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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Marine Corps Crisis Response in Africa

Colonel Calvert Worth, Commanding Officer, Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response Africa Unit
New York, NY
March 30, 2016

Date: 03/30/2016 Location: New York, NY Description: Colonel Worth discusses operations and activities in support of AFRICOM and EUCOM areas of operation with journalists at the New York Foreign Press Center. - State Dept Image

10:00 A.M. EST


MODERATOR: All right. So just to start things off, welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center to all of you. We’re very happy to have Colonel Worth here to talk about the U.S. Marine Corps’s crisis response in Africa. So let’s go ahead and get started.

PARTICIPANT: Okay, are we ready to go?

COL WORTH: Almost, almost.

PARTICIPANT: Oh wow, great.

COL WORTH: What I’ve provided for you is just a little information to help generate conversation and provide you with some contextual overview of the force that I recently commanded. And what that’s going to do is hopefully generate conversation once I give you that overview and tell you a little bit about the force itself.

So if that’s okay, I’ll go ahead and proceed and start with the genesis of what we call the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa. It’s a very long name. But in short, it’s a crisis response force that was developed in 2013 in the wake of Benghazi and for the purpose of providing to the geographic combatant commander, General Rodriguez in this case, since 2013 – providing to him, the geographic combatant commander, a force that is capable of providing crisis response and limited contingency support. We also provide some theater security cooperation support as well dependent upon where we’ve been asked to focus by our higher headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

So again, the mission is straightforward. We provide crisis response specifically focused on embassy reinforcement. Embassy reinforcement, again, in the wake of Benghazi, means a responsive force that can get there quickly, respond to supporting the chief of mission, the charge or the ambassador, in whatever way that he or she sees fit or has determined for a crisis. Additionally, we also provide capabilities to the geographic combatant commander with regard to support to tactical recovery of downed aircraft or personnel. If the combatant commander is conducting operations and a pilot goes down someplace in Africa, we can provide a force that is responsive and can self-lift or – we have organic capability. We’ll talk a little bit about that in a later portion of the brief, but we have the ability to then go put a force on the ground and recover personnel or conduct embassy reinforcement. And then, as a third facet of our mission, we have the ability to conduct theater security cooperation.

So the mission is straightforward, and we provide an adaptable and flexible force to do exactly that. Okay?

So where are we positioned and how are we positioned? We are headquartered in Moron, Spain, with roughly 800 Marines and sailors in Moron, Spain. We also have Marines positioned in Sigonella, Italy. And that provides – that force typically provides our theater security cooperation element. And that’s roughly 100 Marines. Actually, it’s 300 Marines, but again, 100 focused on crisis response, and another 200 that provide some theater security cooperation capacity.


QUESTION: Thank you. Can I just – some of these terms are very new to me.

COL WORTH: Certainly.

QUESTION: Could you please tell me what you mean by theater security operations?

COL WORTH: Theater security cooperation.

QUESTION: Cooperation.

COL WORTH: Again, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, under the cognizance of the national security strategy and our foreign policy, will put together and focus efforts at specific countries that help to build capacity, okay. So again, the ambassadors within each one of these countries and our geographic combatant commander, General Rodriguez, will have conversations about what it is we can do in places like Senegal or Ghana or Togo, a number of different places. We’ll, through a campaign plan, develop when, where, and how we can be of assistance to these countries. So theater security cooperation is a broader framework that focuses how we interact with host nations, how we support the ambassadors, and how we as a DOD entity can bring capacity. Whether it be basic military training, whether it be engineering, whether it be medical training, we have a lot of capacity within the force that allows us to do that.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

COL WORTH: Okay? So again, theater security cooperation is another piece that we provide. And that’s broadly our mission, if that makes sense, okay.

Now, again, the force is positioned – forward-positioned in Spain so that it can be responsive. In other words, when we say “forward-positioned,” it means we’re not sitting here in the continental United States; we actually forward-position in Spain so that we’re proximal or in proximity to Northern Africa, Western Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea. And that is the specific area of focus and area of responsibility for the crisis response force, okay. And by forward-positioning in Spain, of course, we’re in – positioned in the European combatant commander’s space, so we have relationships there that we maintain. But again, we maintain our focus on the continent of Africa so that we can be responsive.

