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Transcript of briefing by US Africa Command Gen. Eugene LeBoeuf and Gen. T.Y. Buratai

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Transcript of press briefing on the African Land Forces Summit 2018 between U.S. Army Africa Acting Commanding General Brig. Gen. Eugene LeBoeuf and Nigeria Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. T.Y. Buratai

 

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the African Land Forces Summit. During today’s conference, phone lines are in a listen-only mode with question and answer a little bit later on. If you should require operator assistance, you may press * and then 0. And as a reminder, today’s call is being recorded. At this time I’ll turn the conference over to Brian Neubert. Please go ahead.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank you all for joining the discussion. Today, we’re very pleased to be joined by U.S. Army Africa Acting Commander General Brigadier General Eugene LeBoeuf and Nigeria Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai. The speakers will discuss the 2018 African Land Forces Summit that has been running from April 16 to April 19 in Nigeria. Our distinguished guests are joining us from Abuja, Nigeria.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Lieutenant General Buratai and Brigadier General LeBoeuf, and then we will turn to your questions. We will get to as many of them as we can in 30 to 45 minutes. At any time on the call, if you would like to ask a question, you can press *1 to join our question queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress. You can also follow on Twitter @USArmyAfrica as well as @AfricaMediaHub.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I’ll turn it over to Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai. Go ahead, sir, for your opening remarks.

GEN. BURATAI: Thank you very much, and good afternoon. I am Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, Nigerian army. I want to thank everyone for dialing in to talk about the African Land Forces Summit, co-hosted by Nigerian army in conjunction with our partners from the United States and Africa. This week we saw African Land Forces chiefs from 40 African countries come together here in Abuja. It’s been fascinating working with these professionals, open up about their ideas for combatting terrorism, violent extremist organizations, building security and stability across the continent. I am confident that this summit has generated new partnerships and relationships that will help us reach our long-term objective for a more prosperous Africa. I want to thank you once more and look forward to your difficult questions. Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. LEBOEUF: This is Brigadier General Eugene LeBoeuf, Acting Commanding General of U.S. Army Africa, and greetings and good afternoon from Abuja in Nigeria. We just concluded the closing remarks, the closing ceremony for the African Land Forces Summit, and what a tremendous week it has been here in Abuja, Nigeria. Not only our wonderful co-host of the event, Nigeria, has just provided an outstanding venue and hospitality for us as guests in their beautiful nation.

So, over 40 land chiefs were here present today as well as allied countries, as General Buratai has just mentioned, and just a tremendous week of focused effort, looking at security, stability, partnerships, both growing, existing partnerships or making new partnerships, as we continue to progress in exploring and tackling some of the challenges on the continent of Africa.

The theme of this year’s African Land Forces Summit was unity and strength, combatting African security challenges, and that was quite a fitting theme in a number of topics that we addressed throughout the summit this week, ranging from command and control to ensuring protection of the civilian populace, encountering during operations violent extremist operations, to sustain the logistics operations to support different operations. So it’s quite my honor and pleasure to serve with Lieutenant General Buratai in this endeavor, that I believe was very successful. So thanks again for tuning in to us and we look forward to your questions this afternoon.

MODERATOR: Thank you both for spending time with us this afternoon, I know it’s been a very busy week and we very much appreciate spending time with our journalists. Again, we have Lieutenant General Buratai and Brigadier General LeBoeuf on the line.

We’ll now turn to question and answer. Again, you can press *1 to join the question queue. When you are selected, we ask that you state your name and affiliation and if you could keep yourself to one question about today’s topic, which is the African Land Forces Summit 2018, which again has been taking place in Nigeria. If you’re using a speaker phone, I’ll remind you, you may have to pick up the handset in order to press *1 and join the question queue. We also have questions that a number of you have submitted in advance that I will ask on your behalf, and you can continue to submit those via email to afmediahub@state.gov. For the first question in the queue, we will go to Mohamed Diop. If you could introduce yourself and your outlet and ask your question, sir.

