Africom commander General William E. “Kip” Ward said recently that the U.S. plans to provide training, advice, and capacity building to the Congolese army. He made the remarks during a visit to Kinshasa, the last leg of a three-nation tour that stopped in Kenya and Rwanda as well.
“To restore the peace and stability that the Congolese people deserve talks to the reason for my being here,” Ward said at the press conference during his visit. “It is how we can conduct our military activities to support the training and to support the increased professionalization of the Congolese armed forces as best we can as they work to bring security and stability here in the Congo.”
Ward met with Congolese Minister of Defense Charles Mwando Nsimba and Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Didier Etumba Longila. He also toured Centre Superieur Militaire, a military school. Under a U.S. State Department program, a seven-man Mobile Training Team instructs Congolese officers in military leadership, preparing plans and orders, military decision-making, and staff functions. The students range in rank from captain to colonel.
This isn’t the first training program conducted for the Congolese army by U.S. personnel. In January, a team of military investigators and lawyers held a collaborative training project on the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes that take place under military jurisdiction. The four-day workshop was organized by MONUC in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Defense Institute of International Legal Studies in Newport, Rhode Island. Forty-two military investigators, prosecutors, and magistrates from the province of Orientale attended. The goal was to better enable the military to stop crimes of sexual violence–many of which are committed by soldiers in the FARDC, the Congolese army itself. Another series of workshops are scheduled for other provinces in May.
Plans are also being made for a major medical exercise, MEDFLAG, to be held with the DRC military next summer, according to Colonel (Doctor) Schuyler Geller, U.S. Africom’s command surgeon who was on the trip with Ward. MEDFLAG will concentrate on medical training and skill-building for DRC military medical personnel.
Such capacity-building missions are a major acitivty of Africom, the U.S. military command established last fall to oversee American military relations with 53 nations in Africa. In recent testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Ward said the U.S. currently has partnerships with 35 of the 53 nations covered by the command on the continent. Among them are U.S. military/training/aid operations in Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Tunisia, and Uganda. It might be noted that these operations are only those publicly acknowledged by Africom—others are undoubtedly below the radar at the moment.
Africom has been particularly active in Rwanda and Uganda. The organization earned a large black eye earlier this year by providing advice and technical support for the Ugandan attack on Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army. That operation turned into a general debacle, resulting in the deaths of about 1000 Congolese civilians and displacement of tens of thousands more.