Africa, Mideast Trip to Focus on Cooperation
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 31, 2000 During the first visit by a sitting U.S. Defense Secretary to Nigeria, William S. Cohen will discuss ways the United States can cooperate with the country to “reprofessionalize” the military and place it firmly under civilian control.
Cohen will then leave Nigeria for a visit to nine countries in the Middle East. The trip lasts through April 12.
Nigeria once had a professional military, said a defense official. But no longer. “The military has suffered under abuse by a number of dictators,” he said.
U.S. officials would not have visited the country before May 29, 1999. That was when Olusegun Obasanjo assumed the presidency of Nigeria. Obasanjo was freely elected president after the country spent many years under military dictatorship.
One of Obasanjo’s first acts was to dismiss many senior officers who flourished under the previous system. “There were military governors of states in Nigeria living quite well with no visible means of support,” said the official.
Cohen will confer with the president as well as the military leadership to offer help in building civilian control over the military. “Our idea is we want to work with them to create an [Office of the Secretary of Defense], body that can conduct the form of civil oversight of the military that we enjoy in this country,” said the official. “It won’t be the same, they’ll have to come up with their own solutions, but the basic principles are there.”
Cohen will also offer aid to refurbish the Nigerian fleet of C-130 aircraft. The workhorse cargo craft have deteriorated and DoD will offer help in training maintenance people and providing technical manuals. “On a good day two [of their eight plane fleet] can fly,” said the official.
In the Middle East, Cohen will continue his push for the Cooperative Defense Initiative aimed at weapons of mass destruction. Cohen will discuss setting up a multilateral infrastructure for defending the region including shared early warning, passive defensive measures and consequence management. A defense official said these are programs the U.S. military struggles with and the secretary will share U.S. experiences with U.S. allies in the area.
Cohen will also discuss expanding multilateral cooperation in the region. “We have a number of interoperability issues, communication, information sharing initiatives out that we'd like to begin to look at seriously on a multilateral level -- the use of the Internet, computers, for example, for supporting some of the things we want to do” said the official.
She said the U.S. military would like to expand the number of nations participating in exercises in the area.
Cohen will also visit U.S. service members deployed to the area. “He will be visiting the troops in Kuwait, going out to see the carrier battle group Stennis, and some of our forces in Bahrain,” she said.