QUESTION: [in French] I speak French.

MODERATOR: I see. Sorry, we’re not quite set up to take your question in French. Go ahead, go ahead and ask your question, I’ll translate it for our speakers.

QUESTION: [in French]

MODERATOR: I’m just going to translate quickly for our generals, and this is directed to General LeBoeuf. I think both of you can address the question. Sorry for the confusion, we have a French speaker on the English line, calling in from Mauritanian News Agency, and in general, he is asking about the U.S. military approach to security challenges across the Sahel. He is asking about the results and suggesting that perhaps there have been some shortcomings or less-than-satisfactory results and what those might be attributed to. Questions related to intelligence-sharing and coordination with African forces across the Sahel, is the gist of his question, if you could address that, please.

BRIG. GEN. LEBOEUF: If I may start, thank you very much for the question, and I can state very clearly that certainly degrading violent extremist organizations across the Sahel and Maghreb is a very important endeavor, in fact it’s a specific line of effort with U.S. Africa Command, as it is with U.S. Army Africa. And so in degrading and containing violent extremist organizations, in this case we’re looking at ISIS West Africa to Al Qaeda in Maghreb, Al Qaeda in Sahel organizations and then extending further east, perhaps even into Boko Haram. But a number of challenges exist, of course, in the operations in those terrains in which violent extremist organizations operate, very large and complex land areas, and very large borders in which these violent extremist organizations are taking advantage of opportunities to move across large land masses and borders.

And so it is our effort with U.S. Army Africa and U.S. Africa Command to support our African partners and countering these extremist organizations through a variety of means, primarily through the inter-security cooperation activity, that entails support, for example, through intelligence training, to logistics training, to counter improvised explosive device training, to command and control, to even advanced infantry maneuver tactics and techniques. So all these put together are done in conjunction with our African partners in a support effort by their request in identifying particular gaps in their efforts to try to counter violent extremist organizations operating in these areas.

Lieutenant General Buratai, would you like to add anything further?

GEN. BURATAI: [UNCLEAR] General LeBoeuf has said it all. The issue of the security challenges within the Sahel, which Nigeria also lies within the Sahara and the Sahel region, we have virtually the same challenges. The porous borders that the neighboring countries that exist, including our own country, Nigeria, is one of the major challenges that we are having, encountering the violent and extreme organizations like Boko Haram in this regard.

Well, approaches to solving these security challenges [UNCLEAR] inasmuch as the vast land within the Lake Chad basin region is a challenge to us, it is equally a challenge to whoever that is venturing into these territories. So we also take advantage of that, to see that we get the right mobility, we get the right troops to be deployed through the use of the Special Forces to ensure that we address these challenges and degrade the Boko Haram terrorists.

Collaboration with the neighboring countries through the Multinational Joint Task Force is very important, it’s crucial to our efforts to see to the complete eradication of the chase,  of the Boko Haram terrorists within the region. You see that the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force they are quite fundamental, in the sense that there is need for us to continue to work together, to bring our forces together, and this is being done right now with the bilateral as well as the multilateral arrangement within the countries of the Lake Chad region.

As it is, our troops are operating alongside each other. Therefore, there is need for closer cooperation, and this summit, the African Land Summit here in Abuja, which emphasizes community strength, we need to unify all our forces on the ground as well as all the necessary governments [UNCLEAR] to be put in place to ensure that we get the right political support, we get the right direction, including the soft-power approach, which includes deradicalization. There should be community development of these areas, in terms of road infrastructure, in terms of establishment of health facilities, including schools, and improvement generally in transportation, both land as well as rail, and including improve the [UNCLEAR] of the Lake Chad whereby more economic opportunity will be brought back for a better livelihood to sustain the growing population in the Sahel region.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Lieutenant General Buratai, thank both of you. Our next question – before I turn to the question queue again – we have a question from Stephanie at Agence France-Press based in Lagos. Her question, she sent in in advance, notes that recently the Niger government approved the use of armed drones in the country to fight extremism. The question is, will armed drones be used in Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad basin region, and how are armed drones being used to counter terrorist threats today.

