US commander advises government on declaring Somalia a no-fly zone

Sunday July 31 2011

Gen. Ham (R) talks to the reporter in Germany.

COMMANDER: Gen. Ham (R) talks to the reporter in Germany. 

President Museveni has proposed a no-fly zone over Somalia to limit the inflow of weapons into that country. How come the USA was quick to respond to a no-fly zone in Libya but has ignored a similar call over Somalia.
The situation in Somalia and indeed across the region is especially very critical right now because of the drought which is causing a very difficult humanitarian crisis. Someone described this as ‘the worse humanitarian crisis on the planet today’ with at least 11 million people affected by the drought.

There is a need for the delivery of humanitarian assistance in all its forms, food, shelter, medical supply etc. And it’s good to see UN, AU and others coming across the board. For the USA government side, we have contributed financially to the number of organisations that can deliver humanitarian assistance and, I think, that is probably the right approach.

With regard to the establishment of a no-fly zone over Somalia, my personal view is that there could be some utility in having such an effort but I note two particular concerns; first, to me it should be addressed by the African Union and UN and I believe President Museveni is trying to have those kinds of discussion with AU and UN, that is the appropriate way to do that.
If there is an agreement by the UN and AU to support such an activity, I am confident that the international community will support it. That does not necessarily mean that the US need to be engaged in that activity, others have the capability to do that. But we should also be realistic; no fly-zone can have some effects but does not completely stop the war and can be very expensive, especially in an area as large as Somalia. There is a lot to be done and in my view that big work has to be done by the AU and the UN.

Some people have argued that US’s strategy on Somalia has so far been counterproductive. That while the UPDF and Burundi forces have been scoring military gains, there has been no any political progress because of serious contradictions within the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the complex Clan-based leadership system in Somalia. Do you think it’s time for a new strategy that would accommodate moderate Islamists and set a stage for peace talks to end the war?
It’s clear that the TFG is not yet a strong government but they are a government and I don’t think that there is much of an alternative to the TFG. I believe it’s in the best interest of all in the international community to do whatever is possible to make the TFG become effective and exercise its role in the leadership of the Somali people.

Ultimately, it should be the decision of the Somali people to decide what form of government they should have. Al-shabaab wants to impose their form of governance on the Somali people. The TFG position is that the people of Somalia should decide how they should be governed. To be clear, this is going to be a difficult struggle. I don’t think it’s the role of the USA to dictate what kind of government should be in Somalia but I think the international community has spoken clearly that it should be a government decided by the Somali people.

We have a meaningful relationship with the TFG and with local authorities in Puntaland and Somaliland. There is a sense, particularly in the USA that the whole of Somalia is in trouble but we in the AFRICOM know that that is not the case. The turmoil is in those areas where governance is not strong and where Al-shabaab has been able to exert their influence and take over the government.


Recently the US offered drone assistance to UPDF and Burundi military to use against Al-shabaab. These drones are infamous for killing civilians in Afghanistan. Are you not putting innocent lives in Somalia at risk?
It should be very clear. What the US Congress approved was a package of small hand-held, remotely operated system for tactical use. They will not be operated by us; they will be operated by Ugandan forces. These are not armed systems. They have small cameras and they are able to see places where soldiers cannot go. It’s a very useful system but it will not be operated by us. We will provide training to Ugandan military to operate them in Somalia.

After the passage of counter LRA legislation by the US Congress, the US has been helping UPDF with intelligence information regarding the whereabouts of Joseph Kony. How far have you gone with the hunt for Kony?
It’s not going as well as we hope it should be. There are some small successes but there are also some setbacks. So we have a lot of work yet to do in this regard. As you know, this is a hunt for one man with a small number of his followers in a very extensive geographic area. So it’s kind of tough.

It requires very precise information which can be provided by people from his area of operation or from his camp. Ugandans, the Congolese and others may be able to capture him, though the process may be longer than we may want. The US is committed to this because of the horrific atrocities Kony and his groups have committed.

I am encouraged by the commitment of Uganda and Congo to end this. The US role is to be supportive to the three primary countries involved in this and will facilitate the sharing of information by the parties. The USA will not have a leading role on the ground. Uganda, DRC, CAR and South Sudan have recognised that USA will support them to do this.
We have been training a battalion in Eastern Congo for this. It’s a very important mission for us. But we see the US doing a supporting role than a leading role. In my personal view, Kony cannot be brought to justice faster enough.
If anybody had a doubt that there is a real evil in our world, all they have to do is to look at what Joseph Kony has done and they will find out that evil exists in the name of Joseph Kony. The most important thing is that Kony has to be stopped. The preferred way to do this is to capture him and bring him to justice. There are those who would say that he should be killed. In my view he should be captured and be brought to justice but, if in the pursuit of that he is killed, I am not one who would shed many tears.

What is the AFRICOM doing to change the altitude of African leaders who run their military like personal ventures?
One of the principles under which AFRICOM operates is that we would like to help African nations to develop armed forces that are not only capable and competent but that are also subordinate to legitimate civilian control. That’s the army that see themselves and are seen by people as servant of the nations. We see that in many places in Africa but not all.
In some places there is almost the sense of privileges in some armed people. They use their power of being in the military to oppress the people other than operating in support of the people. These are the things we hope to encourage throughout our interaction with these armed forces across the continent.

