Rising terror threat cited as U.S. military boosts role in Africa
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa The United States is scaling up its military presence in Africa as concern mounts over terrorist threats, both immediate and future, on the continent, the deputy head of American forces in Europe said.
"The threat is not weakening; it is growing," Air Force Gen. Charles Wald said.
The focus on Africa is part of major restructuring as U.S. forces in Europe reposition for the war against terror.
The European Command oversees U.S. military activities in Africa, excluding the Horn, site of a U.S. counterterrorism effort for northeast Africa and Yemen. Africa is a growing strategic interest to the United States because of its terror links and its oil, which is seen as a possible alternative to Middle East fuel.
The European Command is not looking to station large concentrations of troops on the continent, Wald said. But it intends to make its presence felt through joint exercises, training initiatives and other exchanges.
U.S. forces also have negotiated access to a number of sites, including airstrips in Angola and Gabon, that can be used for stopovers, refueling or to position troops and equipment.
Wald said this will allow U.S. forces to respond with light, mobile troops whether for peacekeeping, crisis response or a specific terrorist threat.
Key to the effort is supporting the development of regional security groups, improving the capabilities of African police and soldiers, and building relationships with governments and militaries, Wald said.
Wald was one of at least three top U.S. commanders to touch down in Africa last month, following the U.S. commander in Europe, Marine Gen. James L. Jones. Wald said he expects to return about every three months.
Wald's trip includes stops in regional military powers Nigeria and South Africa; oil-rich Angola, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe; and Algeria and Niger, whose vast desert expanses are seen as a potential haven for terrorists.
At the same time, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, the European Command's point man on planning for force reconfiguration, has been visiting the Saharan nations of Mauritania, Mali and Niger.
The three generals are leaders in proposals awaiting a decision in Washington to shift from Cold War-era troop buildups in Western Europe to smaller concentrations closer to the world's trouble spots.
"We are going to do business differently," Wald said.