GEN. BURATAI: Thank you very much, the question by Stephanie is quite apt. The use of new technology in this type of warfare, that is counter-terrorism or asymmetric warfare that we find ourselves now engaged in, is very, very crucial.

The use of the armed drone is not new in our operations in the northeast. We take all precautions to ensure that the technical systems, both the land and air components are done professionally, and we have employed these armed drones, especially within the Sambisa Forest, where it used to be one of the strongholds of the Boko Haram terrorist group, the Shekau faction especially. Therefore, it is a force multiplier, the use of such drones, but most importantly also it provides us with intelligence. We’re able to detect movement of arms; we use them to detect movement of large bodies of troops and of these criminals, insurgents, terrorists within those areas, and it helps us to support our efforts to ensure that communities are not easily attacked, and improve the response time of our troops in case there is any threat to any community or any area, or even from facility installations.

But by and large, the challenge still remains, how timely this information is going to be part of the process, and the processing of such intelligence also takes time, as well as certain factors of weather, especially in periods of bad visibility or during bad weather. During the [UNCLEAR] in peace, we think the utilization of these drones systems, but by and large these very useful tools and rest assured, those of [UNCLEAR], some of our neighboring countries are also using these facilities to help us to facilitate quick reactions, as well as to deal with very dangerous situations where the lives of innocent civilians are being threatened, everyone is being attacked, so that we will be able to counter it before the terrorists reach their target.

MODERATOR: Thank you, General Buratai. We’ll turn next to the U.S. consulate listening party in Lagos, Nigeria. Go ahead, and if the speaker could identify their name and outlet, please. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, sir. I am [UNCLEAR] of The Nation Newspaper. My question goes to the U.S. general, sir. So I would like to know how this Land Forces Summit, the [UNCLEAR] are being recorded and how it is going to improve the war against terrorism?

Secondly, I’d also like to know what the U.S. intends to do with respect to ensuring that the language barriers felt by countries within the African region, especially when it comes to tackling security issues, what is the U.S. doing to ensure that this language barrier and the difference in their colonial masters does not come to play anymore? They are harmonized in the fight against terrorism? Thank you, sir.

MODERATOR: Thank you for that question. Go ahead, sir.

BRIG. GEN. LEBOEUF: Thank you, I appreciate that. So the African Land Forces Summit is focused on security, and again, building partnerships, not just in a particular region but throughout the continent of Africa. And so, again, 40 different land force chiefs were present throughout this week to participate, to discuss, to ask each other tough questions, and to better understand what are the best tactics and techniques to address challenging issues, security challenges that they face in combatting violent extremist organizations or conducting peacekeeping operations.

So that was our theme and focus of our African Land Forces Summit, is to tackle those particular topics up front and then be able to then take these lessons learned, to be able to take these newly developed partnerships or strengthened partnerships that have grown throughout the week of activity, and to then strengthen opportunities for not only increased interoperability but also capacity-building through these lessons learned with each other.

