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22 September 2005

U.S. Forces "Waging Peace" in Horn of Africa, Commander Says

General's weapons are doctors, veterinarians, well drillers, civil engineers

By David Anthony Denny
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The commander of military forces in the Horn of Africa says his task is to promote stability on the African continent.

Marine Major General Timothy Ghormley, commander of Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa for the U.S. Central Command, briefed journalists at the Pentagon September 21 on what he and 1,400 joint U.S. forces are doing in an area five times as large as Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and with a total population of 123 million.

U.S. forces are trying to prevent the creation of fertile breeding grounds for potential terrorist networks.  They are seeking “to improve the underlying conditions in Africa, Ghormley said.  “Poverty, itself, doesn’t bring about terrorism,” he said, but the prospect of a life of destitution with no hope of an alternative can drive people “to a more radical approach.”

With a kind of war going on in Africa, Ghormley pointed to the importance of "waging peace, and we're waging it as hard as we can."  Elaborating, he said warfare consists of various phases, "and we're in Phase Zero right now. … That's pre-conflict."  He added, "We'd love to keep it there."

To be specific, the area of operations for the combined joint task force encompasses Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Yemen.  Ghormley noted that there is no task force presence or operation in Somalia, but that the African Union "is handling what's going on" there.

The 38-year military veteran said his command mission is to undertake operations and training "to combat terrorism, and to establish a secure environment and regional stability."  To meet that mission, he conducts civil-military operations and civil affairs operations, as well as providing training.

"You can't have any type of peace, you can't have any type of prosperity without security and stability, and that's our goal," he said.

Ghormley said his command is "not a direct action unit.  I don't saddle up and go out and hunt down the enemy."  However, his forces have the right to defend themselves, and are accompanied by force protection units on their missions, he said.

Instead, Ghormley's forces "seek out those in need," he said.  He sends out civil affairs assessment teams which travel to villages and towns, meeting with the leadership they find there: the imam, the village elders, the mayor, and other leaders.  They ask them what the village needs to enhance stability and to make life easier for the people.

"People want the same thing there as we want here," Ghormley said.  "If you're a father or a mother, you want to be able to provide for your children.  They're no different.  If their child is hurting, they want to do something about it.  We're trying to provide that."

His tools are medical doctors, veterinarians, well drillers and civil engineers, he said.

The general gave several examples of his forces in operation:

• In the town of Yoboki, Djibouti, Army soldiers drilled for five months, 195 meters down through volcanic rock, to reach water for a well for the 1,500 inhabitants.  The people, he said, "have never had a well out there."  Now they will, he said, and for at least the next 10 years.

• In one particular village, where locals were reluctant to participate, U.S. forces provided veterinary services.  One of those who came forward brought a sick goat for treatment.  Two months later, Ghormley said, the goat fetched $80 for its owner, where before treatment its value had been $30.  "That $30 was all that gentleman had, and I just gave him a significant increase in his profitability," he said.

• In the town of Jijiga, Ethiopia, Ghormley said a doctor sought him out to thank him for refurbishing the hospital, which had had nothing done to it since its construction in 1945.  "The people of Jijiga believe it's a miracle that the U.S. came in and fixed their hospital," he said.

Ghormley said he hopes the civil-military work his personnel carry out will highlight the fact that Africans have options in the face of overtures by potential terrorists.  “Our message,” he said, is that “we are there for them, and that we can, in fact, protect them.”

For additional information, see Peace and Security.