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Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess and editor Pat Dickson sat down recently with Army Col. Vic Nelson, the Department of Defense’s country director for West Africa, to talk about the Pan Sahel Initiative. Public Affairs Officer Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers sat in. Click here to read the related story.

Stripes: What is the Pan Sahel Initiative?

Nelson: The Pan Sahel Initiative is a State Department-funded foreign assistance fund and administered program to the tune of $7.75 million, which we put together almost two years ago, and which we are executing now.

We’ve just completed – we, [the Department of Defense], being the executor and State being the people with the money – 10th Special Forces Group did the training in Mali and Mauritania and it was finished last week, and they are redeploying.

Pan Sahel Initiative Phase II is in planning, and we’re expecting to try and execute that as well, beginning some time in late spring.

Stripes: Is that the Marine Corps part?

Nelson: Maybe that’s the Marine Corps part.

Stripes: Maybe being, that has not been determined?

Nelson: Well, we would love to have the Marines do it. The problem being that [EUCOM Commander Marine] Gen. [James] Jones statement here [points to newspaper article] that the Marines are training in Niger and Chad is not correct.

Stripes: Marines from Europe?

Nelson: No, they don’t have this kind of Marines. In order to do this, they would come from CONUS. There are only 100 Marines in EUCOM. Their headquarters are teeny-weeny.

Stripes: Would these be special-operations capable MEU types?

Nelson: No, not necessarily. They’re Marines Training Command guys.

Stripes: Air Force is doing the lift …

Nelson: Ergo, why we don’t have enough money.

Stripes: They won’t provide enough lift?

Nelson: The history of the Pan Sahel is that we were going to do it with contractors. The [special forces] teams were not interested in doing it.

But at the time, given all that was going on in the world – you now, we’ve had wars since this thing was conceived, small ones, Afghanistan, Iraq – tiny – Combined Joint Task Force-Horn Of Africa – they felt that they could not do Mali and Mauritania.

See, the original plan was to cover Niger and Chad with contractors. Through patient work and beating the bushes for trainers, EUCOM was, at least conceptually, able to say, MARFOREUR could support this, using additional forces they would have to get from CONUS to do this training.

Unfortunately, the project was budgeted for $300,000 for Niger and Chad, for trainers. But if you add the Marines, and their lift, and their equipment, the cost is $1.1 million. And there’s more Marines doing the training than [special forces] guys would, or contractors. That’s the [shortfall] – the $800,000 that we’re trying to figure out where to find.

We have the money to do it "contractors only." Recent events in Chad have led us to believe that it would be better, and we were always trying to use U.S. trainers – as a better option for U.S. policy. But we have this [shortfall] of funds. So if we can solve that, one way or another, then the Marines can go do that thing. We in policy-land would like to see it. Not that contractors couldn’t do a fine job.

But sending in U.S. military forces to conduct training – guys that say "U.S. Marines" or "U.S. Army" or U.S. Something on their shirt – is fundamentally a more important statement by the United States: "I am sending my forces to help you do this," vs. "well, I’ve thrown some money at it, the contractors are going"… not to say they couldn’t do a fine job! They could.

But from a policy standpoint, it’s a more important statement if we can do it with U.S. military forces.

Stripes: How does the Air Force play into the money issue?

Nelson: Well, the Marines want to go in with their own equipment, vehicles and such, and that has to be lifted from Norway. And that of course takes aircraft. You can’t just get on a commercial airliner.

Public Affairs Officer Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers: And we’re still in the midst of that big troop rotation.

Nelson: Well, that’s one problem. You’ve got that, but mostly, it’s the money.

Stripes: Are the Norwegians averse to helping out?

Nelson: No, no, this is the Marine Corps storage depot in [Norway]. I asked EUCOM if the allies could jump on this, and the answer was ‘No."

Stripes: Did they say why not? It seems like something they’d sign on to…

Nelson: All so-called Western powers are all deeply involved in the global war on terror already. Besides, the United States shopping around for airlift is strange.

