KIGALI, Rwanda, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Army Gen. William E. Ward, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, is visiting Rwanda to strengthen bilateral U.S.-Rwandan ties.
Rwandan defense spokesman Lt. Col. Jill Rutaremara, Ward will meet with Rwandan Minister of Defense James Kabarebe and the Rwandan Chief of Defense Staff Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga.
Rutaremara added, "He will also visit the Genocide Memorial Center at Gisozi before he leaves," The New Times reported Monday.
Ward last visited Rwanda in April 2009, when he had discussions with Minister of Defense General Marcel Gatsinzi and other senior officers in the Rwanda military for talks on bilateral military issues.
During that visit Ward told reporters: "The Rwandans don't need to be told how to be a professional force. They have that. What they ask for are ways of how to enhance that professionalism, just as we (U.S. Army) ask for that. We learn from Rwandans, and can pick those lessons and adjust our own training programs."
The U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, was advanced as a U.S. government concept in February 2007 but only achieved full operational capability on Oct. 1, 2008.
Africa was previously assigned to U.S. European Command except for Egypt, the nations of the Horn of Africa and four Indian Ocean island states that were under Central Command and Pacific Command.
AFRICOM's founding was a reversal in Pentagon strategic thinking, as in 1995 the Department of Defense in its U.S. Security Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa stated: "Ultimately we see very little traditional strategic interest in Africa."
What has changed U.S. interests is the rising volume of U.S. oil imports from Africa. The National Intelligence Council projects that African oil imports will account for 25 percent of total U.S. imports by 2015, primarily from Gulf of Guinea countries, Nigeria and Angola.
Besides 53 countries in continental Africa, AFRICOM's designated area of responsibility so includes the Atlantic Ocean Cape Verde, the islands of Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, as well as the Indian Ocean Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles islands.
The U.S. Defense Department defines AFRICOM's mission as to promote US strategic objectives by working with African nations and indigenous organizations to help build regional stability and security, with AFRICOM's military operations primarily focused on deterring aggression and responding to crises.
The U.S. government abandoned efforts to base AFRICOM on the continent after it encountered resistance among African nations, basing the command instead in Stuttgart, Germany, posted instead about two dozen U.S. military liaison officers at embassies.