GABORONE, Botswana, - The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) hosted a visit by General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, to meet with military officials and soldiers of the BDF in Gaborone on April 28, when he discussed ongoing regional security efforts and potential future military-to-military activities with the BDF.
"I am here to discuss our ongoing security cooperation programs, our great partnership and to look for ways that U.S. Africa Command can work with Botswana and its regional neighbors as we pursue our mutual goals for stability," said Ward during a press event with local journalists.
Botswana is a southern African nation about the size of Texas with a population of about 1.8 million people.
This visit, Ward's third visit to Botswana, yet his first since 2007, was part of an ongoing partnership with the BDF to provide military-to-military training with a focus on sustainable regional security, said Lt. Col. William "Chris" Wyatt, chief of the Office of Security Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Botswana.
The BDF and U.S. military conducted 40 cooperation events together in 2010, Wyatt said.
The U.S. National Guard State Partnership Program with Botswana is a "model" program, Ward said. This program has linked, since 2008, the BDF with the North Carolina National Guard to conduct training events, exchanges and other activities.
Botswana is one of eight African partner nations, which participate in the program and one of 61 worldwide.
"U.S. Africa Command is excited to see that relationship has shifted from the traditional military-to-military engagements and is now incorporating military-to-civilian engagements," Ward said. "Such evolution clearly demonstrates the long-term and diverse benefits that can be achieved through our partnerships."
Ward was initially welcomed by Col. M. C. Mophuting, commandant of the Force Training Establishment. The Force Training Establishment is the organization that provides basic training for new BDF soldiers, along with officer and senior NCO training as soldiers advance through the ranks.
Brig. Gen. Giotseleene Morake, commandant of the Defence Command and Staff College, gave Ward a tour of the college to highlight its training programs and capabilities.
The Force Training Establishment recently completed its first gender-integrated accession class which included 24 women. Of those 24, three are pilot candidates. Underscoring the college's regional approach to force development, five of the graduates were from Swaziland and five others were from Lesotho, Wyatt said.
Ward gave a 30-minute speech to an audience of about 700 BDF senior leaders and students of the DCSC. In that speech, he congratulated the students for their achievements.
While visiting in Gaborone, Ward met with Lt. Gen. Masire, chief of Defence Forces, and Assistant Minister Mokgwetsi Masisi, Minister of Defence, Justice and Security. Both meetings were devoted to discussing the current state of the BDF's training and readiness and what other potential exercises and military-to-military events may be considered for the future.
Ward said visits such as this allow him to "gain a better understanding of the Botswana perspective on defense and security issues and to look for ways that we can continue to work together."
Ward also praised the BDF for being a model of a professional and disciplined force working within a democracy.
Ward and Ambassador Stephen Nolan, U.S. Ambassador to Botswana, met with print, radio and TV journalists in Gaborone to discuss Ward's visit and U.S. Africa Command's programs and activities.
Ward emphasized U.S. Africa Command has "no intention" of seeking bases in Africa, nor is it looking to move its headquarters to Africa.
"Too often when we visit a partner nation, there is speculation that we are looking for bases or seeking a place to place U.S. troops here ... That is simply not the case," Ward stated. "It has never been the case as I have told a few of you before."
The same question was raised at the DCSC earlier that day, to which he declared: "There are no designs to put the headquarters any place on the continent, and there are no plans to do so ...."
Ward said the establishment of Africa Command means partner nations have "a more dedicated partner than ever before" working to support them.
He pointed out the work of the command "is about helping Africans increase their capacity to deal with their security and be better able to provide for their own stability."
To achieve this goal, the command works with nations, regional organizations and the African Union to help foster regional cooperation and complement the work being done by international partners and other U.S. government agencies.
Ambassador Nolan told the journalists that command programs, such as the Africa Partnership Station maritime program, are about "helping African countries deal with African problems."
"It's about working with the militaries across Africa to increase their capacity, to give African militaries the experience of working with a world-class institution and learning new skills and applying new skills," Nolan added. "So where Africa Command is [located], is not the issue. It's what Africa Command does across the continent. That is the important thing. So the programmatic side is really the heart and soul of what the Africa Command is about."
During his visit, Ward was able to meet with Dr. Boga Fidzani, chairman of the board for the Botswana-based HIV counseling and testing non-governmental organization Tebelopele.
A plaque at the entrance to the facility reads: "Construction of this facility was made possible by the financial support of the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. European Command, the U.S. Embassy Botswana and the People of the United States of America."
Thirteen of the 16 Tebelopele Centers in Botswana were built by the U.S. Department of Defense through the DOD HIV/AIDS Prevention Program under the U.S. President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief. The center provides prevention, counseling, testing and medical referrals for HIV/AIDS related issues.
Ward highlighted that U.S. Africa Command is supporting African militaries in HIV and AIDS prevention programs in 39 African countries.
"Our work trains senior military leaders, peer educators and health care workers. We are making an impact in the combined fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa," according to Ward. More than 500,000 African military members and their families have benefited from these counseling and testing efforts.
Ward left Botswana April 29 and flew to Windhoek, Namibia. During his first visit to Namibia, he met with Namibia's National Defense Force officials to discuss potential future cooperation activities.