Eritrea Could Teach U.S. Much to Combat Terror
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ASMARA, Eritrea, Dec. 10, 2002 Following a meeting with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the United States can learn much about combating terror from the people of this small African nation.
Rumsfeld met with Eritrean leaders as part of a four-day visit to the Horn of Africa and Qatar in the Persian Gulf.
Map of Eritrea. (Map courtesy CIA World Factbook.)
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Afwerki said his country would cooperate gladly in the global war on terrorism, because it has been the victim of terrorism. In essence, he told reporters, his neighborhood is rough. The failed state of Somalia is near Eritrea, and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was based in adjacent Sudan until 1996. A 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia disrupted the area and allowed terrorists to practice their murders.
Eritrea has cooperated in the war of terror and has offered facilities, intelligence, and other help such as overflight and mooring permissions to the United States and other members of the worldwide coalition, said embassy officials.
Rumsfeld said during a press conference with Afwerki that the United States understands the war on terror will take time. "There are forces in the world that are urging, recommending, teaching fanaticism, extremism and terrorism, and those forces need to be overcome," he said.
He said his visit to Eritrea is an example of the changes in the world since the terror attacks in New York and the Pentagon. "One of the things that has happened since the events of Sept. 11 is the development of new relationships around the world," he said.
Afwerki said the secretary's visit clearly signifies that the United States is committed to the region and the global war on terror. "This is nothing new in Eritrea," the president said. "We have been fighting against terrorism for the last 13 years alone."
But, he said, the attacks in New York and on the Pentagon "sensitized many" to the danger of terrorism. "We believe we have a stake in working together with our partners, and particularly the United States, to make this region peaceful and safe," Afwerki said.
He said terrorists have targeted his country. Afwerki said Eritrea has "limited resources, but we are willing and prepared to use these limited resources in any way useful to fight terrorism."
Rumsfeld did not ask for any particular asset from Eritrea. He said it is a mistake to assume these discussions are "transactional."
He said the two countries simply need to cooperate in the war on terror. There is no quid pro quo in the relationship. It is in both countries best interests to cooperate with like-minded nations to defeat terror groups.
"These are the kinds of problems that are global," the secretary said. "No single country can handle it. It requires cooperation over a sustained period of time.
He noted the relationships are multifaceted and vary from country to country.
Rumsfeld noted the history of Eritrea when he said that the country of about 4.5 million people "has considerably more experience than we do over a sustained period of time" in battling terrorism. He said the United States can benefit from that experience.
Rumsfeld travels to Ethiopia and then will go on to Djibouti and then Qatar.