USA / Afrika

Africa Com­mand Focus­es on Extrem­ists, Drug Traf­fick­ers

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2009 – The top U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer with respon­si­bil­i­ty for Africa con­cedes he’s wor­ried about the threat of vio­lent extrem­ists tak­ing hold there, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Soma­lia, and said U.S. Africa Com­mand is work­ing to help region­al gov­ern­ments pre­vent it.

“We clear­ly wor­ry about the threat of vio­lent extrem­ists tak­ing hold in any parts of the con­ti­nent where there are spaces that are under-gov­erned or not in full con­trol of the gov­ern­ment,” Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward told Nation­al Pub­lic Radio yes­ter­day.

“And so Soma­lia is, indeed, a place that we are con­cerned about,” he said. “In that regard, our pol­i­cy is to pro­vide sup­port to those gov­ern­ments that are in posi­tion in var­i­ous parts of the con­ti­nent as they seek to main­tain their con­trol over their spaces.”

While not active­ly involved in train­ing the Soma­li mil­i­tary, Africom is work­ing through the State Depart­ment to pro­vide oth­er assis­tance, he said. Mean­while, Africom also is work­ing under the aus­pices of the State Depart­ment to help Liberia, which is emerg­ing from a bru­tal civ­il war, stand up its new armed forces, he said.
“We also pro­vide train­ing sup­port to oth­er African nations who con­duct mil­i­tary peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions,” Ward said. That sup­port includes mil­i­tary men­tors and tech­ni­cal train­ing assis­tance, and focus­es not just on mil­i­tary skills, but also in respect for human rights and rule of law.
Africom also is a key play­er in a broad­er effort to crack down on nar­cotics traf­fick­ing in West­ern Africa, William Weschsler, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for coun­ternar­cotics and glob­al threats, told the Sen­ate For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee ear­li­er this week.
“Although we are still defin­ing the scope, we know that drug traf­fick­ing in West Africa is a major prob­lem, it’s grow­ing rapid­ly, and we expect it to grow over the com­ing years,” he said at the June 23 hear­ing.
The reper­cus­sions are far-reach­ing, Weschsler warned. “This endan­gers peace, sta­bil­i­ty, democ­ra­cy [and] our efforts to pro­mote secu­ri­ty sec­tor reform in West Africa, and pos­es an increas­ing threat to both our Africa and our Euro­pean part­ners,” he said.

Address­ing this chal­lenge requires an inte­grat­ed approach that incor­po­rates inter­a­gency and inter­na­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties to equip, train and main­tain region­al part­ners’ counter-nar­cotics orga­ni­za­tions, he said.
Weschsler point­ed to ini­tia­tives already under way, in which Africom is work­ing hand in hand with U.S. South­ern Command’s Joint Inter­a­gency Task Force South, the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency, Naval Forces Africa and oth­ers to mon­i­tor the drug flow and sup­port projects aimed at stem­ming it.

Projects already under way in West Africa include con­struc­tions of boat and refu­el­ing facil­i­ties for the region­al navies and coast guards, stu­dent spon­sor­ship for class­room train­ing, con­struc­tion of a screen­ing facil­i­ty in Ghana and estab­lish­ment of an infor­ma­tion fusion cen­ter in Cape Verde, he said.

“All these pro­grams are — it must be stressed — a result of a real inter­a­gency devel­op­ment process, and that’s crit­i­cal for the suc­cess of any of these pro­grams,” Weschsler said, empha­siz­ing the need for more and clos­er coop­er­a­tion.
The time to deal with the drug traf­fick­ing prob­lem, he told the com­mit­tee, “is now, before it under­mines our strate­gic inter­ests on the African con­ti­nent.”

By Don­na Miles
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice