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TUNIS, Tunisia — There is a tangible result to having the U.S. military work with militaries in Africa: Stability on the continent will bleed stability throughout the world, a U.S. Navy leader says.

And if vulnerable nations can protect themselves, it means the United States won’t have to.

“If we can help them resolve their situation, it helps us resolve our situation” of stability around the world, Rear Adm. Robert M. Clark, director of Maritime Partnership Programs for U.S. Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet, said following recent staff talks with the Tunisian government.

“It’s a long process in North Africa, a long process but a sure one,” Clark said during an interview in Tunisia’s capital.

Tunisia’s safety concerns mirror those of other African nations that have built military and diplomatic relations with the United States: fighting piracy of fishing industries; quashing human, drug and weapons trafficking; and battling terrorism.

“When we (as Americans) refer to the global war on terror, we look through our own microscope,” Clark said. “We have to keep in mind that it might mean something else for another nation.

“In Tunisia, it might be the same overall war, but with a different perspective.”

Cooperation involves both the armed forces and diplomacy.

“The U.S. government is working with nations around the world to tackle global issues and find common solutions to common problems,” said Matthew Long, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. “Security and defense cooperation are part of those efforts with the goal of promoting regional stability and fighting terrorism, trafficking in persons and other illicit trade.

“[Visits] to Tunisia by U.S. military personnel, from the sailors and Marines of the USS Whidbey Island to Rear Adm. Bob Clark, only serve to strengthen that spirit of cooperation.”

The Whidbey Island, a big-deck amphibious dock landing ship, stopped on Nov. 17 in Tunisia for a port visit, the first time since 2001 that such a large U.S. ship has pulled into the nation’s port.

The overall mission is about “helping Africans help themselves,” Adm. Harry Ulrich, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, told Reuters in September.

It’s not just about building ties with the oil-rich nations. “Forget the oil,” Ulrich was quoted as saying. “Although oil clearly enters into the calculus, I’d be lying to you if I said that wasn’t true, but it’s about trade more than anything else.”

Officials have stated that affected nations lose about $1 billion a year to illegal trade activity.

The recent U.S.-Tunisia staff talks are part of a much larger U.S. European Command-run puzzle that spans farther south into Africa and east to the Black Sea.

“It’s part of a broader agenda of establishing peace and stability throughout our region, and our region is 91 countries,” Clark said of EUCOM’s area of responsibility.

The maritime security portion of that has fallen to the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy. In two years, the Navy boosted its “days on station,” or presence in the area, from 12 in 2004, to more than 180 so far this year.


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