Okay. Now, where do we get our mission from? Where do we get our taskings? Again, I talked about the theater security cooperation mission and the campaign plan, the theater campaign plan developed by the geographic combatant commander in concert with the Department of State and the ambassadors and chiefs of mission. General Rodriguez will talk about what each country needs and come up with a plan over time that is focused over time on developing capacity, providing training, ensuring proficiency, and helping to ensure progression in specific countries, if that makes sense. Okay?

And so, again, one of the things that we were able to do while we were out there – we accomplished many things, but we focused on crisis response and support to embassies as the principal mission for the crisis response force. And how do we do that? Part of what we do is train with the Department of State prior to our deployments so that we are well aware of and educated on the concerns for our high-risk, high-threat posts in specific countries. We also train at the Foreign Service Institute to ensure that we have a mutual relationship with Foreign Service officers, consular affairs officers, regional security officers, all of those folks who make up the country teams at specific embassies. And so we spend time before our deployments studying both the countries that we are likely to work in, as determined by the campaign plans and theater security cooperation plans. So we are educated on the countries; we’re educated on the missions and their goals and their focus – the ambassadors’ goals, focus – and of course, we’re focused or we study what it is the host nation seeks to gain or seeks to learn from our experience there and our interaction during specific times in the deployment. Okay?

So that said, do we have any questions right now?

QUESTION: Yeah, I do have a question.

COL WORTH: Okay, please.

QUESTION: In your information, you say a lot about your theater security, but you failed to mention the role of the media. What is the role of the media? Because you said about you having mutual training with – in host nations.


QUESTION: Yeah, but you failed to mention about the role of the media. What are the roles of the media? What will we do to support the operations?

COL WORTH: Certainly. We understand that any time we go forward in today’s context that it will be a joint, combined, interagency affair. We never go anywhere by ourselves at this point in time. We aim to be fully integrated into the goals, ambitions of both the country team and the host nation, and we understand that the media plays a critical role in ensuring the message gets out. There is a lot of negative in the world, but in almost every instance there are positive aspects of our interaction, and there’s mutual benefit to our interaction with any of these countries that we have the opportunity to operate with. And so when that happens, when we have the opportunity to talk to the media, we invite the media to view and participate in coverage of our mil-to-mil activities, our military-to-military training activities. We invite them to come out and participate in telling the stories of our rehearsals.

For instance, in October we participated in – actually it was in late September – we participated in a large training exercise where we went to a forward position, a cooperative security location in the – actually it was in Senegal, okay. And while we were in Senegal, we worked with the embassy in Senegal and then flew in and conducted a rehearsal in the country of Mali, in Bamako, Mali.

Now, that provided a couple of great opportunities for us. One, it further strengthened our relationship with the Senegalese, allowed us to work with the country team and the interagency in Senegal. And then, of course, we flew from Senegal with Ospreys, the V – the MV-22 Osprey aircraft. We flew those actually into Bamako, Mali, which was quite a big deal. And so the media was there in full force covering our interaction at the embassy and the opportunity for us to work with the Malian forces that are also interested in protection of their interests there in Bamako, Mali. Their support and their relationship with America is strong and they were very, very interested in covering the story and providing a view, a regional view of how U.S. forces can build capacity, provide mutual benefit for regional security concerns. And so the media was there and fully involved and covered every aspect of our mission coming from Senegal into Mali, so it was a great evolution. The media is critically important.

QUESTION: I’m wondering how much – I have a couple questions, but just sort of, if I can, a media question: How much of your – since you’re involved with the State Department, which, of course, has a public diplomacy mission along with its other missions which are diplomatic in other ways, I wonder how much of your presence there or even the creation of this has to do with an image that you’re trying to project – partly reassuring the local governments that you really are there, probably showing your muscle, sort of erring on the side of the – not erring on the side, but showing sort of the military face in a way that promotes good public relations or at least visibility rather than abstraction when it comes to hearing about the U.S. military.

COL WORTH: That’s a critical component of why we focus on any particular country, why we’ve been directed. Again, the rotational force that we’re talking about today, the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, receives its direction from Stuttgart, our higher headquarters in Stuttgart. But --

QUESTION: That’s the European Central Command or something?

COL WORTH: Well, it is the Marine – okay, the Marine Forces component headquarters, okay, which means that they are the Marine Corps’s representative in Europe and Africa commanded by General Neil Nelson, and he is the interlocutor to the geographic combatant commander, General Rodriguez, who, again, is focused solely on the African continent and all things on the African continent for DOD, okay?

