European Command Combating Terror Threats in Africa
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2004 Africa is also a front in the global war on terrorism, according to the U.S. general responsible for U.S. military operations and military-to-military ties in Africa.
"We're seeing evidence that terrorism is moving into Africa, especially the radical, fundamentalist type," said Marine Gen. James L. Jones, commander of U.S. European Command, during a recent interview. Africa falls under EUCOM's area of responsibility.
The countries on the rim of the Mediterranean Sea -- Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco -- are the most pressing concern for the command, but failed states further south also pose problems, Jones said.
Terrorists are moving into failed or failing states where the people don't have a lot of hope, he said. In many countries in this region the economies are not stable, there is a tremendous imbalance in the distribution of wealth, the governments don't have full control, borders are not secure, and millions of people are HIV-positive and millions more have already died from AIDS.
Terrorists see the continent as a place to hide, a place to train and a place to organize new attacks. "It's in our interests to proactively engage in this global concern about terrorism with our friends and allies," Jones said.
Despite all the problems -- and the general did not play them down -- there is enormous potential on the continent, he said. "There are quite a few countries in Africa that would like to be democratic. They are trying hard to be democratic and need a little help," he said. "The wrong thing to do is say this is too hard and walk away from it."
While terrorism based in Africa is a long-term threat to the United States, it is a more immediate one to Europe. "The Mediterranean that separates Africa from Europe is no longer a physical barrier; it's a pond that people can step over," Jones said. "We have to make sure that we deal with the problems where they are and we work with our African friends and struggling democratic nations to make sure they survive."
Jones said all aspects of government must work together to address the problems in Africa. This will allow the United States and its allies to "react proactively" and address the problems that cause young men and women to embrace a terrorist ideology.
"If you get a sense of how big Africa is and how many places where you can do this, you can easily see you need to get a jump on this," he said. "You don't want to be reactive in about five years to some really serious problems."
Not only is European Command working to train African militaries, the command is also running AIDS clinics. EUCOM servicemembers also serve as examples to these developing democracies about the way a military serves in a democracy. The command has helped sponsor partnerships between U.S. states and African nations. "From North Africa south we have developing relationships with nations that are truly concerned about what is going on on their borders," Jones said.
And it is a long-term commitment. African nations need to realize that the United States and its allies "are not just coming in for two months never to be seen again," he said. "We're investing proactively with countries whose governments we'd like to see go along the democratic path."
This engagement will stop the terrorists from using African territory as a sanctuary or training base. It will "deny them the opportunity of demonizing the United States and Europe as the source of all (Africa's) problems," he said.
Changes in U.S. European Command will allow the organization to better address these problems. As part of the global posture review, the command will receive more special operations forces that specialize in Africa. Negotiations are going on with a number of countries in the region for "bare bones" bases that U.S. forces could operate out of if conditions warranted their presence.
Stability in the region will attract investments and industry. "It will benefit the world," Jones said. "I think this is tremendously exciting."