The Washington Times reports on an important US initiative in the Sahel region of North Africa. The United States is spending $100 million a year for five years ($500 million total program) by funding the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). The Saleh region covers nine nations and has approximately 65 million people.
The Trans-Sharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI)
"Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia take part in the TSCTI.
During the first phase of the program, dubbed Operation Flintlock, U.S. Special Forces led 3,000 ill-equipped Saharan troops in tactical exercises designed to better coordinate security along porous borders and beef up patrols in ungoverned territories.
Maj. Silkman said Africa has become the most important concern of the U.S. European Command (Eucom) because of rampant corruption, drug and human trafficking, poverty and high unemployment, which create a significant 'potential for instability,' particularly in the Saharan region, where 50 percent of the population is younger than 15.
The TSCTI is 'one of the franchises' to defeat ideological entrepreneurs trying to gain a foothold by reaching out to the 'disaffected, disenfranchised, or just misinformed and disillusioned,' she said."
Al-Qaeda may be looking to partner with other militant African groups like the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) that is believed responsible for the attack on European tourists in 2003 and may have as many as 300 terrorists in the network. There is an additional concern because some estimates place 25% of Iraqi suicide bombers from North Africa.
There is some skepticism in some of the North African nations about the TSCTI plan. Some Africans view the plan as a US move to gain more influence over African oil. Others argue that repressive governments are using the US Global War on Terror to deny civil rights to their citizens.
SourceWatch has an excellent summary of the initiative and its member components:
- "Department of Defense 'would continue to focus on military operations'
- U.S. Agency for International Development 'for example, would address educational initiatives'
- Department of State, airport security
- Department of the Treasury, 'efforts to tighten up money-handling controls in the region'"
This area falls within the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's (CJTF-HOA) [See DEL post here regarding] area of responsibility [CORRECTED July 10, 2006, thanks to reader Mark S. This area doesn't fall under the CJTF-HOA]. The US has already spent $112 million in food aid for the region (for a list of USAID projects see here).
According to Global Security, the TCSTI would:
"help strengthen regional counterterrorism capabilities, enhance and institutionalize cooperation among the region’s security forces, promote democratic governance, and ultimately benefit our bilateral relationships with each of these states. Key aspects of the TSCTI training would include basic marksmanship, planning, communications, land navigation, patrolling and medical care."
The TCSTI follows up on and replaces the US State Department, November 2002 Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI). As part of the TCSTI, EUCOM (US European Command) conducted Flintlock 2005. Global Security describest the special forces training operation:
"US military members arrived throughout North and West Africa to participate in exercise Flintlock 2005. Flintlock, which ran June 6-26, was a series of military exercises conducted with US theater security cooperation partners in Africa. European and the NATO partner nations also participated, either directly or in an advisory role.
The principal purpose of this training was to ensure all nations continue developing their partnerships; further enhance their capabilities to halt the flow of illicit weapons, goods and human trafficking in the region; and prevent terrorists from establishing sanctuary in remote areas.
The training took place in several countries: Algeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. Participants practiced a wide variety of skills to include airborne operations, small-unit tactics, security operations, land navigation, marksmanship, medical skills, human rights training and land warfare."
Much like CJTF-HOA efforts in the Horn of Africa, the TSCTI seeks an approach to dealing with failing states on a multi-tier level. Improving command and control, military training, food aid, education and other human assistance areas are the joint approach the US is taking with North African participants.
Securing a safe North Africa will be at a minimum a generational task. However, it is a long term commitment the US cannot afford to neglect. North Africa could become another Taliban led Afghanistan or haven for terrorism and a prime source of potential recruits. TSCTI is a good further step along the road to changing and improving the North Africa region.
Additional Suggested Reading on TSCTI:
- "IGC Report on the Sahel Region", Winds of Change, April 11, 2005. - This is an exhaustive analysis of the threats in the Sahel by Dan Darling.
- "Diplomatic Murders and the Sahel", The Fourth Rail, July 28, 2005 - A great piece on the link between the Sahel region and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
- "WOT: Overlooked but Interesting..." Winds of Change, October 20, 2004 - Another good piece by Dan Darling on the Sahel region.
- "Islamic Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction?", International Crisis Group, March 31, 2005
- "Rear Admiral Hamlin B. Tallent, USN (Director EUCOM) statement before the House International Relations Committee", US House of Representatives, March 10, 2005
- "New Counterterrorism Initiative to Focus on Saharan Africa", American Forces Press Services, May 15, 2005.