But again, he then coordinates with the 50-plus countries in Africa to ensure that what he does on the continent is certainly in concert with both the Department of State and the host nations which we support. And the Department of Defense fully understands that in this capacity, we are providing a supporting – we play a supporting role to the ambassadors. We provide services to the ambassador and the chiefs of mission to ensure that they have what they need, and that also means the host nations.

So it is important to have a DOD face, but we understand that we’re playing a supporting role. We’re there to provide capacity. This isn’t – these aren’t named operations. These operations are in support of the Department of State, and the Department of State is in the lead in most of these instances where the Special Purpose MAGTF is playing a role.

QUESTION: Yes, but I mean, it is the military – I mean, it is the United States Marines, so --

COL WORTH: Absolutely.

QUESTION: I mean, I wonder how analogous it might be to the presence, for example, in domestic law enforcement where there’s always – the Posse Comitatus and there’s always, like, sort of a – kind of a firewall, but it’s always a moving thing in these days between the police and local law enforcement and the military, where you don’t want the military involved because the police are the ones who really interface with the community. It’s sort of interesting, the sort of hybrid role, but sort of – kind of balancing more on the side of the military between the support function that you have at the State Department, the diplomatic function, the – I guess the public relations aspect – I don’t mean to diminish it – and the military side of things. I mean --

COL WORTH: I think certainly we intend to – again, in concert with the State Department – remain soundly within the military realm and not cross the line into local state policing.

QUESTION: No, but thinking of, like, the State Department as a diplomatic function. Like, why don’t they just (inaudible) the State Department police, for example, to protect the embassies?

COL WORTH: Well, it’s capacity. One of the things that we bring to bear on the continent is capacity. Under the command of the Special Purpose MAGTF, I have 1,800-plus Marines and sailors. The State Department – which is half as big, I believe, as the State Department is. The State Department doesn’t have a lot of actual capacity to do things. We can bring and operate in, for instance, 17 different countries on a single day as just an example of the type of reach and capacity the force has. And that isn’t an exaggeration that on one single day, I was able to conduct a conference call from Senegal, talked to folks in Mali, had folks in Italy, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria. We have great capacity that can be of assistance to the ambassadors. That’s why we are of value to the geographic combatant commander.




PARTICIPANT: I’m sure you probably realize that the Marine Corps has a unique relationship with the State Department in that Marines guard all the U.S. embassies overseas.

QUESTION: I didn’t know that.

PARTICIPANT: So there’s always – there’s a Marine house at every embassy and Marines guard U.S. embassies.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, thanks.

COL WORTH: And so in that regard, when you talk about who we operate and what the optic is when we come to a particular country, the Marine Corps, as a crisis response force now, links up with a country team and a host nation who already have a relationship with the Marine Security Guard Detachment. We have the capacity to augment that Marine Security Guard Detachment inside the embassy. So the regional security officers already have a relationship with the Marines. We can leverage that when we show up to be of benefit to the countries in which we operate. They’re familiar with the Marines. When we show up and I provide an embassy reinforcement unit to the embassy, they work for the regional security officer. They become part of that apparatus, and I provide to them a capability then that is governed by the ambassador’s concerns. I mean, we’ll provide them and certainly advise him on the best employment of that force, but we, again, won’t do anything that detracts from the longstanding relationship and the ability to continue to build capacity, ferment good relations, things of that nature within the host nation. So I don’t come with the Ospreys and the force and take over. I plug into what it is the chief of mission and certainly the host nation needs from us in order to move beyond the period of crisis and get back to a period where we can remove the force and get back to normalcy, if that makes sense.


QUESTION: And presumably, there’s coordination between the commanders that you’re describing and the State Department. I mean, is there some kind of overriding supervision of them? Like, how do these decisions get made?

COL WORTH: Again, based upon the theater’s critical operation plans, that’s one aspect of it. The geographic combatant commander maintains an enduring relationship with the chiefs of mission. And also at the component level in Stuttgart, my immediate headquarters, they have country teams that are focused regionally on maintaining warm relationships with all of these countries.

