Four-star General Runs Africa Command

Gen. William Kip Ward, the only four-star African-American general in the active military, has been assigned to run the Africa Command. The post is the first devoted exclusively to the African continent. For the program's Wisdom Watch series, Gen. Ward discusses his plans for AFRICOM.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, if you have some time on your hands over the next few days and you enjoy the lighthearted genre known as chick lit, we have somebody to tell you about.

But first, it's time for Wisdom Watch, a regular feature where we turn to those with an extra dose of experience and knowledge, not just smart but wise.

Today we speak with General William Kip Ward. His postings in his nearly four-decade Army career have spun the globe - from Egypt to Korea and Kosovo. Now he's been tapped to head the Pentagon's new Africa Command, the first devoted exclusively to the African continent.

General Ward joins me now. Welcome, sir. Thank you for joining us.

General WILLIAM KIP WARD (U.S. Army): Well, thank you. And I'm very happy to be here.

MARTIN: General, why has the Pentagon decided that Africa needs its own separate command? Until now, as I understand it, responsibility for the continent has been spread among several existing commands? So why this, why now?

Gen. WARD: As we determined that looking at Africa as Africans look at Africa, we can be more efficient and effective in delivering our security cooperation, our security assistance programs, instead of looking or doing it through three different commands, we can do it through a single focused effort, and that is the U.S. Africa Command. And it's time for it because why not now.

MARTIN: What's the command going to be designed to do and equip to do?

Gen. WARD: It's going to be designed - it's a headquarters. It's not a large number of forces garrisoned or stationed. A headquarters staff designed to coordinate our security activities, designed to coordinate those activities that are sponsored by the military, designed to provide an assistance to the Africans as they go about their business of making themselves more capable of providing for their own security. This is a headquarters staff in the range of a thousand or so distributed areas around the continent, but also, more importantly, a reachback location where we can tap into others to provide us some assistance as well.

MARTIN: And where is it going to be based?

Gen. WARD: Well, right now the command is stood up in Stuttgart, Germany. And that's the initial location. That's done there because the U.S. European Command, which was my previous command, is located there at Stuttgart. There are facilities there, as well as some personnel that would become a part of the African Command are already located there at Stuttgart, and so it made easy to begin the command, to stand the command up there as we look at the more long-term basing situation.

MARTIN: And speaking of the long-term basing situation, where is the command to be based in the long term?

Gen. WARD: Absolutely unknown. No decisions have been made. That is a very deliberate process that would be taken only after very thorough consultations with Africans, assessing the various factors that would contribute to the effectiveness of the command and the work that we want to do. The important thing is that we are able to provide a very effective program in helping Africans provide for their own security by helping them increase their capacity, I'm saying it being a part of what goes on in the development of a country, and indeed the region, and hopefully the continent.

MARTIN: It's my understanding the command has already gotten some pushback from the largest countries on the continent - from Nigeria, from South Africa, who say they don't want the command based there. Now, this is curious, given that these countries have very close ties to the U.S., particularly in recent years. So why would that be?

Gen. WARD: I think some of the pushback that you've heard - and it's not necessarily from the countries - you've heard some individuals say things - and I feel this is more a reflection of a misunderstanding of what basing means. The basing thing that came out initially, the thought was that here comes large numbers of forces, troops garrisoned on the continent; not the case. Establishing naval bases, other sorts of installations where troops are stationed, that's not the case. And as we go around now correcting that perception and saying what the command is versus what those perceptions led it to be, we're getting certainly good receptivity to - ah, oh, that's what we're talking about.

MARTIN: But what would be so terrible about that? I mean this country - and forgive the analogy - is not perfect clearly, that people fight over military bases, they're desperate to have bases in their areas because they see it as an economic generator. They see it as a source of security. I mean, is it reflective of perhaps the standing of the U.S. in the world right now, or discomfort about our own sort of security situation that there is this hesitance to have these troops there? Even though, as you said, there are security relationships already.

Gen. WARD: Right. I think there are two factors here. One, there are countries who have vocally said yes, we do want you there for many of the reasons you've alluded to. There's also a factor of a history of the continent and what has gone on before with respect to forces there, the colonial period. And that reaction, those sorts of historical situations have been - they factor into, they influence, they have an impact on what people think that they - in Africa - about foreign forces being on their territory, their soil. So those are factors.

MARTIN: You figure it's not so much even an American question as a question of foreigners, non-Africans being on African soil has connotations to people that they want to resist, it's actually foreign troops.

Gen. WARD: I think that's it. And not that there are not foreign troops there now, but again it's a factor of how long will this go on. Are we going back to being colonized?

MARTIN: Let's talk more about what the command will actually do. You've been quoted as saying that this is - this command is more in the business of war prevention, not war fighting. What does that mean?

Gen. WARD: If we can be of assistance in helping Africans provide for their own stability, then that's what we want to do. We don't see going to Africa and fighting, if you will. What we see is our role in helping Africans provide for their own security by doing things to increase their capability, their capacity.

We have a program going on right now off of the coast of Africa. We call it the African Partnership Station, whereby we have brought onboard a single vessel, African, to assist them in learning how to provide or perform electrical repair on some of their boats, how to maintain outboard motors, engines, as well as to do other things to help them keep their capability up.

MARTIN: General, many of the conflicts with which Americans are most aware that are taking place on the African continent are not a matter of technical ability, they are a matter of political will, like Darfur, for example. That's not a matter of the Sudanese government not having the technical ability to patrol these areas. It's a matter of will. They choose not to do so. At least that's the understanding that we have in the United States right now.

How would the command be of assistance in addressing a conflict like that?

