Digital Press Briefing on African Lion 22 (Transcript)

Transcript of the Africa Regional Media Hub digital press briefing with Major General Andrew M. Rohling, Commander of U.S. Army Southern European Task Force. Major General Rohling discussed African Lion 22, U.S. Africa Command’s largest and premier annual exercise involving more than 7,500 service members.



By Africa Regional Media Hub SETAF-Africa Vicenza, Italy Jun 29, 2022

SUMMARY

Digital press briefing with Major General Andrew M. Rohling, Commander of U.S. Army Southern European Task Force.  Major General Rohling discussed African Lion 22, U.S. Africa Command’s largest and premier annual exercise involving more than 7,500 service members.  African Lion 22 took place in four countries this year:  Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, and Tunisia.  Militaries from Brazil, Chad, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom joined the U.S. and host nation troops.  


Moderator:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Major General Andrew M. Rohling, Commander of U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa.  He is speaking to us from Morocco.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Major General Rohling, then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have allotted.  

If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use #AFHubPress and follow us on Twitter @AfricaMediaHub.

As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Major General Rohling for his opening remarks.

Major General Rohling:  Thank you, Marissa, and it’s great to see you again and everyone on the net as well.  Well, welcome to African Lion 2022 – 18 years of African Lion, some bigger, some smaller.  Frankly, this year, African Lion 22 is the largest exercise that we’ve done so far on the continent and it represents a strategic commitment to African regional stability by the United States and our partners. 

African Lion 22 is a multinational, multidomain, large-scale global exercise.  It involves across four host nations: Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Senegal, with 10 allied and partner nations.  African Lion 22 provides realistic, dynamic, collaborative readiness training in an austere environment along the intersection of two continents and multiple international boundaries and maritime trading routes.

This year, African Lion 22 has been providing opportunities for over 7,000 U.S. and partner forces.  African Lion provides training opportunities for – I’m sorry, African Lion provides shoulder-to-shoulder training opportunities with U.S. forces to achieve a multinational, long-term readiness and interoperability objectives for both the United States and its partners.  

I believe that through African Lion, we are stronger together.  Thanks for joining us today, and I am prepared for your questions.

Moderator:  Thank you, Major General Rohling.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: African Lion 22. 

Our first question will to go a question sent in to us by Mr. Julian Pecquet of The Africa Report.  His question is:  “Africa has seen a raft of coups and growing Russian military presence since African Lion 21.  How does this year’s exercise deal with this new reality, and what is the U.S. military doing to counter these trends?”

Major General Rohling:  Well, thank you, Julian.  The United States, we invest where our allies and partner countries’ values align, and our training always incorporates the rule of law.  We prioritize human rights, we strive to uphold the law of armed conflict, and we believe in civilian control over the military.  The State Partnership Program builds interoperability and strong relationships between U.S. National Guard units and partner nations around the globe to show what U.S. training looks like and the values we represent.  There’s 16 African nations that participate in this, and I think they are – provide the foundation for solid training with our African partners.  Thank you again for your question. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go live to Pearl Matibe of defense news – defenceWeb news from South Africa.  Pearl, you may ask your question.  

Question:  Thank you so much, Marissa, and good morning, Major General Rohling. Firstly, thank you for taking time to discuss African Lion with me, certainly, over the years.  My question is a two-part question, really.  Firstly, on your role as Commander at SETAF versus being Deputy Commander at Army Europe Africa – and Africa.  Could you explain the importance or significance of having this joint function?  How does that type of authority benefit the Africa theater with regards to African Lion?

And then secondly, you said the locations for African Lion were also in Senegal and Ghana.  Could you help me understand and tie in to the fact that Chad’s military was involved in African Lion 2022?  However, by my assessment, there’s been a lot of activity since Idriss Déby and his son – the fatalities there in the rebel groups there as well as a lot of activity right now in Mali.  Particularly, my concern about Mali is with the Russian involvement that apparently there’s at least about 1,000 Russian officials and these military instructors, as they’re described in Russia – by the Russians, that are operating in Mali.  So how did or how might African Lion 2022 benefit this particular theater, particularly with regards to Chad and Mali?  I don’t understand; maybe just explain why Senegal and Ghana – what was the rationale?  How does that benefit Chad and Mali?  Thank you so much, Major General. 