Stripes: By my count, Special Forces is participation is about 70 personnel; you’re talking about 25 Marines for Niger, 25 for Chad, so about 50. Where are the "more Marines" you’re talking about?

Nelson: The actual trainers of the companies, were mostly based on ODAs, (Operational Detachment Alphas, or "A" Teams) those are 10, 12 guys. There are other guys, administrators, that kind of stuff.

Stripes: So the count is more like 100 from the Marines?

Nelson: No, 25. They’re not adding anything.

Stripes: Each country?

Nelson: Each. It’s consecutive. That’s why it stretches out from May to October.

Stripes: The training packages are how long?

Nelson: Three months each.

Stripes: How come the training packages are so much longer than the SOF training packages?

Nelson: It’s not. You started in January, and you finished in March. That’s three months. And you didn’t do it consecutively, you did it simultaneously. Because you’ve got two different teams going on, you need more headquarters support to make all that happen in two different countries, as opposed to the Marines going in to one country, and then go take a break in Europe, and then go doing the other.

Stripes: What’s with the $100 million DOD funding figure I saw?

Nelson: That was a misstatement by the Department of State. There is no $100 million. Never has been. It started out as $6 million, $6.25 million. Then for a second-year sustainment, trying to continue the program on a shoestring, the State Department added $1.5 million, for a total of $7.75 million.

Stripes: Are you trying to find the extra funds from State or DOD?

Nelson: Both.

Stripes: Where would you look for the money?

Nelson: Nobody has signed on to using Title 10 operations and maintenance funds to support this. They can’t. It’s not like we have a slush fund. The foreign operations budget, that’s what it’s there for. Now globally, theoretically, you could look across the globe, in all the foreign operations budgets across the world, in which each other continent is way better funded than Africa – global FMF (Foreign Military Financing; a State Department program) accounts this year, for example, went up by 10 percent. In Africa, they went down by 22 percent.

Stripes: Can you put some numbers on that?

Nelson: No. I don’t have them. And I don’t want to.

But that’s the whole thing. Global, FMF goes up, Africa down. So what we’ve asked State to consider is, are there global PKO [peacekeeping operations] funds that are not being used? And if so, can we have them? And what are we talking about, $800 [thousand].

And if that doesn’t work, we’re trying to fund it for the Marines using … one angle, I suppose, would be a presidential drawdown. But do you suppose we’ll interest anyone in going through that pain for $800K?

Stripes: What’s a presidential drawdown?

Nelson: The president, if he wants to apply his authority to a situation can authorize something called a presidential draw down, which means Department of Defense can provide goods and services to the situation.

Stripes: Why not just have SOF units do the follow-on?

Nelson: They again don’t have slush funds. They’re training is based on JCETs, (joint combined exchange training) scheduled far in advance. And they’re busy. We were lucky to be able to use the 10th Group Special Forces in PSI, given the demands on their time.

So in trying to think out of the box, so to speak, in the old days what used to be the complete purview of Special Forces – i.e., training in Africa, one of their primary missions – we just don’t have access to the SF guys as much as we used to, because they’re busy. So now we’re looking at so-called conventional forces to do this.

But the Marines are going into Iraq as we speak. They’re already in Afghanistan, and they’re working hard on the Georgia train-and-equip program, in Georgia. So we don’t have an extraordinary amount of extra forces to apply to these programs, although everyone recognizes the importance.

Stripes: Why is it important?

Nelson: It’s important to have U.S. military trainers to establish the mil-to-mil relationship; to foster cooperation among the militaries, both bilaterally and regionally, and in my experience, you don’t get as much bang for the buck using contractors, because you don’t establish the mil-to-mil relationship. You can’t. They’re not military. They don’t have contractor generals.

Stripes: Does it also tell the Africans something about the level of serious the United States has in regards to their situations?

Nelson: It can be taken that way, and we’re sensitive to that. It doesn’t mean that Africa is getting short shrift when we apply contractors. What it means that we still want to do it, but at this time, on this program, it’s the only way we could do it.

Stripes: The PSI has a close date, or is it open-ended?