Gen. WARD: Well, when the Africans decide that they like to do something about a particular situation, a problem that they have, and they said, well, in order to help this, we need capacity in a form of peacekeeping forces. We can go in and assist the training of those peacekeeping forces. We can go in and assist in moving those forces to a particular location. We can go in and assist where a policy has made as a part of our government that we will be involved to provide logistical support, and we have done all of those things.

And so, yes, while it is a matter of political will and the will to do things, we have seen that will demonstrated as African nations do their organizations, the African Union, regional economic organizations that they have through their five regional communities, and also their standby forces. When they say we would like to go and stop, make a difference, help control, we need peacekeeping forces to do that, can you assist us in getting these forces prepared to go and perform these peacekeeping roles, we do in fact have a role in that regard. And nations that we have helped in the past have been used in some of these situations to help bring stability to a particular conflict.

MARTIN: But I still wonder about a situation like Rwanda, for example, which is, you know, one of the great moral tragedies, great - it was a genocide. It was one of the tragedies of the century, I think by any account. You have about 800,000 people slaughtered in a couple of months' time. And one wonders what would - difference it had made if there had been an American military presence, because there were military forces from the West, from France and Belgium, who were present. They chose not to intervene for whatever reason.

Now, you know, President Clinton apologized in a visit to the country during his last year of his term of office, apologized for America's inaction in that conflict. But I - one wonders, though, with a presence being closer, would America be morally implicated if it fails to intervene in a similar conflict like that in the future, even if there is not the political will to do so in this country?

Gen. WARD: You know, each of those decisions are taken based on a policy that's followed to do something or to not do something. We don't get involved in that, obviously. Those political decisions are made by our policymakers - the president, the Congress, secretary of state. Where there are military aspects to that policy is where we then come into the situation to do our part to hopefully help bring some resolution.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and we're speaking with the new head of the U.S. Africa Command, General William Kip Ward.

So let's talk about you. Where did the name Kip come from?

Gen. WARD: It's a nickname from my - from my aunt. My mother's baby sister nicknamed me that when I was a baby. So - and it stuck with me my entire life. It's been a name that I go by, I'm known by, and I use. And I like it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: We like it, too. What were you thinking you'd be doing when you joined the military back in 1971? Was this part of your vision?

Gen. WARD: No. When I joined the military in 1971, I was a Morgan State University graduate. When I enrolled in Morgan, during those years, ROTC, Reserve Officers' Training program was mandatory for male students, when I enrolled - two years - a two-year program. When I got into the program, I liked it, and I stayed on for my entire four years while I was at undergraduate school. When I graduated from Morgan, I had also received a commission in the United States Army. And at that time, I had a four-year commitment. And my plan was to do my four years and leave the Army and go to law school.

MARTIN: But you didn't?

Gen. WARD: But I didn't.

MARTIN: Why didn't you?

Gen. WARD: Because I was enjoying what I was doing. I thought I was making a difference. And the life that I was living was a life that my wife and, at the time, our son, we also enjoyed. And there were opportunities that were being presented to me that quite frankly I wanted to continue to take advantage of, and I did that.

MARTIN: Is it accurate that you are the only four-star general who is African-American at this time?

Gen. WARD: That's correct.

MARTIN: What does that mean to you?

Gen. WARD: Well, first of all, I feel incredibly blessed and honored for it. But it's also something that I am concerned about. And that's the reason that I continue to do what I do because I think it's important for many who could be just like Kip Ward, to know that there is an opportunity. There are opportunities for making a difference. And in an institution that's so important to our nation and quite frankly to the security and stability of our nation. The things that we do are important in providing for who we are here in establishing certain things that we have come to quite frankly enjoy. And I just left Walter Reed. I'm visiting some young soldiers there that have certainly paid some very, very dear cause for what we do. But that is a type of thing that, to me, makes a difference here at home as well.

MARTIN: The interesting thing is that the Army has been one of the American institutions, in recent years at least, that African-Americans have held in highest regard. If you look at the surveys of the institutions that African-Americans esteem, the Army has been among the most esteemed. And yet, young African-Americans are not joining the Army now. There has been a severe falloff in the number of African-Americans who are enlisting. Why do you think that is?

Gen. WARD: Well, I think the economy is okay. There are opportunities in other places. But I think it's also a reflection of the current situation in the society in which we live today. I don't know if it's a result of dissatisfaction with some of our current policy. I go back to the policy. It's not that the military - it's a policy - that policy that our nation embarks upon. And so I would say that there are things that beyond the policy that provide opportunities.

And I will certainly look for all of America, to include African-Americans, to take advantage of these opportunities that the military affords that are applicable, that are transferable, that have certainly application in other walks of life. But the military (unintelligible) a very great foundation for those sort of things, you know, discipline, accountability, responsibility. It just - those are transferable - as you know, those are transferable skills.

MARTIN: When you leave this post, whenever that is, how will you know you will have succeeded?

Gen. WARD: I think I'll probably know in about 20 years, because I think what we're doing today is long-term. What we're doing today - creating conditions -helping Africans create conditions that will provide for their long-term stability, which will, in turn, lead to their plans for development. Such that in the globalization of today, we see a continent of Africa and its island nations where there are things occurring - educationally, culturally, socially, economically - that contribute to world's stability through markets, through interaction that helps us with our stability here at home as well.

MARTIN: General William Kip Ward is the commander of the new United States Africa Command. He was kind enough to join us at our studios in Washington.

You can find out more information about AFRICOM at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore.

General, thank you so much for joining us.

Gen. WARD: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And if I may, thank you for your service.

Gen. WARD: Thank you for your support.

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