Prior to our deployment, like I stated, we trained with the foreign – at the Foreign Service Institute, and we ensure that we’re familiar with the concerns and where the relationships are both diplomatically and then again militarily so that we can continue to maintain a progression along a continuity for training when we’re asked to provide training teams. So there’s – it’s multifaceted, but the Department of State has primacy. That is where we receive our direction.


COL WORTH: Please.

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to – I have a couple of questions for you.

COL WORTH: Certainly.

QUESTION: Do you really know the territory in Africa – sub-Saharan Africa? Are you really cognizant with the territory in sub-Saharan Africa, like Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana? I think you also mention – you said you’re bringing capacity, and then you said they’re linked with the home security in case there’s crisis there. You – do you – are you aware of the security operations in West Africa at all?

COL WORTH: Yes, of course, we’re aware. And I’ll need to ask you to be a little bit more specific. Security operations is a very, very broad umbrella.

QUESTION: Yeah, because the security operations in West Africa is not like that in the United States. And then you need to engage the civil society, especially the media. That’s why I asked you a question. What will be the role of the media in case there is crisis? Because the media can coordinate well with the civil society. Recently there was a terrorist attack in Cote d’Ivoire.


QUESTION: And then the media can really go down and then work with the security forces. So I would just like you to also involve the media in any of your operations. Would you bring us access?

COL WORTH: Okay. I think I understand what it is you’re saying. Now, it’s a rotational force headquartered in Moron, Spain. We are aware of and defer to the embassy to maintain that relationship that I think you’re talking about on an enduring basis, on a day-to-day basis how involved is the media with the country team, and are they fully nested with regard to their objectives and telling the story from multiple angles. That is not necessarily something that I would be able to, as a task force commander, be able to direct or change. But I am aware of the media. I am aware that what we do will be covered intimately when we arrive.

So our Marines and sailors fully expect that the media will be there, and that is something that we’ve certainly learned over the last 10 to 15 years. I’ve gone to Iraq, I’ve been in Afghanistan, I’ve executed this mission, and I haven’t done any of these missions without media being side by side with us almost through all phases. Regardless of how dangerous those phases might be, the media is going to be there and they play an extremely important role in ensuring the story is told. And there’s goodness in that, and that is my personal opinion, that there’s always goodness in making sure the media is there to tell the story.

MODERATOR: The embassy public affairs officer works directly with the Marines and with other defense personnel that he mentioned on country team. Country team is the heads of the agencies in a country that usually work at the embassy.

COL WORTH: Thank you.

MODERATOR: So the media is always --

COL WORTH: With – yeah.

MODERATOR: -- always receives information about things that are happening within the country.

QUESTION: May I ask a --

COL WORTH: Please.

QUESTION: Strategically – oh.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead. Oh, yeah. It’s okay, yeah.

QUESTION: I don’t mean to horn in, but – strategically speaking, what is similar and what is different about a mission such as yours in Africa as opposed to another continent? I mean, is there something specific about the challenges that Africa per se holds other than the specific drama of the crises that they’ve got?

COL WORTH: Well, there’s – I’ll answer that in two ways. What is different about our MAGTF --


COL WORTH: Marine Air-Ground Task Force. And so the acronym is MAGTF. And we say – you’ll hear us refer to that. The Marines – the Marine Corps has a lot of these scalable – this means that we can build larger or smaller organizations that consist of a MAGTF. I’ll give you MAGTF-101. It consists always of a command element, an air combat element, a ground combat element, and then a logistics combat element, okay?

It just means that we have the capability to command and control. We can move our forces. In this, we can provide organic airlift – Ospreys and V-22 aircraft supported by KC-130J fuel tankers, which means that from Moron, Spain, I can get to the Gulf of Guinea within hours, right? It’s still going to take a half a day to a day, but I can put something – I can respond to crises organically because the geographic combatant commander, in concert with the chief of mission, says, “We need a force, we need support.” And so that MAGTF is a self-contained, self-deploying unit that can respond effectively to crises. That’s what’s a little bit different about this force than others.

Our specific focus on Africa means that we are equipped to now deal with the great distances. Africa is a vast continent, and the tyranny of distance is real. So working with the ambassadors, working with the country teams, we also sensitize them to what it is we need in order to be most responsive. In other words, early warning – if you think something bad is going to happen in the Central African Republic, then I don’t want to be in Moron, Spain when things really go bad. We have a relationship with our embassies now. That means that they trust and understand what it is we provide and what we can bring, and they’ll ask us to forward position our forces to someplace like Dakar, Senegal or Libreville, Gabon so that we can be within a couple hours of supporting the embassy and working with the host nation rather than a day away in Moron, Spain, okay?

