ARLINGTON, Va. - The National Guard's State Partnership Program is a superb tool for Africa Command, the combatant commander told a congressional committee on Tuesday.
"The benefits … are many and impressive," Army Gen. William E. Ward said in his 2010 posture statement presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The SPP started in 1993 following the collapse of the Iron Curtain with European Command partners. EUCOM spawned AFRICOM in 2007, and there are now eight National Guard states partnered with African nations.
State partnerships foster military-to-military, military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian cooperation.
"The [SPP] delivers programs and activities that build broad capabilities with our African partners," Ward told the committee. "The habitual relationships this builds adds tremendous value to our efforts. This program is very valuable to [AFRICOM], and we look forward to expanding it as our African partners request greater participation."
Ward's area of responsibility is 3.5 times the size of the continental United States. Africa includes 53 countries that are home to a billion people who speak 1,000 languages, and its population growth rate is the world's highest.
The SPP is one piece of a joint approach to Africa that starts with the vision of the president and his state and defense secretaries reflected in the combatant command's strategy and mission.
Speaking in Ghana last year, President Obama said the United States has four priorities: supporting strong and sustainable democracies and good governance; fostering sustained economic growth and development; increasing access to quality health and education and helping to prevent, mitigate and resolve armed conflict.
Urging funding and further development of programs such as the SPP, Ward told the committee, "The United States achieves its greatest effect when all U.S. government agencies work collaboratively in applying the tools of diplomacy, development and defense to meet our national security objectives."
Current National Guard pairings in Africa are: California with Nigeria; Michigan with Liberia; New York with South Africa; North Carolina with Botswana; North Dakota with Ghana; Utah with Morocco; Vermont with Senegal and Wyoming with Tunisia.
Conflict, violent extremism, narcotics trafficking, piracy, disease and economic development are among issues AFRICOM tackles on the continent.
"The United States and our African partners have strong mutual interests in promoting security and stability on the continent of Africa," Ward said. "The more the countries of Africa work together, the greater the likelihood that the continent will achieve lasting stability. … Increasing African partner capability to identify and interdict threats emanating from the continent enhances the security of the … homeland.
"Enhancing the capacity of African forces … allows the United States to use its forces for other operations."
National Guard states offer a smorgasbord of experience ranging from tackling the consequences of natural and manmade disasters to training and maintaining a professional NCO corps.
The Utah Guard provides KC-135 Stratotankers and personnel for African Lion, an annual Marine Corps-led exercise with Morocco. Tennessee, which does not yet even have an African partner, works with Nigeria to rebuild C-130 Hercules aircraft. Wyoming helps Tunisia use radar for border patrol, while North Carolina shows Botswana how Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems can fight the range fires that threaten that nation's wealth of wildlife.