Nelson: October. The date could shift.

Stripes: Is anyone talking about PSI Phase III at this point?

Nelson: Yes. It’s in discussion at the interagency level.

Shavers: It’s too early to talk about it. He’s just laid out the constraints, and a lot of those same constraints are going to apply.

Nelson: It’s a concept at this stage. We are discussing it actively. I have a meeting this afternoon. Same deal. If the concept is approved and resourced, then we’ll go forward.

Stripes: The resourcing would again be State Department, or TBD?

Nelson: Well…it’s [to be determined] … if I’m having trouble finding 25 additional Marines …

Stripes: Is there talk about expanding to include additional countries?

Nelson: Well, we’re already talking about the Maghreb and the Sahel [northwest Africa].

Stripes: Including Libya?

Nelson: Not yet – not officially. The whole reason is regional cooperation, so that the terrorists can’t use these artificial state borders at the seams, against us. "Aha! I’m in Algeria! Aha! I’m in Mali! Aha! I’m in Algeria!"

[Including more states] would foster regional cooperation, which is what this is all about.

The policy is, helping Africa build the capacity to enable them to deal with these problems as a force multiplier for our own forces in the global war on terror. Well, what does it mean, that buzzword? That means, if they can do it, we don’t have to do it. And they want to do it, they want to help us and be partners in the global war on terror. They have needs, training and equipment needs.

As a force multiplier, if I don’t have to put a battalion of U.S. guys down, but I have a battalion of Chadians, well, then good, a force multiplier.

Stripes: So it would make sense to include Libya.

Nelson: I can’t get into that. I’m not a Libya guy. I mean, there are things going on with U.S. policy with Libya….

Stripes: When will Phase III be decided?

Shavers: This summer.

Nelson: I don’t know. It’s up to peoples above me. All I can say is, it’s a concept and it’s been briefed up the chain.

Stripes: How important in the PSI is setting up conditions to establish remote forward bases?

Nelson: It’s an unapproved concept.

Stripes: Gen. Jones talks about it all the time.

Nelson: It’s still an unapproved concept. He reads from the newspaper article: " ‘There are no plans to have permanent bases in Africa,’ Jones added."

Stripes: "Permanent" is the key word there. What about other kinds?

Nelson: Well, we have something called ACSAs now – [acquisition and] cross-servicing agreements. And all that is, "Hey, if I ask to use your airport and I need fuel and which we pay for it, then I tell you and we do it, okay?" OK. Yep, yep. And we have that.

Stripes: In these [PSI] countries?

Nelson: Some of them. And we’re expanding that; that’s working too. What you’re really doing is talking about standing access. You’re trying to routine-ize it.

So you go down, you assess an airport and you think, OK, if I ever have to come through here for one thing or another, then, they have an airport, it works, I have fuel. And I can use it. And you formalize it with an ACSA. And we do it.

There’s also something else related called the Africa Fuel Hubs Initiative. Same kind of thing. Access to an airport or a seaport that has fuel so if I need it, I can buy it and continue my mission.

The next step is the thing that EUCOM talks about, which is a concept: the idea of temporary facilities.

Stripes: How does this differ from an ACSA?

Nelson: ACSA isn’t a facility – we didn’t do anything to it.

For example, in Entebbe, Uganda, there are two K-stands – those clamshell tent things. Those are ours, to use for contingencies. Actually, the French are using them now.

Stripes: Right. I’ve been there. They have no working bathrooms.

Nelson: Right, that’s what [Jones] is talking about. Maybe a little infrastructure, maybe a very austere kind of set up, so if for some reason we have to go in and do a NEO, which in the past has been the thing we usually did in Africa, or maybe the global war on terror, then there’s at least something there to start with.

Stripes: Is there a name for that kind of arrangement?

Nelson: No. They’re still [messing] around with the names.

Stripes: And is the concept coming out of EUCOM, or the Pentagon?

Nelson: It’s a combination. This whole idea … I don’t want to talk about EUCOM … that’s not my thing …

Shavers: Just leave it at that. It’s a EUCOM initiative.