And so that’s critical in terms of what it is we do. And so that’s what is different. Our focus on Africa means that we fully understand the distances, we understand the – some of the fragility that exists within the countries in Africa, and because we have a relationship with the embassy, we’ll understand how not to be clumsy when we respond and how to be very, very focused and fully nest into the efforts of the country team and work with the Department of State and continuing efforts in progress in these countries.


QUESTION: I have a question.

COL WORTH: Please.

QUESTION: Okay. I know I came in, so I will just introduce myself. I am Kemi Osukoya. I’m the editor-in-chief for the Africa Bazaar Magazine.


QUESTION: It’s a business luxury publication, but we also cover – especially we – in terms of business, there’s a lot going on right now in Nigeria, in Cote d’Ivoire, all over Africa in terms of terrorism activities, and a lot of businesses are very concerned about that. And it’s affecting investment also on the continent.

So that’s just an introduction about – my question is in terms of – like in the past couple of months since November, we’ve had terrorism activity in Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, in Nigeria – ongoing Nigeria. In terms of preparedness, well, I don’t know if you talk about this before I came in. You talk about your response is this, and I know in the past couple of weeks the Defense Department have been working actively with African country. But in terms of – can you elaborate more on what you – where you – where are your units coming?

COL WORTH: Yeah, and I think what you’re asking specifically is, when we say crisis response – crisis from the perspective of Cote d’Ivoire or Nigeria --


COL WORTH: -- is broader than – or Mali, okay – is broader than just the protection of U.S. personnel or facilities.


COL WORTH: That is what this force has been designed to do specifically.


COL WORTH: Now, we will always be prepared to respond to whatever the geographic combatant commander, General Rodriguez, asked us to do. But the force is designed specifically for the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities in concert with the host nation and under the direction of the ambassador, chief of mission. So broader crisis response, I think as you’re alluding to – counterterrorism, forces, things of that nature – that isn’t what we’re designed to do.

QUESTION: What you – okay.

COL WORTH: Now, we have great capacity, but that isn’t one of the tasks we’ve been given at this point in time.


COL WORTH: Crisis response as it pertains to embassy reinforcement --


COL WORTH: -- disaster relief – Liberia in 2014 --

QUESTION: Oh, with the Ebola? Okay.

COL WORTH: This force provided its aircraft and marines and sailors in support of the Liberia/Sierra Leone crisis, the Ebola crisis down there. And so we can do things like that. But counter-terror, more broadly, is not part of our mandate at this time.




COL WORTH: And I think that’s what you were asking about.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

COL WORTH: Okay, certainly.

QUESTION: How much did the experience in Benghazi affect the culture of the force that’s – I mean, how much is it a part of the way you look at things and sort of the overall context for what you want to do?

COL WORTH: I will say as a commander you think about Benghazi and being responsive to the needs of the ambassador, the chief of mission. You think about it all the time. Are we in position, are we in proximity – close enough proximity to effectively respond to crisis? So it is certainly a concern for a commander, but that is why we continually work to develop and maintain our relationships with both the embassies, the country teams, and the host nations, so that we can always be in proximity to, always have access – when we go to places like Senegal or we go to Ghana or we go to Libreville, we want to make sure that we continually maintain and nurture the relationship – the good relationships that we have with those countries that are in proximity to crisis areas.

And so Benghazi is, again, part of the reason the force was designed: to provide the geographic combatant commander with a responsive force. So it’s always on our mind. It’s on the commander’s mind all the time. But our ability to respond is multifaceted. It’s contingent upon many, many different things – principally, having a good relationship with the countries that – from which we were likely to operate. We need to make sure that we’re doing it, and we need to make sure that we continually work to ensure that those relationships are mutually beneficial.

QUESTION: And in terms of – I mean, this just – I wasn’t prepared, but just listening to what you just said – in terms of what happened in Libya, for example, were you guys involved with Libya a couple of years ago with the embassy, the attack on Libya – were you guys involved in responding to that?

COL WORTH: Well, the – I’m not sure exactly what you’re talking about. I’ll be specific. The Crisis Response Task Force was involved in supporting the evacuation of and the movement of personnel from the embassy in 2014, okay? And so that’s exactly what the force does.


