U.S. sailors and Marines arrived Friday in South Africa for the beginning of a three-week exercise aimed at improving military cooperation between the United States and West African nations.

West African Training Cruise 2004 will include small-boat training, river operations, live-fire exercises and amphibious raids. In addition to U.S. troops, military personnel from South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, the Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Morocco are part of the drill.

About 100 U.S. Marines and 50 sailors arrived in Simon Town aboard a high-speed catamaran, according to a Sixth Fleet news release.

Although the exercise has been conducted since 1978, it comes at a time when the U.S. military is looking to increase its presence in Africa. Gen. James Jones, commander of the U.S. European Command, has recommended the Pentagon build small, temporary bases for American troops across the African continent. The proposal is part of the U.S. military’s transformation plan to meet future threats.

Africa is feared to be a haven for terrorist cells.

This week’s exercise is hoped to boost team work among the nations and give military personnel the chance to test new equipment.

Lt. Monica Richardson, spokeswoman for the Sixth Fleet in Gaeta, Italy, said one of the biggest differences between this year’s exercise and prior drills is the use of the High Speed Vessel. The craft is an aluminum-hulled commercial catamaran being tested by the armed services.

The 98-meter ship is primarily used for troop transport and can travel 45 knots per hour and operate in as little as 12-feet of water, about the depth of the deep end of a swimming pool.

Marines also will test a lightweight water-purification system developed by the U.S. Marine Corps war-fighting lab.

The exercise is scheduled to end Dec. 2.

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