Gen. Townsend Engages African Leaders at African Land Forces Summit 2020

Good morning.  I am honored to be here with you today in – as General Adem described – “the 13 Months of Sunshine.”  It is still a cold, wet winter in Germany and I appreciate your warm welcome!

I am Steve Townsend.  Like GEN Garrett said in his opening comments, I am also a soldier in the United States Army.  Although, as the Commander of U.S. Africa Command – or AFRICOM – I am first a joint officer.  I hope our participation here underscores the importance of land forces in Africa, and the importance of this conference.

General Molla , the Ethiopian National Defense Force, and the government of Ethiopia:  thank you for hosting and for your visionary leadership, trust, and partnership.   I applaud you taking on the daunting challenge of being both a first-time participant and host of ALFS.  You have put on an amazing event – with record-breaking attendance!

To our Ethiopian hosts and the ALFS-planners: the teams from U.S. Embassy Addis led by AMB Raynor and the U.S. Mission to the AU led by AMB Lapenn, // MG Cloutier and the U.S. Army Africa team,  Dr. Wani and the superb moderators from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, // all the plenary speakers who shared their insights and expertise, // and everybody who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to include the Sheraton team and the translators – I will try not to make too much trouble for you here at the end!  Please join me in a round of applause.  [Applause]

To all the delegations – the land forces commanders and senior enlisted leaders who took time away from their duties to join us in Ethiopia: thank you, we are here because of you; you are our focus this week.  //  Your militaries play a critical role in stabilizing regional conflicts and mitigating security and humanitarian crises in Africa.

I am thrilled to see the senior enlisted team here – I believe a professional Corps of NCOs is the backbone of any truly effective armed force.

This year’s ALFS theme – tomorrow’s security demands leadership today – couldn’t come at a better time.  // We are at a collective decision point with respect to Africa’s future security. // AMISOM is scheduled to transition security responsibility next year… is the Somali National Army ready?   The stalemate in Libya’s civil war continues.  // There has been speculation regarding U.S. support in West Africa as terrorists continue to march south…

The future we all wish to see – a secure, stable, and prosperous Africa – centers on African leadership and African militaries providing regional security.

The leaders who will impact the future of Africa are sitting in this room.  They aren’t wearing a U.S. or European uniform.  They are wearing the uniform of the 42 African nations represented here this week.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan famously rallied African nations to address the challenges and opportunities they face in the 21st century, and just this week – here in Ethiopia – U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo said, “peace in Africa will be won by Africans.”

I have seen increasingly strong African commitment and leadership across the continent.  This is especially true in AMISOM.  The U.S. applauds African-led efforts such as the G5 Sahel and increasing participation in UN peacekeeping ops.

That brings us back to today… and this summit.

To be successful in the complex security environment of tomorrow, we must develop our leaders today.  You have discussed various aspects of defense leadership to include 21st century challenges, defense institution building and defense leadership in a multinational environment.

In the U.S. military, leader development – starting with junior officers and NCOs – is central to our profession.  // Similarly, developing leaders and supporting effective, professional, capable, and self-reliant African forces is central to AFRICOM’s mission.

I believe investing in professional leadership development is an investment in the future of Africa.

AFRICOM and our component commands – like USARAF – conduct engagements and exercises throughout the region designed to strengthen key partnerships and improve partner capabilities.  // We work to help professionalize partner forces and strengthen defense institutions through training on human rights, the rule of law, and prevention of violence against women.

In 2019, African partners sent 763 of their best and brightest military leaders for training at professional military schools in the U.S. through the State Department’s International Military Education and Training – or IMET – program. //

In addition, last August, AFRICOM’s Senior Enlisted Leader hosted the third annual and largest African Senior Enlisted Leader Conference with over 67 African partners from 29 countries.

Looking into the audience, I see strong representation from our National Guard’s State Partnership Program.  This program creates enduring bonds between Americans and Africans.   We currently have 15 African partnerships and look forward to more.

The United States military offers a unique partnership, as we believe in investing in and working together with you to enable African solutions to African problems – the bedrock of long-term self-sufficiency, security, and development.

We are here – but it ultimately comes down to your leadership…and AFRICOM will follow your lead.

We will support you through security cooperation, training, exercises and engagements. //  As General Garrett shared, we are being allocated a Security Force Assistance Brigade to support train, advise, and assist missions in Africa. // This is good news.  And a testament to our commitment to partner with your forces today and in the future.

Regardless of the level of US military presence, the people in this room will have a far greater impact on the future of Africa.

You have heard from speakers representing regional organizations, multinational task forces and peacekeeping missions on the continent.   Today’s complex challenges require coordination and collaboration across a whole-of-society network and strong partnerships have never been more vital.

I encourage you to use this summit to build a network of contacts, to stay in touch, to support and mentor each other, to exchange successes and learn from past challenges and mistakes.

This heavy turnout for ALFS 2020 is a testament to the value you place in US military engagements, and the trust you place in each other.  The participation of first time partners like Japan and organizations such as the AU, UN, EU, and NATO underline the importance and complexity of Africa’s security challenges.

Together, we can further our collective vision for African-led peace across the continent.

Again, thank you for participating and safe travels as you return to your countries and your families.

(Approximately 10 min at slow cadence)