Military exercise in Tanzania benefits villagers
Stars and Stripes August 18, 2006
MSATA, Tanzania — Howling village dancers and U.S. troops, along with a young man clenching a snake in his mouth, helped mark the climax of a regional anti-terrorism and disaster relief exercise in East Africa on Thursday.
The ceremony, which doubled as a dedication for a renovated health clinic in the village of Msata, marked the high point of Exercise Natural Fire, which — for the first time since 2001 — brought together troops from the U.S., Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
“We feel very strongly the best way to combat terrorism is to go after the conditions that foster terrorism,” said Rear Adm. Richard W. Hunt, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-76, the counter-terror operation based in Djibouti. “We attack those causes right at the very root.”
While Hunt and other U.S. officials acknowledged the threat of Islamic fundamentalists establishing bases in Tanzania had declined since the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Dar Es Salaam, they touted the exercise as a demonstration of a “long-term commitment” to the region.
“The relationship is at quite a good level now,” said U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Michael L. Retzer. “This is just part of a larger framework of cooperation between the two nations.”
The choice of Msata, about 100 miles north of Dar Es Salaam in the Tanzanian steppe, had practical roots. The village, along one of the main paved roads in the country, is frequently the site of deadly traffic accidents; refurbishing the clinic and dispensary will have a visible effect on the local population, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Laura Varhola, the defense attaché at the embassy.
Marines from the 6th Engineer Support Battalion, a Battle Creek, Mich.-based Reserve unit, started the renovations on Aug. 8 and finished earlier this week.
In between speeches and a tour of the refurbished Msata facility, villagers pounded on drums, blew wooden whistles and performed traditional dances.
One young man in a red baseball cap danced with a 4-foot, bright green snake in his teeth. The snake — apparently not venomous — got its turn, biting the young man on the arms and face as he danced on, unfazed.
Down a pitted dirt road in the village of Masugulu, U.S. and Tanzanian military doctors held an open clinic. The most common ailments were respiratory problems and back pain, said Army 1st Lt. Ingrid Cavanaugh, of Company B, 413th Civil Affairs Battalion, out of Lubbock, Texas.
All told, U.S. and local military doctors treated some 11,000 people in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya during the exercise, officials said. About 3,000 of them were in Tanzania.
The four countries had held a similar exercise in 1999 and 2001, with the U.S. Central Command planning to conduct the drills every two years. But the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the resulting drain on funds and personnel — meant it had been five years since the last regional training.
“Our experience is that these exercises are needed. They are important,” said Tanzanian army Brig. Gen. Salim Salim. “In preparing army personnel to combat terrorism, the people of the country will need to be involved in one way or another. These exercises help to do that.”