EUCOM slated to step up role in Africa
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. European Command is slated for more involvement in Africa, not only as a result of transformation but also as a result of the global war on terrorism, according to the general in charge of operations.
Activities range from assisting other countries in creating peacekeeping forces and AIDS prevention programs to on-going training of African troops by U.S. Special Forces to ferret out the al-Qaida terrorist network.
More changes will occur in upcoming years as terrorists are forced out of the Middle East and from countries such as Afghanistan and move into the wide-open, relatively desolate areas of Africa, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Kohler said in an interview Friday.
“We don’t want them to turn into another Afghanistan,” he said of the African nations.
As terrorist cells were uprooted from Afghanistan and elsewhere by U.S. Central Command, Kohler said, they shifted to Africa, an easy back door into Europe through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
He points to the 2002 terrorist bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia and the arrests of suspected al-Qaida members in Morocco.
And last spring, several German tourists trekking in the Sahara Desert in Algeria were abducted by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which has emerged in Europe as an al-Qaida recruiting organization.
One of EUCOM’s biggest current operations in Africa is the Pan Sahel Initiative, Kohler said, which is training and equipping troops in Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Niger so they can better patrol their own country and provide security that would deter terrorists, Kohler said. The program, funded by the State Department, was announced in 2002 but not funded and operated until November 2003. The initiative will receive $6.5 million in fiscal 2004, Kohler said.
The training is catered to the needs and economics of the individual countries, he explained, which are often very poor. For example, the United States will provide Toyota Land Cruisers and not Humvees, he said, because the Toyotas are economical to repair compared with the maintenance costs of the popular military vehicles.
Initial instruction will be on small-unit tactics. The countries will also receive uniforms and helmets, generators, fuel containers, communications gear and medical supplies.
U.S. special operations troops are doing the work now, but they are in high demand due to the war on terrorism, and EUCOM is looking at bringing in Marines to do the training, too, Kohler said.
The format is similar to how U.S. forces trained troops in the former republic of Georgia, where EUCOM first relied on Green Berets and has now shifted to using Marines.
In addition to this program, EUCOM is also looking at ways to continue training African troops who can then be deployed as peacekeepers on the continent, thus freeing up the United States from having to send its troops, he said.
That’s what happened last August in Liberia, where, to disarm rebels there, the United Nations relied on troops from 16 African nations that make up the Economic Community of Western African States.
Founded more than 25 years ago, ECOWAS was meant to build an economic union in West Africa, and it has a mandate to intervene in internal armed conflict within any member state.
In addition to Liberia, the organization has committed peacekeepers to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau. The ECOWAS troops, under the auspices of the United Nations, went ashore to disarm Liberian rebels and ease the country’s transition to a new president.
Kohler noted that U.S. forces had trained every commander but one of the Nigerians sent to Liberia as part of the ECOWAS contingent.
“They were very disciplined,” he said.
The United States provided logistical support for the Liberia operation and U.S. Marines remained off shore in case they were needed.
Now EUCOM is looking at ways to help the African nations do their own logistics support for future peacekeeping operations.
Not only is EUCOM active in training operations and helping peacekeeping missions, but they are making sure the African countries have healthy populations to sustain themselves.
The U.S. Navy is in the midst of providing $15 billion in HIV prevention and AIDS outreach in Africa, Kohler said.
The United States has realized several African countries with good natural resources and economies may be devastated in the next decade because their populations could be decimated by the virus, Kohler said, so the U.S. military will work on education, particularly of military personnel.
“It’s either pay me now or pay me later,” he said, explaining that if the United States did nothing, there would be a huge crisis in the future.
African military personnel cannot participate in a U.N. peacekeeping force if they test positive for HIV, a fact that has, at times, hampered organizing troops, Kohler said.
“If I’m a guy in uniform, I’m going to more readily listen to another guy in uniform” talking about AIDS prevention, he said.
Transformation, too, is part of EUCOM’s Africa strategy, although, Kohler cautioned, it won’t involve large chunks of infrastructure or numbers of troops.
“A big part of it is relationships, legal agreements,” he said, which would manifest itself with more training operations and exercises in Africa.
Already EUCOM has put into play some things that are part of the bigger transformation picture.
In 2000, EUCOM provided humanitarian assistance and help in Mozambique after the country on the southeast corner of Africa was ravaged by floods.
But EUCOM learned it had a problem flying supplies from Europe because the distance was too far to reach in a cargo plane without refueling.
As a result, Kohler said, EUCOM found countries that would eliminate that problem in the future. For example, Uganda has given EUCOM permanent spots to park and refuel planes.
Because Africa is such a poor continent, modest financial resources can go a long way, Kohler said, and EUCOM, along with the State Department, which gets the funding for many of EUCOM’s activities on that continent, is lobbying Congress for more funding.
“I’m confident we’ll get it,” he said.