So in terms of your second question, I just want to make sure I’m clear on that. There’s a question of a certain language barrier among the different nations. I could say that certainly different languages are spoken here in the African Land Forces Summit, and I could say those language barriers were addressed extremely well just in the summit itself, through interpreters and through an earnest effort of all the participants to learn from each other. And again, those interpreters played a very important role in ensuring that whether speaking English or French or Portuguese or Arabic, that we have a mutual understanding of the topics that were addressed in detail. And so certainly language barriers are concerns in any activity that you do, but on display this week were the means in which through interpretation, through active dialogue, and simply a concerted effort by the participants, that you can overcome those barriers quite easily.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, for that. We will turn next to Kevin Kelley. Go ahead with your question. If you could just mention your outlet, please.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks for doing this today. My name’s Kevin Kelley, I write for the Nation Media Group in Kenya and I’m based in New York. So it’s a question, I suppose, mainly for General LeBoeuf. You mentioned just a second ago about capacity-building, and my question pertains specifically to Somalia and the effort against Al-Shabaab. So for many years now, the U.S. has been making a large-scale, expensive effort to enable Somali National Army forces to stand up on their own, without AMISOM’s assistance, to counter the threats posed by Shabaab. Very little progress, seemingly, has been made in this regard. The Germans recently withdrew five trainers, and they acknowledged that the reason for this was that there was not any real discernible progress. What has to happen in Somalia for the Somali national forces to stand up, and why hasn’t it happened after so much money and time spent on this? Thanks.

BRIG. GEN. LEBOEUF: Thank you for the question. So we have a keen interest in the stability and security of East Africa, and Somalia is a part of that. So we want to ensure the continued development for that security and stability within that area.

Fortunately this is an international mission in Somalia itself, and so it’s not just the United States that is helping enable the Somali National Army to build its forces, but it’s a concerted international effort in this regard. From U.S. Army Africa’s perspective, we’re involved in one aspect, and that was actually the theme of today’s African Land Forces Summit, and that was logistics, where we’re assisting the Somali National Army to build their capabilities in terms of logistics, which as we talked about today and the Land Forces Summit, is the key to any success in any military operations. And so that’s just one example of us working with our Somali partners to develop that capacity.

Certainly there’s a strong desire to continue that development across the international community. We have had discussions today, in fact today at a breakfast with AMISOM countries, to talk about these topics in detail, and very good ideas and best practices were exchanged in that group of countries to discuss how they as troop-contributing countries to Somalia, are helping address the security concerns of that nation. And part of that effort is for them [UNCLEAR] their own training activities with their own Somali National Army representatives, and one conclusion that came out of the meeting today was an observation that an additional concerted effort nationwide to place training under a more holistic umbrella may provide additional opportunities for progression of the Somali National Army. I can say very frankly that the Somali National Army is keenly interested in progressing, but there are a number of different challenges that lie in their way, and certainly their national partners have a keen interest in addressing that as quickly as possible. Thank you.

GEN. BURATAI: Can I just add a few comments on that as well? At the start of this summit, the technique command and control in African [UNCLEAR] environment was [UNCLEAR], and we had the chief of [UNCLEAR] of Kenya, who was with us, and you know Kenya has been playing a very important role in Somalia, it has one of the largest forces in that mission. And part of the long-term plan is to empower the Somali national forces to be able to take the challenges by themselves. This is a plan that has already been worked on, to ensure that the capacity of the Somali national force is enhanced, is developed and enhanced, to enable it to take over the challenges. Definitely you’ll agree with me that the problem in Somalia in the long run is going to be handled squarely by the Somalis themselves. So therefore, the area, in concert, as Africans, the African countries need to work together to provide all the necessary avenues to ensure that the Somali situation is addressed squarely, to…

MODERATOR: Thank you, General – sorry, sir.

GEN. BURATAI: Okay.

MODERATOR: We have I believe Staff Sergeant Joshua Tverberg is there with a journalist that would like to ask the next question. We’ll get to as many of the questions as we can in the time that we have. Go ahead and have your journalist introduce themselves and their outlet, please.

QUESTION: My name is [UNCLEAR] I write for Blueprint Newspaper in Abuja. Some of the major security challenges of Africa today include the proliferation of small arms and large weapons, human trafficking, which this summit seems to address. However, the summit seems to be dominated by chiefs of army staff of various African countries, excluding the immigration services, which are fighting with the responsibility of monitoring and maintaining security on our borders of Africa. Are we expecting an expansion of this summit to include the immigration services next year holding in Botswana? Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. LEBOEUF: Okay, again, this is General LeBoeuf and I’ll be happy to take an initial response to that question, and again, thank you for that question. You’re absolutely right, we have the African land force chiefs present, 40 different countries represented here, and again focusing on security challenges, that is our theme of the African Land Forces Summit.