Major General Rohling:  Thank you, Pearl.  Thanks.  It’s been good to hear from you again.  I’ll start with your first question on my role as both the SETAF Commander and the Deputy Commander for United States Army Europe and Africa.  

As you know, probably two years ago the Southern European Task Force, Africa, was known as United States Army Africa and SETAF, and that was the Army service component command for the American AFRICOM.  The United States Government made a decision to combine the commands in Italy – SETAF – with the United States Army Europe – that was in Wiesbaden – and elevated the commander of United States Army Europe, now United States Army Europe, Africa, to a four-star commander.  And so simply, the – my role as it pertains to Africa has not changed.  My headquarters wakes up every day and we worry about activities and events that happen on the continent of Africa.  

I simply don’t have as much to worry about the U.S. Army’s specific requirements that involve manning, training, and equipping a headquarters that the Pentagon and the Army now out of Wiesbaden, Germany, and Army Europe take care of.  So in many ways it freed me up as a commander to put more focus on Africa and keep more tabs on it without having the administrative burden of the – what U.S. Army requirements.  And so that’s really the real difference of it is.  And then I maintain a role as the deputy for United States Army Europe, Africa as it applies to Africa.  

So I know it’s a little complicated, but if there’s a takeaway to that it would be the merger between our two headquarters gave me here at SETAF a more single focus, and that’s on the peace and prosperity of Africa.

Your second question had to do with the ongoing activities in Chad and Mali and how – and where Russia is with those.  You’re correct; Russia is involved in both of those locations and that’s unfortunate.  So our – we approach activities in Africa quite differently than Russia do – does.  We prioritize human rights.  We strive to uphold the law of armed conflict.  And we believe in civilian control over the – of the military.  And we emphasize these issues in all our engagements, and we like to lead by example.  I would say that Russia does not probably do that.  So I think that would be the greatest difference between the two.  So again, thank you, Pearl.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go live to Hariana Victoria to ask a question, and Hariana is coming to us from Angola.  Hariana, you may ask your question.  

Question:  Thank you very much for the opportunity to allow me to ask a question.  I didn’t hear well if African Lion is also in Angola.  But my question to General is in the last years, Angola have been doing many works in terms of peace, security, and stability in the continent.  He have been bringing presidents to make peace, trying to solve some problems among many African countries.  And the President of Angola recently in a summit held in Malabo, Guinea – Equatorial Guinea, he also was recognized as a peace – he was recognized as a champion of peace in Africa.  

So I would like to know from General if the U.S. African Lion in the continent have been paying attention in the work that Angola have been doing in terms of peace and security in the continent, and how important it is.  Keep in mind that terrorism is a big threat in the continent.

Major General Rohling:  Thank you, Hariana, and thank you for your question.  The first part was, are we doing African Lion in Angola this year?  And the answer is unfortunately no.  We are not.  That was – it really – I would say that we are also, secondly – I think your question was, are we paying attention to the strides that Angola is making towards peace and security across the continent?  And the answer to that is like all countries across Africa, I watch very carefully to see where good things are happening and where we, the United States, can make a difference on the military side and our military partnership, and as we’ll continue to see, where Angola is making strides in those areas and how we can best support in a myriad of different ways.  And I look forward to, I hope, a future relationship with Angola.  Thank you.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to Murtala Issah.  Murtala, I see that you had your hand up, but now I see a question in our Q&A.  Would you like to ask that question live, Murtala?  Okay.  If not, we’ll go ahead and ask the question that you put into the Q&A.  Murtala Issah is from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, and his question is:  “All the countries around Ghana have suffered terrorist attacks.  Ghana’s neighbor to the east, Togo, has recently suffered a series of attacks, including one in a community less than 2 kilometers from Ghana’s border.  Why are the extremists avoiding Ghana?”