Nelson: They’ve talked about transforming and sending troops back to the United States and putting bases in [the] " ’stans" – it’s all a concept.

Stripes: Does the confusion with the different kinds of arrangements explain the [confusion] that came up with Sao Tome [and Principe] about two years ago?

Nelson: Every time a four-star says "base" in whatever context, it can be … misconstrued. Or you may hear what you want to hear, if you’re the president of Sao Tome. But it’s a concept. Not an approved concept. There’s lot of loose talk – not by Gen. Jones, not by Gen. Wald. But there’s comment that can be misconstrued. The fact is that yes, the concept is working, but it’s not approved by the Secretary of Defense.

Stripes: Will Africa be part of the Europe reposition plan announced later this spring?

Nelson: The only thing that they’re talking about for Africa is this idea of ACSAs, hubs, and potentially, the ideas of very austere bases. It doesn’t mean we’re basing U.S. troops in Africa.

Stripes: Were SOF troops involved in the fight in Chad?

Nelson: They’re not.

Stripes: Algeria?

Nelson: Nope. Gen. Jones says right here: (reads from article): "We’re not actively involved. We’re providing information." He has said that.

Stripes: Drones?

Nelson: Can’t say. Won’t say. We’re providing information.

Stripes: Having seen African militaries, it’s hard to believe they could have had the success they had in battle that they had, without quite a bit of command and control coming from the U.S.

Nelson: That’s an insult to Africans. Chadians are actually very good. Chadians are killers. Long history of it.

Stripes: Sure, they’re vicious killers, but they share one bullet a year.

Nelson: What do they need? They need the ability to move, and fuel, and vectoring in, so they have somewhere to go. They have garrisons throughout Chad. In this particular operation, they were able to move in 6,000 troops. That’s not a small thing. And in the wake of this, the Chadian minister of defense requested logistical supplies to sustain his forces in the field. And EUCOM provided to C-130 loads of stuff.

So if we could provide information that saying that we believe that X element of the GSPC (the French acronym for Salafist Group for Call and Combat, a terrorist group operating in the region) is moving your way, and they coordinate with the Nigerian, which they did, then they run them into Chad, and the Chadians block them on a hill – why is that so hard?

Stripes: Depends on how the terrorists are equipped, I guess.

Nelson: They’re dead. Forty-three of them. Or captured.

Stripes: Out of how many? How big was the force?

Nelson: It wasn’t much bigger than that. Some may have escaped. Come on, it’s a big place.

Stripes: Did you see this operation as a validation of the PSI concept?

Nelson: Uh, ironically, this all occurred in the two countries we haven’t gotten to yet. So it’s like, well, I’d like to claim credit … But you could say, that our efforts in Mali were successful in getting the GSPC element that we’re talking about to move – it got uncomfortable.

Because if you’re a terrorist, or a smuggler, or a bandit, and you’ve got a government entity driving around watching you, you can’t do what you want to do. You have to move. So he started to move, and then the Nigerian picked him up, and he continued to move, all the way across there [points to a map of Nigeria] to Chad [in the Tibesti region, in the far northwest corner of the country].

Stripes: The reason they came out of Mali is because they were feeling pressure from the more coordinated military, thanks to the U.S. training?

Nelson: That’s our surmise. Why would they do it, otherwise?

Stripes: But we were in neither Niger nor Chad, but there were U.S. surveillance opportunities – we must have someone in there.

Nelson: We provided information. We don’t have to have folks there to provide information.

Stripes: But for tracking little bitty movements, it helps.

Nelson: Well, but it’s a big open place. If you’re looking for X numbers of Toyotas, and they’re all there, it’s like, OK. Either they’re our guys, or they’re other bandits or smugglers, or Tuaregs, or something. And you figure out, if you’ve been tracking them …

Stripes: Can’t these bandits or smugglers pay locals off and do whatever they want?

Nelson: Not necessarily. The GSPC is an Algerian-based terrorist group. And they have some members of other ethnic groups, like the Tuaregs. But when you run into Chad, you run into the Tubu. They hate the Tuaregs.

