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STUTTGART, Germany — The leader of a military coup that overthrew Mauritania’s elected president has worked with U.S. forces that train in the African country.

As one of the nation’s top military leaders, Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz "is a senior official and we have a bilateral relationship with him as we coordinate our security cooperation programs," a spokesman for the U.S. European Command said.

Aziz, who also assisted in a 2005 coup that overthrew a longtime ruler, on Wednesday led a group that arrested President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, his prime minister and interior minister.

Abdallahi’s election in March 2007 in the coup-plagued country was considered a democratic breakthrough, the kind the U.S. military hopes to foster in Africa through its Stuttgart-based European and Africa commands. That one of their training partners, Aziz, would lead a coup against a democratically elected president was called bad news by U.S. military leaders.

"When we talk about good governance and military involvement, one of the first things we talk about — and it’s a large takeaway of what we try to impart — is ‘civilian control of the military,’ " said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, the European Command spokesman.

Dorrian did not specify the nature of the military’s work with Aziz, other than to say it was part of regular relations. Aziz has not participated in any "resident programs," such as professional development programs, in which the U.S. hosts emerging foreign military leaders, according to Dorrian.

Mauritania is one of nine northern African countries whose militaries work with U.S. trainers under a program called Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara. The training is to build the capacity of militaries such as Mauritania’s to defend their nation and work strategically with neighboring nations.

U.S. troops operating in Mauritania — fewer than 60, Dorrian said — suspended their activities on Wednesday and were safe and accounted for. Dorrian said he did not know how or where the troops were being used at the time of Wednesday’s coup in Nouakchott, Mauritania’s capital.

The coup was swiftly condemned by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and by leaders of the Africa Union and European Union.

The coup marked a problem for the newly formed U.S. Africa Command, which is consolidating U.S. military involvement on the continent. AFRICOM assumes control of the military’s activities in Mauritania and throughout the continent on Oct. 1.

Struggling under a food shortage and increasing prices, Abdallahi had been fending off political pressure, including by firing four of his top generals. Instead of waiting for the next round of elections, in which Abdallahi could be voted out of office, Aziz and the others took matters into their own hands.

On Thursday, Aziz led a triumphal march through Nouakchott and declared he was "determined to save democracy" in the Islamic nation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bamberg GIrecalled for pride, enthusiasm

By Mark St.Clair, Stars and StripesMideast edition, Saturday, August 9, 2008

BAMBERG, Germany — A 54th Engineer Battalion soldier was remembered as a proud and enthusiastic soldier Friday during a memorial service at the Warner Barracks chapel.

Pvt. Timothy John Hutton, assigned to the 54th’s Forward Support Company, died in Baghdad of noncombat injuries on Monday. The cause of his death is still under investigation, 54th rear detachment commander Capt. Jason Meier said.

A native of Dillon, Mont., Hutton had been in the Army only a few short months, enlisting in January and arriving in Germany in the spring. The majority of his enlistment had been spent on Warner, and he had been in Iraq only weeks before he died, Meier said.

Remembered as a proud hometown boy and an enthusiastic soldier, Hutton had enlisted to see more of the world. However, memorial tributes to Hutton alluded to his having encountered personal difficulty.

During a Thursday memorial service in Baghdad, 54th commander Lt. Col. Christopher Lostochi told those assembled that Hutton must have been fighting an inner battle, Meier read from a statement at that service.

Lostochi also said Hutton must have been struggling in silence. “We find a sort of peace when we stop searching for answers.”

Also read during the service were words from one of 21-year-old Hutton’s buddies.

“He was one of the most helping and kindhearted people I met in a long time,” the soldier said of his friend.

Though many did not get a chance to know Hutton before he died, those who met him throughout the unit found him to be a quiet man with a good attitude, Chap. (Capt.) Scott Jackson said.

Hutton enjoyed hunting, hiking and fishing. After earning his GED and learning carpentry in the Job Corps, he enlisted.

Hutton is survived by his grandfather, Marty Malesich, who is mayor of Dillon; grandmother, Karen Malesich; mother, Sonya Miller; father, Albert Hutton of Fairbanks, Alaska; and sister, Christine Hutton of Missoula, Mont.

The 54th, part of the 18th Engineer Brigade, left Bamberg for a 15-month deployment to Iraq in May. Hutton’s death was the first in the unit during the present tour.

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