By Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press ServiceMarch 16, 2007
WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, March 15, 2007) - The United States is keeping a watchful eye on developments in North Africa to ensure terrorists don't gain a foothold there, a senior U.S. military officer said in remarks provided to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee at a hearing here today.
The Defense Department is participating in the U.S. State Department's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock stated, because of concern that Islamic terrorist organizations like al Qaeda may use ungoverned areas of North Africa to gain new recruits and train for future attacks.
Craddock is chief of U.S. European Command. Headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, the command is responsible for large swaths of Africa, as well as Europe. African nations that now fall under EUCOM's purview will be transferred to the new U.S. Africa Command that's scheduled to stand up Oct. 1.
"Like all combatant commands, EUCOM is dealing with terrorism in all its forms," Craddock stated.
In northern Africa, "al Qaeda-affiliated groups exploit ungoverned spaces to gain sanctuary, recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip, transit and mount operations," Craddock said. "The Trans-Sahara region, in particular, offers sanctuary to Islamic extremist terrorists, smugglers of drugs and contraband and insurgent groups."
There's evidence that al Qaeda has stepped up recruitment of North Africans to carry out attacks against U.S., coalition and pro-Iraqi government forces in Iraq, the general said.
The DoD-State Department initiative in North Africa "strengthens regional counterterrorism capabilities and assists participating nations in halting the illegal flow of arms, goods and people through the region," Craddock said. He noted that Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia are participating in the initiative.
The U.S. military contribution to TSCTP is called Operation Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara, Craddock said.
"The military component (of TSCTP) utilizes special operations forces to train partners on the conduct of counter-terrorism operations," he explained. The program also helps participants get better control of their territory and prevents terrorist groups from using large, open areas as safe havens.
Globalization and modern communications systems enable terrorists to establish networks anywhere in the world, Craddock pointed out, noting, "the damage individual states or groups within those states can do is unprecedented."
However, the DoD-State Department anti-terror program in North Africa has the potential to produce significant results, and at modest cost, Craddock said.
"It can be a powerful brake on future terrorist expansion," he said.