Washington, DC — Three weeks ago, "the first meeting ever" between the chiefs of defense
of North African states and Sahel states took place at the Stuttgart,
Germany headquarters of the United States European Command (Eucom). Although
they are next door neighbors it was "the first time that the chief of
defense of Chad and the chief of defense of Niger talked to each other in
their life," Eucom Deputy Commander, Charles F. Wald told an audience at the
American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday.
The defense chiefs participating in the meeting came from Morocco,
Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger. "When we talked
to them about regional security challenges," Eucom's chief of counter
terrorism in the Plans Division, Lt. Colonel Powell Smith, told
allAfrica.com, "to a man they identified the greatest security challenge
facing their nations as 'religious extremism' -- that's how they termed it
not how we termed it and they want to combat it."
Out of that Stuttgart meeting came plans that led to a Eucom-Niger-Chad
"coordinated" military operation against the Salafist Group for Preaching
and Combat, known as the GSPC. The group, led by Algerian-born Abderrazak le
Para, is said to be associated with al-Qaeda and was held responsible for
the kidnapping of 32 tourists in southern Algeria last year.
After successful government crackdowns on the group in southern Algeria
and Mali, members fled through Niger to Chad. In Niger, according to Defence
Minister Hassane Bonto, the GSPC was working hand-in-hand with armed bandits
and was using hideouts and arms caches left over from a rebellion in the
1990s by Tuareg nomads. Forty-three of the GSPC were reported killed in the
combined operation, including, possibly, le Para, although that has not been
"This was a real terrorist threat," said Wald. "Part of this group were
Nigerians, Nigeroise, Chadians, Malians and some Algerians," he told the AEI
meeting: "Libya is terrified of them. This is a bad group of people...They
have declared allegiance to al-Qaeda. And I'll tell you one thing. I think
the United States learned a lesson in Afghanistan. You don't let things go."
Eucom's campaign against the GSPC, in partnership with Chad and Niger,
is an example of the growing importance of Africa to the security concerns
of Eucom, Wald said. Until September 11, he acknowledged, Africa was not
part of any strategic plans of Eucom, whose official area of operations
includes 43 African countries. Another seven - Djibouti, Egypt, Sudan,
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya - fall under the responsibility of the
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). "[Africa] was always there but it wasn't a
Oil is an important part of the strategic concern. Without African crude
oil, "each year the U.S. would need an additional 10 billion gallons of
gasoline," the president of ChevronTexaco Overseas Petroleum, George
Kirkland, told the AEI meeting. "That's about enough for fourteen and a half
million cars and trucks," he said - "more than the total number of
registered vehicles in the state of New York." In 10 years, thirty percent
of U.S. oil will come from the Gulf of Guinea, Wald said. "We will also
become very dependent on natural gas from Africa."
Europe's vulnerability is another part of the concern. Much of Sahelian
Africa is "a belt of instability," said Wald. Islamists use vast empty or
sparsely-populated spaces for transit into Europe and sometimes for
terrorist training. Alienation because of failed government policies in many
nations makes fertile recruiting ground as well. "Terrorists training in the
Sahel can be in the United States or Europe in a matter of hours," retired
General Carlton W. Fulford, Wald's predecessor at Eucom who now directs the
Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told the AEI meeting.
At the heart of the new strategic thrust of Eucom is working with
African regional organizations: the Economic Community of West African
States (Ecowas) in the west, the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) in the south, the Maghreb Union in the north, the Intergovernmental
Authority on Development (Igad) and the East African Community in the east
and the Central Africa Economic and Monetary Community (Cemac). But
encouraging a new political/military geography is also necessary, said
Wald. One symbol of this is the Eucom partnership with Algeria, Mali, Niger
and Chad known as the Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI) that transcends the
traditional north Africa - sub Sahara distinction that still divides the
continent at the U.S. Department of State.
In Wald's mind, thinking outside of the box seemed to include how Eucom
itself needed to be described now that it is paying strategic attention to
the south. Africa is so big that Eucom breaks it up into regions, Wald
said. "The United States European Command is a misnomer," he said. "One of
the things we are working on is trying to figure out what should the name of
the command be because this is not Europe, I guarantee you."
It is not clear whether Nato has also shifted its view on Africa and is
extending its mission southward too. "De facto, Nato has a mission in Africa
because we have a mission in Africa," said Wald. "Nato's interests are not
now sitting in garrisons in Germany or France or UK waiting for a million
Russians to come across the border. Europe needs to get out, go forward and
do some prevention."
Wald thinks they inevitably will. "Everybody's going to come to the same
conclusion at some point. Some will get there faster than others."
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