US to spend $ 500 mm to secure Nigeria's oil and gas

May 31, 2005 02:00 AM

The US government has concluded plans to spend $ 500 mm (about N 67 bn) over the next five years to bolster its counter-terrorism campaign in the West African sub region and to guarantee access to Nigeria's crude oil and gas, the continent's largest oil producer.
The US has also concluded arrangements to hold a joint military exercise with Nigeria and Algeria as part of efforts to consolidate its presence in the West and North African regions. This move comes on the heels of a US National Intelligence Council report stating that Nigeria may disintegrate in the next 15 years if its leadership continues to work at cross purposes.

A statement released by the US embassy in Dakar, Senegal recently disclosed that the US was pouring more soldiers and millions more dollars into its anti-terrorism campaign in Africa, particularly Nigeria and Algeria; both oil-rich nations where radical Islam has a following. Specifically, the US proposes spending $ 100 mm a year over five years to boost security in both countries described as some of world's least policed areas.
An earlier anti-terror exercise with a budget of just $ 6 mm focused on troop training in four West African nations. The new campaign will target nine North and West African nations and seek to bolster regional co-operation.

Analysts were waiting to see if the programme would be fully funded -- but said the intended budgetary increase showed the US was taking West Africa more seriously.
"If they're turning the corner to $ 100 mm, that's graduation into something much larger," said J. Stephen Morrison, Africa director at the Washington DC-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. "It's still modest, but it's a dramatic step up."
Major Holly Silkman, a US military spokeswoman, said underpopulated border areas in the region could be sanctuaries for "terrorists or would-be terrorists."
"We want to increase security in those areas by training with each country's military and creating a regional focus, rather than just acountry focus," Silkman said.

US officials have long viewed north-western Africa's vast desert stretches as prime real estate for aspiring terrorists seeking to set up training camps or other bases. Some US commanders liken the area's ungoverned expanses to Afghanistan during Taliban rule, under which Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror group thrived.
The region is shot through with sandy tracks still travelled by camel caravans bringing salt slabs in from the desert -- ancient thoroughfares officials say militants can use to traverse poorly guarded borders. Much of the troop training will focus on units responsible for guarding frontiers, said Silkman.

Muslims in West and North Africa, like Muslims elsewhere, generally are moderate. But extremists do exist. Militants have roamed south from oil-rich Algeria into West Africa in recent years, and in northern Nigeria, years of poverty and brutal military rule has radicalised some in the population.
"We're concerned with the radical movement," said Silkman."Islam isn't the problem, it's only the radicals."

Troop exercises aside, the new programme will also bring together for medical training and command-post exercises military staff from the nine participating countries -- Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Chad and Nigeria. The earlier programme encompassed just Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger.
Morrison, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the US now appeared to have created a "counter-terrorism bookend" to its strategy in East Africa, which has seen a spate of terror attacks, including the1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania blamed on al-Qaeda. Notable among the new entries is Nigeria --Africa's most-populous nation of 130 mm, the continent's biggest petroleum producer and source of one-fifth of all American oil imports.

About half of Nigeria's people are Muslim. Osama bin Laden purportedly marked the country for liberation in a release posted on the Internet earlier last year.
The country is led by a Christian president and has seen deadly spates of Christian-Muslim violence, although most Nigerians live peacefully in mixed-religion areas.

Source: Vanguard
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