So it’s not a simple matter of just saying, we’re moving through your [area of operation]. This is historical, ethnic, long hatred, so it’s not a given that you can just sprinkle money whenever you want.

Stripes: So why send U.S. trainers to Chad, if the GSPC finds no purchase there?

Nelson: There’s other [groups] … let’s have Pan Sahel, let’s pick Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania, because these people move. And if we get all these guys to cooperate with their northern neighbors – Libya is a new thing, but Algeria certainly, then that’s all good.

Because … before EUCOM efforts to develop regional cooperation began, there was very little cooperation. The Chadian didn’t talk to Nigerians, the Algerians didn’t talk to Malians. And so people like Mr. [Abderrassak] al-Para (self-proclaimed leader of the GSPC) were able to move around without too much hindrance. The Salafist Group for Call and Combat is the GSPC in French.

Stripes: What about terrorists in your area?

Nelson: There are other affiliated groups that we are interested in.

Stripes: Onesie-twosies? Basement groups?

Nelson: Some of them. I’m not going to go down that road. I’m not going to talk about that. There are other terrorist organizations in the region that cooperate and operate.

Stripes: Have they been named by [the State Department]?

Nelson: GSPC has been named; the other ones, I’m not sure. There’s a bunch of them. It runs the gamut from somebody who says, ‘I’m a [terrorist] guy" to somebody who might be one.

Stripes: Is the terrorist threat increasing in your AOR?

Nelson: Does it ever decrease? …

There have been indications of cooperation in operation. And so there’s been some indications of al-Qaida interest in the region. And that’s what draws our interest. This all kind of was underscored by Mr. al-Para’s capture of the Europeans tourists last year, which eventually were released. It’s like, well, who’s this guy – what’s next?

Stripes: Are there indications that this is a new phenomenon? And why the al-Qaida interest?

Nelson: That’s simple. If you drive them out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and you drive them out of Iraq, where do they go? Large, ungoverned kinds of space, kind of Arabic, kind of Muslim – that would be there. With sympathetic terrorist organizations already there, potentially? Or the ability to transit through, without anybody noticing? Or the ability through the smuggler networks to buy things?

Stripes: Are GSPC using Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis, or are they more homogenous, more African?

Nelson: I don’t know. I think they’re all of the above. If you look at the nationalities of the dead guys in Chad, they’re a bunch of different guys. They’re Nigerian, Chadian, Mauritanian …

Stripes: Any Arabs?

Nelson: Yes.

Stripes: Egyptians?

Nelson: No.

Stripes: Saudis?

Nelson: No. Not this time.

Stripes: Iranians?

Nelson: Iranians? What the heck would they be doing there? No. Mostly regional kinds of guys.

Stripes: Why does the U.S. government apparently have so little interest in the situation with Sudan and the refugees getting pushed over the border into Chad, and the alleged genocide?

Nelson: Ah, the "G" word. I’m not the Sudanese guy.

Stripes: But it involves Chad.

Nelson: What makes you think we’re not doing anything?

Stripes: OK, what?

Nelson: I’m not the Sudan guy. You’d have to ask USAID. USAID and other NGOs are working to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

Stripes: But isn’t there a concern that this will destabilize Chad, since the refugees are putting such a strain on the resources of that country?

Nelson: I guess it’s a concern. But Chad’s a big place; the Darfur [region] is on the other end of it, and so far the Chadian government is doing what it can in cooperating with international authorities. The answer to the Darfur is with the Sudanese government.

Stripes: How do you define success on this mission [PSI]? How will you know it worked?

Nelson: It’s already worked. The Malians are trained; the Malians went on patrol, there is regional coordination … if we did nothing but get the various countries in the region talking with each another, that’s a great success, because they weren’t doing that.

Stripes: Is there any hope for a NATO-like structure some day?

Nelson: Fortunately, in West Africa, you have ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States). That’s convenient regional organization, which is far in advance in its ability to do things like peacekeeping operations than any other African organization at this time, including the AU.

