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U.S. Policy on Africa Seeks Stability to Counter Terror

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2002 – Poverty, unemployment and hopelessness create breeding grounds for terrorists, President George W. Bush has said.

No other continent faces these problems as much as Africa. But the Defense Department, in conjunction with other U.S. and international agencies, is working to provide stability in this truly unstable region.

"Africa is not always a topic high on the agenda list here in the Pentagon, but I'm here to tell you that it does matter, and we do follow it closely," said Michael Westphal, deputy assistant defense secretary for African affairs. Westphal spoke during a media roundtable at the Pentagon today.

The United States depends on sub-Saharan Africa for 15 percent of its oil, and that percentage is expected to grow in the next decade, he said. But "poverty, unemployment and lack of capital development exacerbate social and ethnic tensions and create havens for conflict, insecurity and terrorism," Westphal said.

The continent faces many problems: Angola has had a civil war raging there for more than 25 years. Fighting continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and Burundi may relive the genocide of the early 1990s. Also, more than 65 percent of the world's HIV cases are in Africa.

Terrorism against America has also taken place in Africa. In 1998, members of the al Qaeda network bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Sudan was the home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for years, and U.S. officials suspect that Somalia may be a haven for al Qaeda fugitives fleeing Afghanistan.

U.S. military policy in the area focuses on promoting civilian control of militaries, improving military professionalism and building the capacity of these militaries to respond effectively to national and regional crises, Westphal said.

The U.S. policy in sub-Saharan Africa is to build partnerships with African nations and regional organizations. American defense officials are working with their counterparts in these nations to build military capacity to support humanitarian, crisis-response, and peace-support operations, Westphal said. In the last 10 years, the United States has performed 25 contingency operations in Africa.

In addition, U.S. service members -- mostly Special Forces soldiers -- are working to improve counterterrorism capabilities.

Stability is at the core of U.S. efforts in the region. "One of the things I talk about in Africa in terms of a terrorist threat is that instability can create a vacuum that can draw terrorists to it," Westphal said. Helping create stability -- economically, financially, militarily and so on -- helps lessen the threat of terrorists using these countries, he noted.

But right now, the problems in sub-Saharan Africa are manifest. "I don't think you need a failed state like Somalia or an environment like Afghanistan to create an environment for terrorists to transit through, to station themselves, to raise funds, to plan operations," Westphal said. "When I look at the map of sub-Saharan Africa, I see any number of countries that are not failed states, but they may not have the government structure in which to deal with or keep track of who is coming in or out of their countries and what they are doing."

The potential is there for these states to be bases for terrorists. "Out of the 48 sub-Saharan African countries, you could pick 40 that present that kind of an environment," Westphal said.

The United States must recognize that Africa is not a single entity. The country is a vast quilt of differing tribes, ethnic groups and religions. While the United States recognizes the leadership roles of countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Senegal Botswana and Ghana, different areas are going to require different methods.

There is no "cookie-cutter" approach that will work, he said. Rather, the United States should evaluate "the individual African militaries and what their capacities are, what we think they should be able to do and what we want to accomplish with them."

There are a number of tools the U.S. military has been using in the area. For more than five years, Green Berets have been working on the African Crisis Response Initiative. They have trained more than 8,600 African soldiers, and the program has "graduated" five countries: Senegal, Kenya, Malawi, Benin and Mali.

"This initiative is designed with African countries to enhance the capability of African nations to serve in peace-support operations and respond to humanitarian crises," Westphal said. American and African leaders are re-examining the initiative and looking for ways to change and adapt it to other countries and regions on the continent.

Another initiative is to work with the Economic Community of West African States to develop their capacity to establish effective communications networks. American and African leaders are also working to establish a logistics training and maintenance depot in the region that would bring ECOWAS members a needed capacity to deal with logistics, supply and maintenance.

U.S. military officials are sharing expertise and medical knowledge with their counterparts in an effort to at least slow the AIDS epidemic in the region.

Finally, U.S. service members are involved in Operation Avid Recovery in Lagos, Nigeria. On Jan. 27, a munitions depot exploded in the largest city in Africa killing hundreds and driving tens of thousands of people from their homes. U.S. explosive ordnance disposal personnel -- along with hundreds of EOD personnel from several other countries -- are in Lagos to stabilize the area, present safety training to civilians and help the Nigerian military personnel clear and dismantle munitions scattered around the area.

Westphal said that U.S. efforts in Africa continue apace. He said 3rd Special Forces Group personnel, who specialize in this area, have been affected by the larger war on terrorism. That unit also supports Central Command operations. But, he said, U.S. personnel have been able to meet all the missions.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Transcript: DoD News Briefing - Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, April 2, 2002

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