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09-03-2004
US Army, NATO uses HIV as Excuse to Intervene in Africa    
    
The United States is stepping up its efforts to partner with Africa in the war on terror, says the deputy commander of the US European Command (USEUCOM) General Charles F. Wald. Although he wouldn't compare it to Afghanistan or Pakistan, he said Al Qaeda is definitely present in Africa, and the United States "can't wait for the problem to get larger."

General Wald, who briefed a small group of Africa-focused journalists Monday, has just returned from a seven-day, 11-nation tour of Africa that included stops in Luanda, Lagos, Pretoria, Cape Town, Accra, Tunis, Niamey and Algiers.

Over the past month, there have been two other visits to Africa by senior U.S. military figures - General James L. Jones, who is the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) as well as the USEUCOM Commander, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, USEUCOM's key planner in force reconfiguration, who visited Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

Forty eight African nations fall within the area of operation of USEUCOM, which is headquartered near Stuttgart, Germany. Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya fall within the province of the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), headquartered in Tampa, Florida.

"I am concerned about the large ungoverned areas of Africa that are possibly melting pots for the disenfranchised of the world, so to speak, the terrorist breeding grounds," General Jones told congressional leaders last June. "I believe that we're going to have to engage more in that theater."

USEUCOM is concerned that poverty and alienation from government, especially among youth, make Africa a fertile recruiting ground for Al Qaeda and other organizations. There is further concern that the oil resources south of the Sahel - now supplying the U.S. with 15 percent of its oil needs - could be at risk.

The African nations he visited agree that Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations may have found some sanctuary and perhaps even established new bases on the continent, said Wald. They "definitely have an interest in the Sahel," he said. And in West Africa, arms and drug smuggling help supply weapons and cash. "We still know that in Sierra Leone, diamonds are going out illegally. Al Qaeda has been interested in that as a funding source -- no doubt about it; so is Hezbolla, in a huge way."

U.S. intelligence believes terrorist groups have set up camps and opened up supply lines through northern Maliís largely ungoverned desert wastelands along the Algerian border, Stars and Stripes newspaper reported in their June 17, 2003 European edition. "They have established lines of communication that support operations in and out of the region," the paper said, quoting a "top level military official." This "no-manís land is far enough off the beaten path they can also conduct training camps there."

Everywhere he goes in Africa, Wald said, there is "resonance and agreement" that the need to fight extremism and terrorism "is something we (the United States and Africa) have in common."

The small and often poorly equipped and trained armies throughout Africa need U.S. assistance, Wald said. Currently, U.S. special operations forces are training armies in Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad as part of a State Department-funded program called The Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI). According to USEUCOM, the program, which trains selected units "on mobility, communications, land navigation, and small unit tactics," is "designed to enhance border capabilities throughout the region against arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and the movement of trans-national terrorists." Expanding the initiative to include Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria is under consideration.

This is a first step for USEUCOM in a regional approach to combating terrorism in which African nations take the lead. "I can see the South Africans and the Angolans cooperating in the future on regional security", said Wald. USEUCOM wants to reach agreement with governments across Africa on the use of airports for fuel stops - "Forward Operating Stations...that we can stop in, refuel in...I look at any place in Africa that has a runway or port that wants to be friends with the United States or we have a relationship with as a potential forward-operating location that we could temporarily use."

In addition, USEUCOM has in mind establishment of a half dozen "low-maintenance" bases at airports or remote camps, each one manned by up to 200 U.S. troops.

Wald expressed concern that Africa's major health and humanitarian crisis, the HIV/Aids pandemic, was becoming a "strategic" issue affecting security. Referring especially to South Africa, Wald said that HIV "limits the number of troops they can deploy at any one time." South Africa's military has received US$2.2mil from USEUCOM for "study, identification, education, prevention and treatment and follow-up," on HIV/Aids. "It may be the first wholistic approach in the world," he said.



    

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