|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
|Eleven African Nations Agree to Form Terrorism Task Force|
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 30, 2003 (AP) - Eleven African nations have agreed to set up a U.S.-backed regional task force to respond to disasters and terrorist attacks, a senior U.S. military officer said Wednesday.
The role of the task force will be to "provide the basis of a response to react once a terrorist attack has taken place," as well as to respond to other disasters such as floods and airplane crashes, said Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command.
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, the Seychelles, Tanzania and Uganda agreed at a two-day conference in Addis Ababa to be part of the task force.
Dubbed Golden Spear 2003, the U.S.-sponsored conference was attended by African government officials and military officers as well as Abizaid.
U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility covers 25 countries in the Horn of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and the Seychelles.
Details about the task force are sketchy, and it is not clear when or where it would be set up. Officials from the 11 countries are due to discuss the task force further in September.
Abizaid said cooperation is the key to fighting terrorism in the region - where U.S. officials say Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network is active.
"We seek stability; we seek a defense against the terrorists that have been active, not only throughout this region, but also throughout the world," he told reporters. "We know that we can only defeat terrorism collectively."
Terrorists last struck in the region in November when suicide bombers exploded a car packed with explosives outside a hotel on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, killing at least 10 Kenyans and three Israeli tourists. Minutes before that attack, assailants unsuccessfully tried to shoot down an Israeli charter jet with shoulder-fired missiles as it was taking off from Kenya's Mombasa airport.
In 1998, car bombs exploded outside the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 231 people, including 12 Americans.
Al-Qaida has been blamed for both the 1998 and the 2002 bombings.
In June 2002, the United States set up a military task force in Djibouti to combat terrorism in the Horn of Africa.
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa has more than 1,800 people, including troops from all branches of the U.S. military and civilian personnel. Earlier this month, a U.S. team assessed the feasibility of deploying U.S. fighter aircraft in Djibouti, a small but strategically important nation at the outlet of the Red Sea on the Gulf of Aden.
It is not clear whether the aircraft will be based in the former French colony. If so, they could be used to enhance air defense at the U.S. Camp Lemonier base in Djibouti town and to "provide close air support for ground operations or be strike aircraft employing any number of precision munitions," said force spokesman Maj. Matt Morgan.
The force is assigned to eradicate terrorist activity in Kenya, Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.
Sudan was home to bin Laden in the 1990s; Yemen is his ancestral home and Somalia, which has been torn by clan-based violence for the past decade, has not had an effective government since 1991.
"Where you see the success of international terrorism, it is almost always on the border of a place in the world where there is some sort of major political problem or there is lack of government," Abizaid said.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told conference delegates that his country "would leave no stone unturned" in supporting the new regional task force.
"Ours is a region which has been prone to conflict and has had more than its fair share of the calamities that are the consequences of conflicts," he said. "Ours has also been a region that has attracted the attention of those determined to spread chaos."