The U.S. military hosted an international exercise last week to help prepare the new commander of a coalition task force in East Africa for his deployment. The commander says his main goal is to help East African countries solve their own problems. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The exercise, involving hundreds of U.S. troops and several African liaison officers, was designed to help Rear Admiral Philip Greene and his staff prepare for their new assignment.
"I see our role as to enable African solutions to African problems," he said.
Admiral Greene will head the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti, providing training for African military forces and conducting humanitarian missions in 13 nearby countries. He told reporters in a conference call the goal is to help improve security and governance, and end poverty, in order to indirectly fight terrorism.
"Those play to creating a level of transparency and information sharing and, clearly, opportunities that get at undermining those elements that fuel extremism," said Admiral Greene. "And that's the approach that connects our mission set with the counterterrorism piece."
The current deputy commander of the U.S.-led Horn of Africa Task Force, Brigadier General Sanford Holman, says Admiral Greene's plans coincide with what the task force is already doing.
"The development side is the side that we emphasize with the drilling of the wells, the building of the schools and clinics, and we're trying to get at countering terrorism in that manner," he said.
General Holman says the Djbouti base facilitates some other military activities he won't talk about. There have been reports of U.S. special operations forces working from the base on counter-terrorism missions in Somalia and elsewhere. But the general says those activities are not the base's main purpose.
Admiral Greene says main goal is to develop partnerships and forge relationships, and he says that approach is the model for the new United States Africa Command. The command, which was established in October, is spending a year preparing to take responsibility for all U.S. military engagement throughout the continent.
"There is, I think, great synergy between what CJTF-Horn of Africa does now and what we're about and what AFRICOM will represent as a combatant command," said the commander.
The admiral expresses the mission as "the three Ds," development, defense and diplomacy," said Admiral Greene.
"In the end, our objective is to be participants in developing those partnerships and forging the relationships that help us improve the security and the stability, and help the Africans, in that sense, to address these very tough issues and own the solution sets to these problems."
Within a few weeks, Admiral Greene will take command of the five-year-old Task Force, made up of nearly two thousand troops and civilians from the United States and several coalition countries. He says one priority will be to try to help develop a standardized disaster response plan so African countries can work together better to respond to natural disasters themselves, and with international help when necessary.
But he says he will also be watching some of the region's hot spots for potential seeds of instability. He says those include the situations in Kenya, Somalia and Sudan's Darfur region, as well as tension on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border and piracy along the Indian Ocean coastline.