Cohen Trip Aims to Expand Military Ties in Africa
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2000 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen departed today for a seven-day trip to strengthen military ties with Morocco, South Africa and Nigeria.
Cohen last visited Morocco in 1998 and this time is slated to meet the country's new king, Mohamed VI, who also serves as defense minister. The two are to discuss such common concerns as the situations in Algeria, Libya, general security in the Mediterranean Basin and the Middle East peace process, according to a senior defense official.
The United States and Morocco have been solid friends for 200 years, and long-standing U.S.-Moroccan military relations are based on bilateral exercises and security assistance, she said. The United States hopes to expand military cooperation and find new ways to work together in peacekeeping and other multinational activities, she noted.
Under the new king, she added, the Moroccans may wish to restructure their military, and DoD can assist them, calling on its experience in defense reform and reorganization.
In South Africa, where Cohen last visited in 1999, the secretary is slated to meet with President Thabo Mbeki and may meet with former President Nelson Mandela. He also is to confer with Defense Minister Patrick Lekota, who visited the Pentagon in December.
Cohen's goal is to cooperation in exercises and regional peacekeeping operations, another senior U.S. defense official said. South Africa has repeatedly expressed its willingness to participate in a genuine peace process, the official said. The leaders will also exchange views on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where invading troops from several nations are joining an internal rebellion.
The United States provides no military funds to South Africa, but does have a healthy International Military Education and Training program established, he noted.
Cohen's visit to Nigeria is his first and is another step in U.S. efforts to re-engage the West African nation, where military rule recently ended. The secretary is slated to meet with President Olusegun Obasanjo and Defense Minister Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma.
Nigeria is a center point of turbulence and turmoil, and U.S. officials hope to help it become less fragile, the official noted. DoD is eager to help Nigeria restructure its military, which has lost its professionalism through years of neglect. Even though the military has become a source of fear to its own people, he said, it has been effective in regional peacekeeping in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
DoD officials aim to help Nigeria restructure its defense ministry with civilian control, refurbish its C-130 transport aircraft fleet and deal with some basic soldier needs such as regular paychecks, housing and medical facilities, the official said.