U.S. Pushes Anti-Terrorism in Africa
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
N'DJAMENA, Chad -- The U.S. military is embarking on a long-term push into Africa to counter what it considers growing inroads by al Qaeda and other terrorist networks in poor, lawless and predominantly Muslim expanses of the continent.
The Pentagon plans to train thousands of African troops in battalions equipped for extended desert and border operations and to link the militaries of different countries with secure satellite communications. The initiative, with proposed funding of $500 million over seven years, covers Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia -- with the U.S. military eager to add Libya if relations improve.
The Pentagon is also assigning more military officers to U.S. embassies in the region, bolstering the gathering and sharing of intelligence, casing out austere landing strips for use in emergencies, and securing greater access and legal protections for U.S. troops through new bilateral agreements.
The thrust into Africa is vital to head off an infiltration by international terrorist groups, according to senior U.S. military, Pentagon and State Department officials. The groups are recruiting hundreds of members in Africa and Europe, attacking local governments and Western interests, and profiting from tribal smuggling routes to obtain arms, cash and hideouts, they say. Meanwhile, small groups of Islamic radicals are moving into Africa from Iraq, where Africans make up about a quarter of the foreign fighters, the officials say.
Foreshadowing a new phase in the war against terrorism, the Pentagon plan is to mobilize Africans to fight and preempt militant groups while only selectively using U.S. troops, who are already taxed by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in mustering African forces, the U.S. military confronts not only a highly elusive enemy across a vast, desolate terrain but also the competing agendas of authoritarian African governments and corrupt and chaotic militaries on the ground.
Training With GI Joes
"Arretez!" yelled Sgt. 1st Class Brian of the U.S. Army Special Forces, waving his arms at a squad of Chadian soldiers bounding over a dirt berm in a windblown stretch of desert south of Chad's capital, N'Djamena.
It was the first mock assault of the morning, and the Chadians, wearing mismatched uniforms, appeared to have forgotten every element of what the Americans had taught them. They were spread out too widely, standing up on the berm instead of crawling low, and their squad leader was omitting crucial orders.
"Tell them to check their men" for wounds, Brian shouted to an interpreter. It was only 7 a.m., but the energetic young Green Beret from Baltimore was exasperated. Citing security risks, the U.S. soldiers spoke on condition that only their first names be used.
Brian and about 1,000 other U.S. troops fanned out into North and West Africa last month for a major exercise to lay the groundwork for the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative, approved this spring. In three weeks of initial training, Brian's team from 10th Special Forces Group and a team from the National Guard's 20th Special Forces Group glimpsed the challenge ahead in Chad, the world's fifth-poorest country and, according to the anti-corruption group Transparency International, the third most corrupt.
"It was like going to Mars," said Sgt. 1st Class Gary, a welder from Utica, N.Y., on the National Guard team.
Green Berets are trained to navigate foreign cultures, but both teams lacked Africa expertise and were short on French and Arabic speakers. Each team was designed to have 12 members, but Gary's had nine men and Brian's had six. They were given the assignment on short notice after the 3rd Special Forces Group, which normally covers Africa, was deployed to Iraq.
They landed in Chad with outdated U.S. military maps that still labeled the current capital, N'Djamena, with its French colonial name, Fort Lamy. To keep from getting lost, Gary fashioned his own crude map by plotting GPS coordinates for stores and gas stations. U.S. soldiers are relative newcomers in Chad, where France has had 1,000 troops and three air bases.