17th AF general visits Rwanda, Ethiopia Trip highlights ‘way ahead’ for

by Master Sgt. Jim Fisher
17th Air Force Public Affairs

Departing Ramstein with the goal of “going to listen,” Seventeenth Air Force (Air Forces Africa) Vice Commander Brig. Gen. Mike Callan visited Rwanda and Ethiopia on a senior leader engagement March 24 to 28.

In addition to representing U.S. Africa Command on each visit, the trip was specifically aimed at gathering information on how AFAFRICA, as the air component for U.S. Africa Command, can assist in the areas of air domain safety and security, said Maj. Alesandro “Alex” Smith, SLE project officer. Major Smith and Master Sgt. Jim Fisher, AFAFRICA Public Affairs, accompanied General Callan on the trip.

“We visited the two U.S. ambassadors, their country teams and the senior defense 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 Smith said.

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 mobilization assistant engage with partner nations in Africa to target engagement activities that support U.S. policy objectives, Major Smith said.

The trip kicked off in Kigali with a meeting between General Callan and Rwandan Defense Force officials.

“Our mission was to determine how we could assist the Rwandans,” General 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 said 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 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,” General Callan said. “Everywhere we went, we saw a lot of infrastructure construction, the laying of fiber optic cables and other visible signs of progress.”

General Callan was particularly moved by a visit to the Genocide Museum in Kigali.

“In visiting the museum, we saw some of the worst things that people are capable of. Conversely, the reconciliation since this tragedy is unprecedented. Rwandans on both sides of this tragedy have been working together in earnest to rebuild their country and society. It really shows some of the best things that people are capable of,” General Callan said. “Everyone we talked to was united in a common purpose and committed to Rwanda’s future. We left with the impression that the assistance we provide will only add to their momentum.”

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

“His visit was short but very productive,” Colonel 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 (United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur) mission.”

AFAFRICA recently coordinated the movement of Rwandan peacekeeping equipment to the Darfur region of Sudan as part of the UNAMID.

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,” Colonel 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, General 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, Major Smith said. 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,” Major Smith said.

While these SLE 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,” General Callan said.

A TSC team focusing on air traffic control is slated to visit Rwanda in late April.