We do have different representatives from the African Union, NATO, and also some select representatives from the Department of State, that are present as well, that certainly have additional perspectives on immigration.  And I can certainly say that each of the land force chiefs have understanding of the challenges of migration and security borders, and they’re talking security, that’s really one of our areas of focus, is helping ensure that the African partner nations have the capability to secure their borders, to assist with interdiction of illegal trafficking activity across the borders themselves, and so in fact that is one of U.S. Africa Command’s lines of effort is to interdict illicit activity in the Gulf of Guinea as well as central Africa. General Buratai, sir?

GEN. BURATAI: Thank you, LeBoeuf. In addition, [UNCLEAR] please take note that the Africa Land Forces Summit, as it is conceived, is essentially meant for the armies of the African countries who work in conjunction with the United States Army. It is essentially the initiative of the United States, and we have seen, one of the major challenges, especially when you talk of defense and security, the land forces play a very critical role in that regard. And the base of their own position says that yes, the land forces need to, the challenges regarding to the land forces be addressed.

The inclusion of immigration is an issue that has to do with its own true functions. We’ve taken this issue of migration, especially when it comes to small arms and large weapons that are smuggling across the borders, which I did mention at the beginning – our borders are so porous and so wide -= equally an issue of human trafficking and several other trans-border drug trafficking and so on, also some of the issues that are even beyond immigration. So we want to believe the African Land Forces Summit will provide a platform, even on limited basis, where we can discuss and in this, possibly include issues of immigration and other related matters.

Right now, the cross-border incursions various violent and extremist organizations are a major problem that we are confronting, so the use of the Land Forces Summit to address this issues even at the theoretical or at the intellectual level is quite fundamental, and with these addition we have made, I think there could be a position that the U.S. and Africa may look at it in the future to see the participation of critical public sectors of defense and security as well as the issue of trans-border and immigration issues will be brought into call for consideration. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, General Buratai. We have just a minute or two left, we’re going to turn to a listening party at the embassy in Accra, Ghana. Go ahead and introduce yourself and your outlet, please.

OPERATOR: Listening party in Ghana, your line is open.

MODERATOR: Okay, it seems like we may have lost Ghana. Let’s go back to Lagos, I think another journalist at our listening party in Lagos, Nigeria has a question. Please introduce yourself and your outlet.

QUESTION: My name is [UNCLEAR] I write for Newsday newspaper here in Lagos. My question is directed to General Buratai. We keep hearing how the military have technically defeated Boko Haram and then another comment we hear about that some girls have been abducted. So I want to know how truthful is it defeat of Boko Haram, and then how do you go about changing this narrative on countering violent extremism? Thank you.

GEN. BURATAI: Thank you [UNCLEAR], this is a very good question. You know, these questions have always been asked, and it depends on your own point of view or how you see what Boko Haram is. You look at, first of all, where we are coming from and where we are, and probably where we’ll be headed to. You can see that we’ve made tremendous progress. Boko Haram, as a formidable force that used to move around freely within the northeast, and indeed across the country. You very much know between 2014 -2015 they have reached to Abuja, they reached up to [UNCLEAR], they were in Sokoto, they were in Kano, they were in Kaduna, they were in George, in Bauchi, they had spread virtually across many parts of the country, especially the northern part and the central part of our country. So if you look at it since 2015, we don’t have any major attack outside the northeast, and whole of 2017 there was no single attack outside the northeast.

