US increases armed presence in Africa because of terrorist threats

Mar 01, 2004 01:00 AM

The US is increasing its military presence in Africa as concern mounts over terrorist threats both immediate and future on the continent, according to the deputy head of US forces in Europe.
"The threat is not weakening, it is growing," US Air Force Gen Charles Wald said from Luanda, Angola. "We can't just sit back and let it grow." US troops withdrew from war torn Somali in 1994 after an effort to safeguard delivery of humanitarian aid spiralled into a bloody campaign against Somali chief Mohammed Farah Aidid.

The focus on Africa is now part of major restructuring of US forces in US President George Bush's "war against terrorism". The European Command oversees US military activities in Africa excluding the Horn, the site of a US anti terrorism effort for northeast Africa and Yemen.
Africa is of growing strategic interest to the US because of its terrorism links and its oil, seen as a possible alternative to Middle East fuel. European Command was not looking to station large concentrations of troops on the continent, Wald said. But it intended to make its presence felt through joint exercises, training initiatives and other exchanges.

US forces have also negotiated access to a number of sites, including airstrips in Angola and Gabon, that can be used for stopovers, refuelling, or to position troops and equipment. Wald said this would allow US forces to respond with light, mobile troops whether for peacekeeping, crisis response or a specific terrorist threat.
Key to the effort was supporting the development of strong regional security groups, improving the capabilities of African police and soldiers, as well as building relationships with the continent's governments and militaries, Wald said.

Wald is one of at least three top US commanders to touch down in Africa over the past weeks, following on the heels of the US commander in Europe, Marine Gen James Jones. Wald's trip includes stops in regional military powers Nigeria and South Africa; oil-rich Angola, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe; and Algeria and Niger, the vast desert expanses of which are seen as a potential haven for terrorists.
At the same time, US Air Force Maj-Gen Jeffrey Kohler, the European Command's point man on planning for force reconfiguration, has been visiting the Saharan states of Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

The three generals lead proposals awaiting a decision to shift from Cold War-era troop build-ups in western Europe to smaller concentrations closer to the world's trouble spots.
"We are going to do business differently," Wald said. "Waiting for a crisis to occur just isn't the way to do business any more."
Wald said there were specific terrorist threats in Africa at the moment, which he declined to characterise. But the US is also convinced there will be more threats in future. The al-Qaeda terrorist network has staged deadly attacks in east Africa, bombing the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, and a Kenyan hotel in November 2002.

Source: Business Day
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