COL WORTH: We can put Marines on the ground in and around the embassy, or we can put Marines in the air to support a ground movement of the personnel, and that’s what was done in 2014. So whatever the ambassador decides he wants – he or she wants to do, then we are prepared to do that. If they just simply want us to provide Marines in the air and Ospreys that can watch the ground movement, then that’s what we’ll do. But yes, the force was --

QUESTION: Was involved in it.

COL WORTH: -- was involved, absolutely.


QUESTION: It’s so unusual that you would take the orders directly from ambassadors. Isn’t that sort of a lateral thing in terms of the chain of command, et cetera?

COL WORTH: Again, the Marines have had relationships with the embassies for years and years and years, so it isn’t necessarily odd. We understand that sometimes we are supporting and sometimes we are supported. In Afghanistan, we worked again with Foreign Service officers and the Department of State. They had folks on the ground with us, but those operations were named operations and we were in the lead and State Department supported. This is not anything that we’re unprepared to do. We understand that we provide a service, we provide a supporting and play a supporting role when we respond to crisis at an embassy. And there’s a way to respond to crisis.


MODERATOR: I was just going to say the ambassador is always considered the President’s representative in any given country, so the ambassador is always involved because the ambassador represents the President.

QUESTION: Interesting, okay. I didn’t have the specifics of how that works.

COL WORTH: So following orders is easy, especially in that context. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Right, good. Thank you for clarifying.


QUESTION: Yeah, really – I really understand your motive now. I really understand the modus of operation. How I thought it was like countering terrorism, basically – I found out that you are trying to protect the image of the ambassador in a country, but you are --

COL WORTH: Well, you said “protect the image of the ambassador,” and --

QUESTION: And as well as crisis – when crisis develop because --

COL WORTH: So – not so much protect the image of --


COL WORTH: -- but certainly, the ambassador is there to maintain good relationships with the heads of state and their particular countries. So we’re not there to protect the image. We are there to ensure that if a crisis breaks out, that we can help to protect the personnel, the facilities, and U.S. interest as it pertains to both the ambassador and the host nation. The host nation’s almost always concerned about the relationship.

And so as much as we can, we want to enter without doing additional damage or further creating or adding to chaos. And so there’s a way to do that, and that is not a – that is typically not a military solution; that is a diplomatic solution. We want to make sure that when we go, we go in a way that, like I said, doesn’t add to the chaos, but can assure that we protect U.S. personnel and facilities so that we don’t have a second occurrence of a Benghazi. But we’re going to do that and pay attention particularly to what the ambassador and his host nation counterparts are concerned with. We don’t want Marines just running around in town. And we’ll provide the type of security in a way that the ambassador sees fit. And then I’ll advise him as a commander on how we can best do that so that we can actually accomplish the mission.

And so, again, his image? Not so much. The relationship on behalf of the United States? Yes, we’re interested in doing that the right way.

QUESTION: As to – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: No, I wish you success. You have a very big task, or you have about 56 countries; it’s a very big task.

COL WORTH: Well, we don’t – within the brief there, we have a slide that shows you that we’re really focused on Northern Africa, Western Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea. We go as far east – we don’t – we’re not concerned with the Horn of Africa --


COL WORTH: -- unless the – unless, of course, the geographic combatant commander tells me that I’m concerned about that and changes the mission. But we are focused typically on and we study in preparation for deployment Western Africa – well, Northern Africa, Western Africa, the Gulf of Guinea. And we go as far east as Uganda. We conduct training in Uganda.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Could you possibly explain what the geographic combatant commander is and --


QUESTION: -- and what he does?

QUESTION: Can I quickly, if you don’t mind, on what the – why you said you only focus on North Africa, West Africa and the gulf. Why that particular area?

COL WORTH: We have other forces underneath the geographic combatant commander that are focused with Eastern Africa and Southern Africa.

QUESTION: Okay. What – I guess what I’m trying to understand is why the different --

COL WORTH: Because of operational – what we’d describe as operational reach. I can only go so far, I can only command and control so much --


COL WORTH: -- with the 1,800 folks. I can only reach so far and focus on so much on the continent of Africa. So we have other forces that do – that perform the same function that focus on Eastern Africa and Southern Africa, okay? So, again, this gets back to the conversation about the geographic combatant commander, our four-star general, General Rodriguez, who has command and control of all U.S. military forces and DOD – Department of Defense – interests on the continent of Africa. So he will govern how U.S. personnel and when U.S. personnel, in response to a directive from the President or a request from an ambassador or chief of mission – General Rodriguez, the combatant commander, will govern and dictate and direct the efforts of military forces on the continent, if that makes sense.