But if you go up a tier – and oh by the way, Chad’s not a member of ECOWAS – then there isn’t one regional organization that is like, well OK, we’ll use this one. So that’s a problem.

But are we going to go invent one? I don’t think so. We might try to lead the regional countries into a formation, but the jury’s still kind of out on Libya.

Stripes: [Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi’s] Pan-African Council isn’t a threat to anything the U.S. might want, is it?

Nelson: No, but again, like in Southern Africa, you go to SADC (the Southern African Development Community; in east Africa, you go to the EAC (East Africa Community); and if you want all Africa, the AU (African Union), west Africa, ECOWAS; there’s no one, trans-regional, intra-regional organization in the Sahel/Maghreb that you can kind of …

Stripes: But wouldn’t that be an ideal, wouldn’t that be a goal?

Nelson: Sure. But we’re far away from that.

Stripes: Do you think this increased interest in Africa will last if the emphasis on the war on terror subsides?

Nelson: The U.S. is interested in Africa in a broad range of…the Millennium Challenge thing, the HIV/AIDS work – I mean, that’s no chump change. The regional peacekeeping operations that we support. I mean, every time we say okey-dokey to a new U.N. peacekeeping operation, that’s 27 percent – 27 percent of the U.N. budget, we pay for.

For example in Liberia, that’s $245 million – so is that lack of interest? The State Department funds the Peace Support Operations Training Center, a logistics depot in Freetown, Sierra Leone. That’s $2 million something, and that equipment has been used repeatedly: Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia. So good bang for the ol’ buck there.

Operation Focus Relief – training center in West Africa, the Italians doing peacekeeping in Sierra Leone. Now a few years old. Eighty-seven million dollars. So is that lack of interest? Humanitarian funds in Africa are huge.

Stripes: I was talking more about military involvement.

Nelson: We had an entire battalion of SF guys in Nigeria training five Nigerian infantry battalions to go to Sierra Leone, at a time when we were at war with Afghanistan, with the Taliban. So, does that signal U.S. disinterest, when we use the same guys we could be using somewhere else? Doesn’t that signal that we think it’s important?

At the same time now, we had 10th Special Forces doing Mali and Mauritania, when they could be well chasing Osama – doesn’t that tell you we’re kind of interested?

If we’re interested in regional stability, because that ameliorates the humanitarian crisis and sets the stage of all the programs in good governance, and feeding the babies, and all that other stuff. If you don’t have security, you can’t get there with the rest.

If you don’t have security, it’s awfully difficult to prosecute the global war on terror, because there’s no one to deal with. The terrorists can use that to operate out of those regions. So regional stability is fundamental for our policy. And you’ll see all our programs trying to bolster regional security in one form or another. And it’s not small money.

Stripes: If there’s a third phase, wouldn’t it be better to do it on the budget cycle, even though it would mean an interruption this fall?

Nelson: What makes you think we’re not? But that also means you have to keep OMB from cutting African budgets, which are they’re favorite target. Because there are many other pigs sucking at the teat, globally. So OMB is doing its job: "How do I balance the budget when the president says stuff?"

So I understand why they do it, but we unfortunately tend to be a target. Global FMF up 10 percent. Africa FMF down 22 percent.

Stripes: Did we miss anything in our discussion?

Nelson: Let’s review the key points of the Pan Sahel Initiative. It was to foster regional cooperation and coordination; to counter terrorist elements that are operating and cooperating in the region now; and to bolster EUCOM’s interest in the regional; to make a U.S. policy statement – or try to – using active US forces; and it could be seen as kind of a door opening exercise over the last few years, with every intent, as we spoke, to broaden this program which is in concept now and discussion – but not approved.

Stripes: Broaden by country, or scope of participation?

Nelson: All of the above.

It is not a new front on the global war on terror. It is a continuation of the global war on terror. It’s not the "global war on Iraq" or the "global war on Afghanistan," it’s global. So, OK, we’re global, we’re in there, come on!