Many do adopt these values and abide by them but I would say the most powerful example and the most powerful influence cannot be provided by the US Military but by African militaries and the insistence of the African people themselves that their military conduct itself through the rule of law and see themselves as the protectors of the people.
The US is very proud to support the AU mission in Somalia, especially Uganda and Burundi troops who are operating inside Somalia to provide stability and security, and protect the Somali people against this extremist group who are operating in Somalia.

As you know, we have been providing training and assistance for a few years now to Uganda and Burundian troops who are deployed in Mogadishu. Recently our Congress in US approved funding to continue that programme and to add on some capabilities which previously have not been in existence.
Without getting into lots of details, the significant change has been the provision of small unmanned aerial systems which we think will be significant to Ugandans and Burundi troops. We are glad to partner with Uganda and Burundi in what we believe is a significant AU mission in Somalia.

The Uganda Human Right Commission, a government Human right watchdog and the Human Rights Watch have constantly released reports which put Ugandan military among the top human rights abusers. And this is the same institution that US military has been giving huge assistance, isn’t this a contradiction of US values?
I don’t think that it’s a contradiction, what we see in Ugandan military are forces that are capable and competent and are increasingly becoming so through their experience in peace mission in Somalia and against Kony. I would agree with those who say that the Ugandan military, particularly in the junior ranks has some areas where they can improve, especially in support of the rule of law and in support of Ugandan people. There is a lot to be done in that area. It’s always a bit of a balance for us.

Even in the US military, we occasionally have people who violate the rule of law. Who perform terrible crimes, this happens inside any large organisation. But that is not to say that the whole organisation condones such activities. But I think the UPDF leadership under Gen. Aronda [Nyakairima], is moving in the correct direction to try to modify the behaviours of the soldiers of UPDF in such a way that they are truly servants of the people. But there is still a lot to be done.

During the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the military allowed protests to take place while in Uganda; the military was deployed in full scare to quell peaceful protestors. As AFRICOM, are you not concerned that in Uganda the military is being used against the people who are legitimately demanding for their rights?
I think that in Tunisia and Egypt, the fact that their military had had long engagements with the US and militaries in other countries contributed to how they behaved. In Egypt and Tunisia, most of them found a right balance. It’s a very difficult thing because the military purpose should be to defend the nation, to ensure stability and security.
In Tunisia and Egypt to a small degree there was a small group of people who wanted to turn protests into violent demonstrations but in both cases, the security forces were able to deal with those small violent demonstrations while simultaneously allowing peaceful protests to take place.

It’s the most difficult balance for security forces; be the military or the police. It’s a very fine line and a difficult thing that we ask our brothers in the military to do. One thing that we do in the US military is that we give them a variety of training and options so that the security forces have options other than do nothing or shoot.

If you do nothing, then the violent demonstrations can take over, if you shoot too quickly, then what started as a peaceful demonstration can turn violent. So training in crowd control and use of non-lethal weapons should be the best methods. In Egypt and Tunisia, I think for the most part, as a distance observer, the military responded with the right balance. It’s a good example for Ugandan military to learn how to respond to such situations.

After the July 11 bomb attacks in Uganda, the US sent its intelligence officers to help Uganda security agencies with the investigations but up to now FBI is yet to release its finding as regards who masterminded the bombing. Most Ugandans have been eagerly waiting for the FBI report. When should we expect this report?
I don’t think it’s for us to say. This is an attack that was conducted by the Al-shabaab against Uganda. We were asked for some support. We have some officials who are good at this type of efforts. To me, I think that it will be inappropriate to say what happened inside Uganda.

It’s one of the extreme that the Al-shabaab would go to influence those whose decisions they don’t like. They came to attack innocent people in Uganda. It’s a lesson for us in the international community that we cannot allow the Al-shabaab become a ruling force in Somalia because if that was the case, more and more of this type of attack would occur.

Recently South Sudan became the world’s newest state, what has been the level of engagement between US and South Sudan, especially given the fact that it’s still having border dispute with the north?
I had a great opportunity to attend the independent ceremony in Juba. It was wonderful. It was an absolutely joyous ceremony. Speeches were too long but it was wonderful and to see many South Sudan residents estimated to be 100,000 attending the ceremony.

It was really a magical moment for me to be there at the birth of a nation. But I will tell you I had an opportunity to meet with the Commander of South Sudanese Army. I joked with him that this is a great ceremony but now the real work begins. I think the South Sudanese people from President [Salva] Kiir understand that this is the case. They recognise that there is a tremendous amount of work that is now required. And it will require the priority of international community and especially of the South Sudan neighbours, one of which is Uganda.

I believe Uganda has been very supportive of South Sudan and will remain so. I received that confidence from many government officials in Kampala during my visit. But, we should not estimate the challenge, it’s a new country, they have to form all the institutions of governance and this will not be an easy task to be accomplished in the next years. As you are aware, the infrastructure in South Sudan is not developed. There are no good roads, airports, power and water. All these require attention.

There is no adequate security, especially the police and the military. Most of our engagements will be with SPLM to help them build the institution of defence. The Ethiopians have already been giving them training. We will work with the SPLM leadership to find ways for the areas of common interest in which the United States African Command can be able to assist them.