COL WORTH: And again, we have a combatant commander for AFRICOM, Africa and countries related to Africa; Central Command; European Command – Central Command being Central Asia, Southwest Asia – and of course, Pacific Command, the Pacific Southeast Asia region. So General Rodriguez, the combatant commander, he’s the one who will determine how military forces are applied to problems and how they respond to crisis on the African continent, if that makes sense.


COL WORTH: Okay? All right.

QUESTION: Thank you. Sorry --

COL WORTH: No, no, no.

QUESTION: He asked the question.

PARTICIPANT: Oh, no, no, I’m not asking the question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So you know what a commander does and what he’s responsible for?

PARTICIPANT: Oh, no, no, he – the colonel explained.

COL WORTH: That’s right. He wanted me to talk a little bit about what General Rodriguez, as the geographic combatant commander – what he does and why he focuses this particular force only on the north, the west and the Gulf of Guinea. It is because I only have so many Marines and so many aircraft, and I can only go so far. That answer your question?

QUESTION: Yeah, it does. I guess one other thing. Have you noticed any – well, when you do respond and when you are called upon, have you noticed – North Africa – I mean, from covering the continent, like, there are very – North Africa, West Africa are two different area. Have you noticed any major challenges? I think we talked a little bit about that. It touches that (inaudible).

COL WORTH: Because of the numerous countries in Africa, you certainly have different levels of capability and capacity. Some of the countries are more challenged. Some of the countries have only been under democratic rule or have been challenged by democratic rule or autocratic rule in some cases. They’re just emerging from their own crises, their own internal crises. So therefore, they also have challenges with how developed their militaries are. They have problems with maintaining proficiency or keeping folks in the military, and then the progression of training.

So the challenges for us – and we’re assisted in this by our higher headquarters and General Rodriguez’s forces – the challenge for us is when we go and train, is making sure that there – that we’re building on previous training. So we provided basic training in the fall of 2015, and the next rotational force, when they go back to someplace like Ghana or Togo or Senegal, will it be the same force that is now ready for intermediate training or advanced training? Or will that – those elements, have they been broken apart and reorganized so that they can’t make steady progress? You understand?


COL WORTH: So that continuity of training, that progression is something that we try to pay attention to, but that’s why we have a campaign plan and we have very, very focused efforts over time with the intent of providing – building capacity, providing progressive training, and hopefully, ultimately, legitimacy for that military force so that they become not just basically trained but they become very, very good at what it is they’re supposed to provide.

QUESTION: Proficient.

COL WORTH: Proficient, efficient, and capable, and useful to the government, and they’re there for the support of the government and the people – the people, again. So --

QUESTION: Have you ever met resistance from any of the governments when you do go in?

COL WORTH: Not in my personal experience. Again, we would be there at the request of the embassy in the host nation, so any of that friction would probably be resolved prior to us arriving.


COL WORTH: Unless it’s arriving in crisis. If it’s in crisis, then, again, our focus is on the protection of U.S. personnel, facilities, and at the request of the ambassador, and they’ll – he’ll – he or she will help define what it is we’re dealing with. The government may have broken apart. There may have been a coup d’etat and the government has suddenly changed, and they may not be friendly to the U.S. and may want the U.S. personnel to leave. That is when an ambassador may call us. And so they – that is where we will get our direction from and that’s where we’ll find out what the current situation is. Although we’ll be watching, the country team will know better than anyone else what the situation in that country is, right?

QUESTION: Yeah. I guess my other question, you touched upon it a little bit. Like, in terms of crisis when you’re called upon again, and you have – you have an African – in terms of coup, for example, where an African president or vice president or there might be a contested election where they now stay at the American embassy. How do you, I guess, go about making sure you are protecting American interests but at the same time you’re also --

COL WORTH: We continue to rely up on the ambassador and the chief of mission for that direction. One of the things as a military force offered to the ambassador for the purposes of security or protection or evacuation, we’ll always defer to the ambassador to develop those relationships. I personally as the commanding officer of this small military force won’t have much to do with the political relationships. That is well outside the scope of what it is I provide.