As we do this, it’s our duty to try and get the appropriations and budgeting cycles in sync, to support out plan. But then you have the penchant to cut African budgets. That doesn’t signal lack of US interest, in my opinion. All the examples I gave you – Millennium Challenge, HIV/AIDS, the PKO, capacity building … The peacekeeping operations training centers – we now have five, count ’em, five, in West Africa. And that trains, equips and supports various things in West Africa.

Peace Support Operations Training Centers:

First one: British and Guinean run in Accra, Ghana. The Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Center.

Second one, Koulikoro, Mali, outside of Bamako, run by the French.

Third one, Peace Support Operations Training Center for Logistics and Maintenance and Equipment Depot, Freetown, Sierra Leone. U.S.-run.

[Fourth], Peace Support Operations Training Center, Jaji, Nigeria. Combat Simulation. [Also U.S.-run]. We provided assistance to the Kofi Annan Center, to the British – we’re all buds and allies. They run a combat simulation center there, too, as part of the Kofi Annan Center.

Finally, sponsored by the African Center for Strategic Studies, ACSS, Peace Support Operations Strategic Seminar. They just signed on to do that, and that will be occurring within next year.

Stripes: They’ll hold it in the U.S.?

Nelson: No, Abuja, Nigeria. That’s where ECOWAS is.

Stripes: That’s your old kicking ground.

Nelson: Well, the squeaking wheel. And if you look across Africa, you’ll find a lot more going on in my region than any other region. Programs, and we actively provided logistics support to ECOWAS peacekeeping forces in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and we still are in Ivory Coast, though we’re starting to pull out … transitioning with the United Nations.

And then you have Pan Sahel, we’re up there doing that. And, we have coastal security.

Stripes: Coastal Security has U.S. Navy involved?

Nelson: Getting there.

Stripes: …Coast security?

Nelson: We’ve been doing it for several years.

Stripes: Is there anything new about it?

Nelson: EUCOM would like to do more in terms of the West African coastline. We already use the West African training crews [cruise?], which is a select ship to crawl up the coast and make calls and conduct training with select African nations on the west coast of Africa – the entire west coast, not just my west coast.

The most active program right now is a State Department program working with Guinea, Sierra Leona and Liberia to provide capability; and really, we’re only thwarted by the lack of funds from doing more.

I start the buoy counter program in Nigeria; we now have four 180-foot buoy counters, which are crucial to thwarting illegal oil bunkering, as it’s called. That’s the siphoning off of oil in the delta region of Nigeria for illegal purposes, which cuts into government revenue. The buoy tenders…the barges go out to the mother ships…they thwart that. The seize it, they check it, "who are you, where are your papers, ah ha!"

Or they go out, chase around and chase the illegal bunkering ships, provide security.

Stripes: This is all U.S. coast guard, no Navy ships?

Nelson: Not so much yet. But it’s a coast guard kind of mission.

Stripes: Closing remarks?

Nelson: Reviewing all those other programs, you kind of see how they fit together: peacekeeping, counter terrorism, Mali provides peacekeeping…

You were asking me how long this lasts. Well, in ’04, an $87 million project, Operation Focus Relief, which began in ’01 and ended in ’02, still provides peacekeeping battalions, one of which on is in U.N. duty in Liberia, and it’s fantastic. That commander is as good as any guy we’ve got. And that battalion’s a really good battalion. So that unit, the 26th Infantry Battalion out of Sokoto, Nigeria, was trained in ’01. And here it is ’04.

Stripes: What’s the main story about the PSI?

Nelson: The key point now is sustained what we’ve built on. We’re trying to do that. Nobody’s saying "no," we just have to move it through the thing.

Let’s face it. We will have trained six motorized infantry companies to monitor the borders in an area as large as the United States. So you could say, "give me a break. Is this a joke?" But it opens the door, fosters cooperation, opens the door to future programs. If it goes well, the test case, well, let’s expand, let’s do it some more. It makes much sense: the global war on terror. Well, terrorists are operating, cooperating there now, shouldn’t we do something about it? Well, we should.

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