So within this context you will agree with me that the Boko Haram has been defeated. Now if you go further, to confirm our position, even within the northeast now where we have the [UNCLEAR] bombings and a few isolated attacks on soft targets, these are the Boko Haram, or generally, the terrorist tactics. I mentioned it earlier before in some places that the terrorists are always very resilient, they never give up that easily in terms of their own ideology and their beliefs. A single person can take a place, a target,and with very widespread propaganda as one of their tactics, you believe that the whole of your country probably is affected, but that is not the case.

I’m happy to say that when NAF were in Maiduguri, and if you are in Maiduguri or any part of the northeast that before 2015, you will know the difference and I’m sure those in Maiduguri and other parts of the northeast will tell you, yes, Boko Haram has been defeated, and that is not far from the truth. It is very correct, Boko Haram is restricted within very few isolated areas and they are not in one place per se, but they are always moving from one location to the other, and that’s why we continue to pursue them as they move from one point to the other, we need to pursue them and clear the remnant. We were not in Sambisa Forest [UNCLEAR] but today we are firmly rooted inside the Sambisa Forest.

And along the border areas where we have some cross-border attacks, maybe along the Cameroon-Chad as well as in their territories; our borders,they always cross over to our territory and then attack. These, with the combined effort of all our forces within these countries, we are working together to get them contained appropriately.

The narrative is changed as well as some concerns. The narrative that Boko Haram has been defeated [UNCLEAR] further to ensure that many of those communities [UNCLEAR] that they were moved, uprooted from their ancestral homes, have started moving back to their communities. This is why in Bama, [UNCLEAR] they have started moving, and the movement is still ongoing. We hope very soon all those areas that the people have been displaced will go back to their communities and resettle back, you know, in their homes and restart their lives again.

This is something that we must do [UNCLEAR] it’s not until we wait until we have a situation whereby people have to be forced into those communities. We have to persuade them, we have to apply all the necessary means available to provide the social amenities, we don’t want the villagers to go in there and [UNCLEAR] schools, hospitals, roads, for them to be able to move around and [UNCLEAR] their borders when they [UNCLEAR] at the end.

So [UNCLEAR] still remains, as you see, as impotent organization, is defeated within the Nigerian soil.  When we say defeat, it means it will not be able to hold any ground. The Boko Haram will not be able to move freely as they were doing before. Importantly, our troops are fully deployed across the theatre of operations in the northeast, and I assure you that the majority of the people in the northeast now are quite contented and happy with the security situation, and that is what is expected, that’s what we expect to happen, and that is a major achievement in that regard.

Please do not be carried away by the Boko Haram propaganda. I tell you, a single exercise from there will make the highest number of headlines across our media platforms, but a single success on our troops or even 10 or 20 that we do every day over these Boko Haram terrorists, people don’t tend to even pay attention to that. So please, the narrative is in our minds. If the people choose to be held hostage on the Boko Haram propaganda, then we continue to remain until the presence of this Boko Haram and we continue to submit ourselves to unnecessary stress, which I believe is unnecessary and does not assist for now.

So rest assured, our armed forces, the Nigerian army, is fully on the ground. We have all the components of the armed forces are also doing their part, the security agencies are also doing their part. This year, 2018, the whole Nigerian army is moving to northern Borneo to consolidate and to escort all those people that   left their homes in northern Borneo to move into their homes to resettle, and we’ll be with them for the next four or five months, so be assured in that regard. Thank you [UNCLEAR].

MODERATOR: Thank you. I understand our speakers have a very busy schedule today. I want to thank them for the time they’ve already spent. I know we didn’t get to every question, and you can forward those to the Africa Regional Media Hub and we’ll make every effort to get those answered.

That will conclude today’s call. I’d like to thank, again, U.S. Army Africa Acting Commander General Brigadier General Eugene LeBoeuf and his Nigerian counterpart, Nigeria Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai, for joining us today.  Thank you very much for taking questions, and thank you to our journalists for participating. If you have any additional questions, as I said, you can reach out to the Africa Regional Media Hub at afmediahub@state.gov. Thank you all very much.