Major General Rohling:  Well, Murtala, I don’t know if I can answer that question directly on why extremists are not attacking Ghana, although I would say that’s probably helpful.  I think that Ghana has a – has chosen to partner with its African neighbors and the United States to help provide peace and security across the continent.  Ghana has a growing leadership role in regional security.

The United States and Ghana work closely on military training and readiness throughout the year, as indicated by their participation in African Lion both in Ghana itself and with Ghanian officers here in Morocco as part of our headquarters training that’s happening.  So while I can’t tell you exactly why terrorists are not attacking in Ghana, I can say that Ghana has – is and continues to be a vital partner for security in Western Africa.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we will go to another question in our chat from Imane Boujnane of Médias24 out of Morocco.  And his question is:  “What makes this year’s exercise different or special?”

Major General Rohling:  Well, thanks, Imane.  Thanks for that question.  This year’s exercise is different and special and in many different ways.  It’s different in that it’s larger than any other African Lion we’ve done before.  It’s different in that in the previous years we conducted African Lion really in only two locations, Tunisia and Morocco, and this year we’ve incorporated Ghana and Senegal.  

It’s different – in the past, we had had mostly here in our headquarters a simulation exercise, Tunisian – or Moroccan officers, some Tunisian officers, and other countries only as observers watching what was happening, and this year we have a significant participation of countries, and countries such as Chad, such as – I’m trying to think off – I see them all from everywhere – Botswana was going to come.  The short is we have 10 different partners that are participating as not observers but actually participants in our exercise this year.  And it’s been – I think that that is what makes the exercise special.  So the differences, the specialness, and that’s that other countries across the continent are realizing that African Lion is a driver of peace and stability and that together we’re making Africa more stable.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to a question sent in to us from Mr. Ali Laggoune of Elbilad TV out of Algeria.  His question is:  “Will the African Lion exercises be held in Western Sahara territories this year?  And does the United States plan to establish a military base in Western Sahara?”

Major General Rohling:  The answer to both of those is no.  So the African Lion will not and is not being conducted in Western Sahara.  The exercise locations in Morocco are as far north as Kenitra and then to Tan-Tan and Grier Labouihi in the south.  Whether or not the military will establish a base in Western Sahara, that’s a policy question frankly.  I know of none, but I’ll defer to the United States Department of State and Department of Defense for their long-term planning, but I know of none.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next, our question – another question sent in to us by Mr. Killian Chimtom Ngala of Timescape Timescape magazine out of Cameroon.  And his question is:  “Are you concerned that U.S. withdrawal from Africa in general could escalate terrorist activities in certain parts of Africa and harm American interests?”  So a bit about U.S. withdrawal on the continent and what this means for Africa and terrorist activity on the continent.

Major General Rohling:  Well, thank you, Killian, for your question.  First, I’m not sure I would characterize that the United States military is doing a withdrawal across the continent.  I think that’s a matter of opinion.  My opinion is that we are not.  In fact, we are more engaged now in the African continent than we’ve been in quite some time, and African Lion is a great example of that.  As I started in the opening comments, we have more participants this year.  We have more soldiers this year.  We have more locations we’re training at.  So if African Lion is a standard of commitment of the United States to our African partners, I would say that you can see by our actions that we are firmly committed to African Lion.

And then am I worried that our withdrawal would escalate further terrorist activities?  I think that we’ll have to continue to watch what terrorists are doing, where they are, and how the United States can be a strong partner with our African countries to fight terrorism no matter where it is.  Thank you. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to a question put into our chat from Diana Ngon of Citi FM/TV also out of Ghana.  And her question is:  “What has been the achievement of African Lion since its inception?  You mentioned 18 years now that we’ve been doing African Lion.  How has success been defined and what do those achievements look like?”

