Andy (inaudible), Military Times. There are 700 troops in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Are they your responsibility?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: They are not. I mean, interestingly as you probably knew that the 54 countries in Africa, that one belongs to CENTCOM. So it -- but we -- but that said, if you have to have a trans-regional approach and trans-regional mindset that this problem, we watched and we coordinate and we talk to CENTCOM all the time about activities in Egypt. Because the border with Libya's right there and there's a lot of activity going on in that area so we watch it closely.
Q: There's an effort in Congress right now to declare it a combat zone so that those troops can start to collect their hazardous duty pay tax free. I mean, would you say you support that?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: On the Sinai or Libya?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, I can't address the Sinai but in Libya we have put that forward a while back and it's still in staffing because we dropped bombs for four and a half months; I don't know how you not call it a combat zone to be quite frank. So we have pushed that forward and that's process that just takes a while. And I couldn't tell you where it as the moment.
I'll take one more, (inaudible).
Q: (off mic) The German base in Niger, is that still under construction? And when's it expected to be completed?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: So this kind of gets back to the Tunisia question as well, and I wanted to start by saying that one of the -- because of the size of Africa, because of the time and space and the distances, when it comes to especially crisis response-type activities, we need access in various places on the continent, and so that's kind of the overarching theme here.
And the Nigerians are -- are -- have been good partners. We are not building a base there. We are -- it's common knowledge, it's in the media that we are at Agadez. We are working with them to provide an area and a location where we can operate from and it's just -- again, it gets back to this issues of -- of time and space and the ability to maximize the ISR assets that we have so we have more time over the target and less time flying back and forth to where they originated from so we get the most bang for our buck.
Q: There's not a separate U.S. drone base that's something that's operated with the government of Niger?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: It's not a separate -- these are not -- we only have one permanent installation on the continent, and that's Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Places like -- in Tunisia and place like in Niger, these are not our bases. We build, we work, we -- we -- we enhance their capabilities, but these are -- these belong to the governments of those country. They're not ours and we have no intention of making them ours.
Q: (inaudible) from that base in (inaudible)?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: The bases she referred to, the answer's no. It's not complete yet.
Q: And just going back to the authorities in Somalia, did the last administration prevent some of these authorities from happening?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Look, I don't want to get into a discussion about the last administration did. I mean, all I can just tell you is with my experience with AFRICOM, when we had requirements, desires or intentions to strike targets, we always had what we needed, both assets wise and authority wise. It wasn't a -- it wasn't an issue.
Q: (inaudible) new authorities?
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Well, the authorities -- what these authorities might do, if they're approved and I don't know what the final product will be, I would say the process might be a little bit streamlined and the authorities are powered down to the COCOMs as opposed to coming back up here. I mean, that's the big significant thing.
I mean, the COCOMs have the ability to say, "Look, yes, no." And -- and that's really what I think, to a large degree, this is all about. This is -- this is not about -- again, this is -- I want to emphasize, we have a requirement for -- for certainty. This is not change, you know, tactics, it's not to change the face of how we do this. But I think -- I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets and I'm well capable and we are all well capable of making those calls.
GEN. WALDHAUSER: Thank you very much.