QUESTION: Yeah, I do – I understand you don’t – I guess what I’m trying to understand is when you do go in, does that present additional challenge for your operation, when you know you have to protect the American interest, American embassy, and then you – on top you also have to look out for, perhaps, like, the president that is being ousted or staying at the American embassy?

COL WORTH: Those particular aspects of the mission, if that happens, we again will receive direction from our higher headquarters – who to protect, how are we providing protection. We’re a supporting force. So we’ll receive our direction from higher. That isn’t something that I will autonomously decide that I don’t agree with the policy. Those are policy decisions, okay, and we don’t make policy decisions. I will be aware of that, will understand that that can frustrate the crisis, and it could add a level of fragility to the crisis that may make things more dangerous for us in the execution of our mission.


COL WORTH: So I’ll be aware of it, but that is the extent of what I will do. And the policy decision --

QUESTION: No, no. I mean, like, it’s not like – you just talk about, I guess you just gave me a response to what I was asking. It’s not the policy aspect of it. It’s more about what are those challenges, for example, like --

COL WORTH: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- do – I mean, it does happen or it doesn’t happen often? I know like a couple of years ago Cote d’Ivoire, it happened in Cote d’Ivoire. It has also happened in Burkina Faso. So during those period when you have a political person at – seeking protection at the American embassy, I’m just assuming, like, that will present another challenge for you. Because yeah, you’re looking out for American interests --

COL WORTH: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- and at the same time, like, you have to protect.

COL WORTH: That’s where we look to the embassy to help us with understanding the context, which is really what you’re talking about.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

COL WORTH: I’ll understand that it adds a layer of complexity.

QUESTION: Yeah. My Marines, when they go in, will understand that we’re in a very tenuous circumstance. They’ll understand that we have the ousted leader inside the embassy walls, and therefore, things could get – become more chaotic. Folks may shoot at us. But we will provide rules of engagement, and we’ll provide the direction that the Marines and sailors need so that they can be responsive, and responsive in a way that takes into consideration that we do not want to create more chaos. And so they can – they have great capacity for restraint, and the rules of engagement are how we govern that.

So they’ll understand it’s going to be complicated. They’ll understand that they could have riots, chaos, folks shooting at us, folks very angry at us as we end up in between the ousted president and the population outside. The Marines will have an understanding of that. They’ll be prepared to form that role. But again, if we have a great relationship, hopefully we have somebody on the ground that can also serve as an intermediary or interlocutor with the host nation forces. Even if it’s a – whoever the military leader was who ousted the last president, the RSO, the regional security officer, likely has someone that they can talk to. We’ll look to the regional security officer to help us understand the environment and how to make sure that we defuse and de-escalate situations rather than escalate because we don’t understand what the circumstances are. That is all part of the preparation, the training that we do prior to putting a force on the ground in Africa.


COL WORTH: And we’ve become much, much better at that over the years, spent a lot of time doing that.

QUESTION: So you maintain an ongoing relationship with the military of the host country?

COL WORTH: The answer is yes, but it’s indirectly.


COL WORTH: Again, my force in Moron, Spain relies heavily upon the offices of security cooperation, which reside within the country teams and the embassies. The embassy has the capacity to maintain those relationships. We come down and do things like theater security cooperation at the request of the embassies so that we do have a relationship. Broadly speaking, the U.S. military will have a relationship because the ambassador and the chief of mission and the Offices of Security Cooperation ensure that we are always working together. So maybe even in the circumstance of a coup d’etat, we may know the leader on the other side who has decided to oust a president. We may not – that doesn’t mean support, but we will probably be aware of who these leaders are and what their backgrounds are and whether or not we’ve worked with them in the past. And that might, again, in the policy realm, provide inroads and things of that nature because we do have somewhat of a relationship. My force will go on the ground, will understand what those relationships are so, again, we don’t contribute to more chaos.


COL WORTH: And we go in with a full understanding, full awareness of who we’re dealing with on the ground. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

COL WORTH: You’re very welcome.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Colonel Worth.

COL WORTH: You’re very welcome.

MODERATOR: We do have a couple of one-on-ones that we want to do. So I think it’s good to end the roundtable now. Thank you both for coming.

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