U.S., other nations agree to coordinate Africa efforts
STUTTGART, Germany — Many militaries are giving aid to Africa.
France and Italy are training new police officers. Germany might send cargo planes to help ferry troops and supplies into Sudan. Spain is planning exercises with Morocco.
There are dozens of more examples.
But the programs and exercises are like pieces from a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, according to Army Col. Mark Morrison: important by themselves, but more useful after being put together. That was the goal of the second Africa Clearinghouse.
“We saw a need that we could work together,” said Morrison, chief of the Africa Division, Plans and Policies Directorate at the U.S. European Command. “To maximize resources, share information, make sure we’re not duplicating efforts, and not wasting our resources and time.”
Representatives from European countries, Canada and the U.S. State Department concluded two days of talks Tuesday at EUCOM headquarters. They promised to create a database — similar to a master calendar — of their African activities.
They also agreed to meet again in six months to plan ways to coordinate their efforts toward Africa, a huge and strategically important continent.
The first Africa Clearinghouse took place in May in Luxembourg. About 25 people attended this week’s conference; the next could be held in Britain in May or June.
“It was a really good forum for exchanging information,” said Lt. Col. Timo Hamalainen of the European Union’s Operations and Exercises Division. “Now we have names and faces, and know who to call.
“You can save time, save your workload and even money and resources.”
The U.S. military has conducted many operations in Africa over the past year.
Army Special Forces soldiers and Marines spent the summer training security forces in the interior nations of Chad and Niger. The Air Force recently airlifted African Union troops and supplies into the Darfur region of Sudan.
And troops based from all service branches based at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, on the eastern Horn of Africa, patrol the Red Sea and perform humanitarian missions.
“It’s important to our U.S. strategic interests that we look at Africa,” said C.D. Smith, from the U.S. Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, after Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s important to our historical connections with Africa.
“It’s also important as we fight the global war on terrorism, because we don’t want Africa to become another growing ground or recruiting area for terrorists that we’ve seen in other parts of the world.”
Morrison, the EUCOM colonel, noted that Africa has an abundance of both resources and problems.
The AIDS epidemic, for example, threatens to kill off entire generations of young adults in parts of the continent, thereby threatening the well-being of the generation of children that follows.
If aid projects are better coordinated, Morrison said, perhaps Africans will sooner be able to address for themselves their medical and security emergencies.
“[The United States and other countries] don’t always want to be the ones to have to go in and respond to crises in the regions,” he said. “We want them to be able to do it by themselves, or with minimal or reduced input from the rest of the world.”
Africa facts and figures …
Size: 11.7 million square miles or nearly four times the size of the continental United States
Resources: Africa is a major exporter of oil to the United States — Nigeria is the fifth-largest U.S. source. The African continent also has among the world’s largest reserves of gold, platinum and cobalt and is famed for its diamond mines.
Problems: The continent is plagued by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and by diseases such as cholera. The continent has also been ravaged for centuries by civil wars, such as the current one in Sudan and last year’s conflict in Liberia. Natural disasters such as locusts and famine also plague its people.
Source: U.S. European Command, various Web sites