By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 7, 2010 - Counterterrorism in Africa has come into greater focus since the United States cited five African countries on a list of nations deserving more scrutiny amid heightened airport security following a botched terrorist attack on a Christmas Day flight. Combating terrorism in Africa is one emphasis of the U.S. Africa Command, the military's newest unified combat headquarters, and its associated sub-commands.
"There's been a lot of media focus on the incident and terrorism in general right now," Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa, said this week during a blogger's roundtable, adding that "it involved a Nigerian and apparently emanated from Africa, with possible links to Yemen."
Sudan ranked among four countries the U.S. identified as a sponsor of terrorism, while Nigeria, Algeria, Somalia and Libya are considered prone to terrorism. The U.S. compiled the list and the guidance to apply stricter security methods to passengers with connections to such countries after a Nigerian terrorist attempted to detonate an explosive device on Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Dec. 25.
Of the $350 million made available to the Defense Department in Fiscal Year 2009 to aid counterterrorism efforts abroad, the department has focused a portion of these so-called 1206 funds at building partner capacity on the African continent.
Some $10.3 million of the congressionally-allotted counterterrorism funding has been directed at Ethiopia for force development, with $15.2 million to Kenya and $8.5 million flowing to southeastern African nations for maritime security. The department allocated $8.8 million to Tunisia for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and nearly $5 million to Nigeria, the native country of alleged would-be Christmas Day bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab.
As the United States ratchets up security measures in domestic and partnering airports, Africom continues to build the capacity of partner nations on the continent to deal with transnational problems emanating from within their borders.
"The U.S. Army's role in all of this is to help strengthen the capabilities and capacity of our land force partners so they can help protect their people, secure their borders, support development, contribute to better governance and help achieve regional stability," Garrett said.
In addition to counterterrorism, the general listed violent extremism, cyber attacks, piracy, illicit trafficking, crime, corruption, disease and displaced people as other problems plaguing some of Africom'spartner nations.
A Defense Department official recently described the department's effort in a large swath of the continent as representing a key element in the U.S. government's three-pronged approach.
"DoD is the third pillar of the 3-D approach -- diplomacy, development and defense -- in the Sahel and Maghreb region to address the challenges posed by al Qaida in the land of the Islamic Maghreb," Vicki Huddleston, the deputy assistant secretary for Africa, said at a hearing before the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Maghreb refers to northern Africa while the Sahel characterizes a horizontal strip of the continent lying below the Sahara Desert and north of the continent's Sudan region.
"We believe that the long-term solution must be that each nation is capable of governing and controlling its territory with a professional military accountable to civilian governments that have the support of local populations," Huddleston said. "If this is not the case, then those who espouse violent extremism and acts of terrorism, even if temporarily deterred, will return to the ungoverned spaces."