Friday, November 9, 2007

Africa's unfolding desert war

by Dulue Mbachu from ISN Security Watch (Switzerland)

The US initiated military programs with several countries bordering this region - the flagship of which is the Operation Flintlock exercises - to improve the ability to deter the threat. An important test for this military policy occurred on 13 September, when a US Hercules transport plane was hit by small arms fire while re-supplying Malian troops encircled by Tuareg rebels in the northern town of Tin-Zaouatene. No lives were lost and the plane returned safely to base, but the incident was a pointer to the unfolding violence in the Sahara Desert and its potential to become, like Iraq and Afghanistan, another theater of war between the US and Islamic forces ... According to a 2006 report by the US State Department, while the extent of activities of terrorist groups in West and Central Africa was unknown, it was certain that groups supporting or affiliated to al-Qaida were engaging in fund-raising and recruitment activities in places like Nigeria and countries of the trans-Sahara belt. Though the Nigerian Taliban were routed by the country's security forces, there are fears that similarly inspired radical elements may regroup and make their presence felt at any time. Under the US military program, started in 2005, US$500 million will be spent over seven years to train thousands of African troops drawn from the trans-Saharan area including Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia. US military strategy for West Africa, within the framework of the global war on terror, appears to be to work with the regional militaries to keep out suspected terrorist groups while securing oil interests in the Gulf of Guinea.

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