17th Air Force vice chief visits Rwanda, Ethiopia

17th US Air Force (Air Forces Africa) vice commander Brigadier General Mike Callan has paid a visit to Rwanda and Ethiopia to discuss air domain safety and security.

“We visited the two US ambassadors, their country teams and the senior defence officials in each country to strengthen our partnerships and to learn how we can be of assistance to develop their air infrastructure and security,” Major Alesandro “Alex” Smith, senior leader engagement project officer says.

Senior leader engagements are essentially an executive-level component of AFAFRICA’s Theater Security Cooperation Program, in which small teams led by the AFAFRICA commander, vice commander, or mobilisation assistant engage with partner nations in Africa to target engagement activities that support US policy objectives, Smith explained.

The trip – in late March but only reported now – kicked off in Kigali with a meeting between Callan and Rwandan Defense Force officials, Africom reports.
“Our mission was to determine how we could assist the Rwandans,” Callan said. “We know that in each of these engagements on the continent, our partners know best what they need, and if possible, we’re here to fill that need and thus build their organic capacity. We are focused on helping Africans meet African challenges. ”

The Rwandan air chief explained that boosting air traffic control capacity and overall aviation infrastructure are priorities for Rwanda. Rwanda is looking to develop their aviation infrastructure to ultimately become a hub for increased commerce and cargo in central Africa. The general said that he was very pleased with their progress to date, but understands additional help from AFAFRICA could help.
“They have a lofty vision, but it’s not unrealistic based on the progress they’ve already made,” Callan said. “Everywhere we went, we saw a lot of infrastructure construction, the laying of fiber optic cables, and other visible signs of progress.”

RDF Director of Research and Development Colonel Charles Karamba, who took part in the meetings, said meeting Callan and the SLE team came at an opportune time for all parties concerned.

“His visit was short but very productive,” Karamba said. “It comes in the wake of the standing up of [U.S. Africa Command] and as the vice commander of the air component, it was also good to have him visit in the wake of our cooperation on the UNAMID mission.”

AFAFRICA recently coordinated the movement of Rwandan peacekeeping equipment to the Darfur region of Sudan as part of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur. The colonel said the visit renewed this cooperation, and he hoped it will be the first of many.
“I hope he will see what we have been doing and how U.S. support has added to this effort,” Karamba said. “We hope this visit is just the beginning.”
Rwanda‘s commitment to peacekeeping efforts and role as a responsible member of the African Union makes it a good candidate for continued partnership, Callan said.
“Boosting their capacity means not only increasing their opportunities for commerce, but it means that we’ve enabled conflict prevention, and crisis response,” the general said.

The general found an equally important partnership in progress as he conducted a similar engagement in Ethiopia, which has also been a leading contributor to peacekeeping operations on the continent.
“Both of these countries are working toward a more stable and secure Africa,” the general said. “This means a better quality of life for people in Africa. This is in the interest of the U.S. and our partner nations, but also in the best interests of the world in general.”

The area of professional military education was the focus in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia already has a developed aviation infrastructure, Smith explained. They are interested in developing the strategic focus of their leaders and future leaders.

This is a continuous process in every military force. But professionalization is especially important as it engenders respect for the rule of law and the appropriate role for their military to play,” Smith said.

While these visits are designed to strengthen partnerships through discussion and collaboration between military leaders, ultimately, the team’s goal is to return to Ramstein with actionable ideas and information that will highlight the way ahead for AFAFRICA plans and programs on the continent.
“We brought back copious notes and have already put them into action,” Callan said.