Major General Rohling:  Well, thank you, Diana.  Well, I would define success as we just look around, what’s happening today.  Success has been that we have over – close to 8,000 servicemembers participating.  Success is that we’re having 12 nations as part of it, all 12 nations volunteering – or voluntarily here and participating at the level that helps their countries the best.  And success is that we’re all working towards a common goal of peace and stability across Africa.  

So 10 – 18 years of continuous, increasing, complex partner training with a commitment by all these countries, I think, is what – how I would define success.  And each year we’re getting a little better, each year we’re trying to make it a little more efficient, and each year we’re trying to make it a little more smooth.  So I think there’s a thousand little successes that make this our premier activity across Africa and really to help with peace and security for the African continent.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to another question sent in to us by Mr. Waleed Sabry Alghandour of Al-Watan newspaper out of Bahrain.  His question is:  “Is there a connection somehow between African Lion 2022, the training, and the countries that are participating this year with the fact that some of those countries are also fighting terrorist organizations like ISIS, or Daesh, whether in Africa, in the Middle East or around the world?”  So to synthesize it, how have you been able to incorporate sort of what’s going on, real life, with these countries that are participating in African Lion 22?

Major General Rohling:  Great.  Well, thank you, Waleed.  So the best way to describe it is if you look at our scenario that African Lion is, it is a geographically – while the geography is Africa, the countries are not African countries.  It is a fictional scenario.  But the enemy that we’re facing is an enemy – while not a named country in any way, is an enemy that presents the kind of tactical problems that – and strategic problems that many countries are seeing across the globe today.

And as we rehearse these in a simulated environment, we’ll help each country, no matter how they participate, prove themselves to be a little better and a little more capable of exercising their military and their governance as best sees fit.  So I think that if you have the opportunity to rehearse in training and rehearse in simulation and rehearse with your partners, it makes you a stronger country when you face a real threat.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to another question sent in to us from Algeria.  This is from Mr. Akram Kharief of Menadefense out of Algeria.  “The fact that the simulation includes countries that are not part of the exercise could have created some bad reactions in those countries that are considered as foes.  Could AFRICOM have avoided that, or is it done on purpose?”  So I think this goes back to the question that you just answered about the simulation.  So if you could sort of talk about that and the real-world scenarios and how it relates to participation.

Major General Rohling:  Sure.  Thank you, Akram.  So the reality is, is it’s really hard to create completely fake countries or fake geography – not fake countries.  And really what I mean by that is the database that drives simulations – where mountains are, where rivers are, where lakes are, how we can best utilize the simulated weapons systems, how we can best utilize the challenges that terrain brings – is really difficult to make it up completely from scratch.  So to – in order to start with a blank slate and create your own mountain ranges, create your own rivers, create your own dams, create your own towns is, quite frankly, almost impossible to do given the way that modern training, modern weapons, and modern military tactics play.

So having what is the – having what is the globe today be the basis for your geography is necessary to run a simulation.  And so inside of that, we have simply made names up for different locations.  And we’ve fought across a part of the globe that allows us to test our skills but has absolutely nothing to do with the geography by name that it currently sits on.  So any similarities to a named country are strictly accidental, and so they’re not driving any behavior in either way.  I hope that explains that.  It’s a little complicated.  I apologize.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go live to Milton Maluleque, freelance journalist with Deutsche Welle.  Mr. Maluleque, you may ask your question.

Question:  Yes.

Moderator:  Mr. Maluleque, there you go.

Question:  Good afternoon and thanks for this opportunity.  My question is there is a concern regarding to the rising number of foreign military operations and bases in Africa, likely as a result of bilateral agreements between some African countries and the foreign powers.  What’s your view about it, especially when those concerns actually touch the facts of having a lot of foreign forces and also the increase of the recent attacks?

