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African Cooperation Growing on Anti-Terrorism, U.S. Report Says
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington, April 29, 2006 – No longer quite the "breeding ground" for terrorism that a former assistant secretary of state for Africa described to Congress several years ago, Africa is gaining ground on the problem in partnership with allies like the United States, says the State Department's annual counterterrorism report, released April 28.
Africa continues to be home to groups that seek to violently undermine regional political and economic stability, but in the past year there were "few significant international terrorist incidents in Africa," and "many African governments improved their cooperation and strengthened their efforts in the war on terrorism," according to the Country Reports on Terrorism 2005.
"Both the African Union (AU) and African regional organizations undertook initiatives to improve counterterrorism cooperation and information sharing," according to the report.
An example of growing cooperation is Djibouti, it said, which hosted the only U.S. military base in sub-Saharan Africa, along with forces from other coalition nations, and staunchly supported counterterrorism efforts.
"President Ismail Omar Guelleh and many top leaders in Djibouti repeatedly expressed their country's full and unqualified support for the global war on terror" and were responsive to all U.S. requests, the report said.
On the down side, "a small number of al-Qaida operatives in East Africa, particularly Somalia, continued to pose the most serious threat to American and allied interests in the region," the report said. Regional efforts to restore peace and stability in Somalia are ongoing. Although the ability of Somali local and regional authorities to carry out counterterrorism activities is constrained, some have taken limited actions in this direction."
In West and Central Africa it is less clear how extensively terrorist groups are entrenched, although fund-raising, terrorist recruiting and other support activities for al-Qaida and its affiliates in South Africa and Nigeria and across the trans-Sahara region remain a serious concern, according to the report.
The latter threat is being addressed by a multimillion-dollar partnership between the U.S. Defense Department (DOD) and 10 Sahelian nations called the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative. The object is to train local forces and provide equipment to facilitate cooperation in confronting terrorist organizations in the region.
The initiative will emphasize "preserving the traditional tolerance and moderation displayed in most African Muslim communities and countering the development of extremism, particularly in youth and rural populations."
The report also mentions support to the African Union (AU) as important to U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
The Defense Department, through its European Command, helped establish the AU's Algiers-based African Center for Study and Research on Terrorism in October 2004, and its operations have been expanded. In addition, the Department of State and the National Defense University's Africa Center for Strategic Studies collaborated with the AU to run counterterrorism workshops during the past year.
OTHER AREAS OF COOPERATION
Ethiopia has "devoted high-level attention to the fight against terrorism" and "agreed to a number of new initiatives and continued to cooperate in efforts to collect and share intelligence on terrorist groups."
In addition, U.S. Army Special Forces and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa "continued to provide training to enhance Ethiopian border patrol and security skills" while the Ethiopian government "enhanced physical security, conducted investigations and provided protective surveillance in response to threat information directed at U.S. citizens."
In Kenya, the government has continued to cooperate with the United States in identifying terrorist groups operating within the country. More work remains to be done, however, in domestic areas such as law enforcement, enacting counterterrorism legislation and prosecuting alleged terror suspects.
Government officials in Madagascar were willing to cooperate with the United States, although limited equipment, personnel and training for border control increased the risks of terrorist penetration. "At the main port in Tamatave, which handles 80 percent of Madagascar's maritime traffic, steps were taken to improve access control and overall security."
Mali worked hard to combat terrorism and was "responsive on terrorist finance issues." The government regularly distributed terrorist finance watch lists to the banking system, but has not discovered or frozen any terrorist assets to date, according to the report. The Malian government was receptive to U.S. assistance in strengthening control of its borders and countering the presence of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in northern Mali.
Nigeria took "a leading counterterrorism role in West Africa." Its security services are proactive in investigating potential threats to U.S. interests and have worked to improve intelligence sharing on counterterrorism issues, and the Nigerian military worked to establish units with counterterrorism capability, according to the report.
Most important, "Nigeria consistently lent diplomatic support to Coalition efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaida, despite the domestic political ramifications in a country that is home to Africa's largest Muslim population."
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki said on several occasions that "no circumstances whatsoever can ever justify resorting to terrorism." Parliamentarians from all political parties, including Muslim legislators, have echoed Mbeki's sentiments. The report could not gauge the presence of terrorist groups in South Africa, but said many analysts believe al-Qaida and other extremist groups are present in the country's generally moderate Muslim community for fund-raising and other support activities, although "the South African government did not extend diplomatic recognition or provide any material assistance to terrorists."
Uganda had "a strong regional voice in opposing international terrorism and supported U.S. counterterrorism initiatives." The Bank of Uganda has the power to freeze the assets of designated terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, and Uganda is a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group, a regional body of 14 countries that holds periodic anti-money laundering/counterterrorist financing strategy workshops at the ministerial level.
The full text of the report is available on the State Department Web site, as is the regional overview (PDF, 14 pages) for Africa.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Response to Terrorism.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)