Major General Rohling:  Thank you, Milton.  I’m trying to figure out the best way to answer your question.  There are foreign troops across the continent of Africa.  I think that’s a true statement.  There – it’s in the news quite frequently.  And specifically one that we would address would be the Wagner Group in Africa, and I’d defer that conversation to Africa Command, to AFRICOM, and to U.S. Department of Defense.

But I think it’s clear that we’ve seen the impact and the destabilizing effect that Wagner brings to Africa and elsewhere.  And I think countries that have experienced Wagner Group deployments within their borders found themselves to be a little bit poorer, a little bit weaker, and a little bit less secure.  So an exercise such as African Lion aims to build capacity as well as the trusted, long-term relationships to address future challenges.  And I think that’s the difference between United States and others that are operating here on the continent.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go live to Julian Pecquet of The Africa Report.  Mr. Pecquet, you may ask your question.

Question:  Can you hear me?  Sorry about that.

Moderator:  Yes.  Yes, we can.

Question:  Okay, thank you.  Thank you so much for doing the call.  I just had a follow-up clarification question.  I don’t know if you addressed this.  My apologies if you already did. But so this is the first time Ghana participates, correct?  You’ve had it with Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal in the past; is that correct?

Major General Rohling:  Julian, Ghana has participated in the past as observers.  This is the first time that we’re actually doing the exercise in Ghana.

Question:  Okay.  And so in – so has it only been historically in those four countries that you’ve actually done it then: Ghana, Senegal, Morocco, and Tunisia?

Major General Rohling:  Historically, it’s been in Morocco and Tunisia, and this year we added Ghana and Senegal.  So that’s really the change this year.

Question:  Okay.  So it hasn’t been physically in Senegal in the past?  Okay.  I wanted to clarify that.  

I guess my overall question is, why are these two countries – what’s the significance of them participating?  Did they ask to have the exercise on their territory?  And is this – I mean, do you see this as sort of foreshadowing more and more countries in the near future doing this in more and more countries.  What’s the significance of these add-ons, basically?  Thank you.

Major General Rohling:  Yeah.  Thanks, Julian.  So the significance of Ghana and Senegal exactly are that Ghana and Senegal are two great partners of the United States and we’ve been doing a series of activities with them bilaterally.  And over the course of the last year as we designed the exercise, we realized, as did Ghana and Senegal individually, that the exercise African Lion best fit their security needs and the training objectives they wished to accomplish for their country and that they intertwined well with our interoperability objectives that we were hoping to get at in African Lion.

And so over the course of the last year, we were able to put together a training program that benefited us both.  And so that’s the reason we went with those two countries.  And I think that they have – well, I can’t speak for them.  I would say that their soldiers that are here have enjoyed their training and I think they’ve gotten a lot out of it.

Moderator:  All right.  Thank you.  I think that is the last question that we will take on today.  I want to just check with the Major General if you have any parting words or closing remarks.

Major General Rohling:  Well, thank you.  I do have a few things.  Thanks for everybody for participating.  Your work brings awareness to the vital interests that impact us all, so I appreciate what you – what you say and what you do to help to bring awareness to Africa in all its successes and sometimes some of its challenges.  And many of those challenges I discussed today will only be solved if multiple countries work together.

 African Lion, along with our engagements across the African continent, give us incredible opportunities to learn from each other and build upon those relationships.  And it helps us not in a crisis, but it helps us when – to strengthen our stability and our security.  

So we look forward to continued engagements with our African partners and to build upon the lessons and friendships we’ve gained over the last 18 years and this year’s exercise specifically.  As I said when we started, we are stronger together.  So again, thank each one of you.  

And Marissa, thank you.  I know you and I over the last two years have done many of these media hubs, and I know this is our last of each of us.  So thank you for all your help to help highlight what the United States military is doing to make Africa more secure and stable, which is important for us globally.  Again, thank you, Marissa.

Moderator:  That concludes today’s briefing.  I would like to thank Major General Andrew M. Rohling for speaking to us today and all of our journalists for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you.

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Original at U.S. Department of State

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