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Navy Reaches Out To East African Countries
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Navy Reaches Out To East African Countries

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By Andrew Scutro

Djibouti, August 07, 2006 – Sixth Fleet forces can no longer claim sole ownership of African engagement. The U.S. Navy now has the continent flanked on either side.

As part of the strategy to build a “1,000-ship” fleet by like-minded nations, the Navy is reaching out to East African countries from the antiterrorism base in Djibouti.

Rear Adm. Richard Hunt, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti, is leading an effort to help developing nations on the southwest Indian Ocean improve their abilities to protect themselves.

The initiative is similar to regular engagements with West African nations in the Gulf of Guinea region by the Naples-based 6th Fleet.

“Most of the countries out here, with the exception of Kenya and South Africa,” Hunt said in a telephone interview with Navy Times, “have no maritime capability whatsoever.”

Without any means to control maritime borders, piracy, smuggling and illegal fishing thrive.

“It’s kind of like an ungoverned territory in a country,” Hunt said. “It just allows bad activity to occur.”

Hunt’s joint task force is there to eradicate such behavior, including destroying suspected terrorist networks across the continent. Other mission strategies, according to DoD, is helping develop conditions for economic growth, establishing enduring relationships and creating a secure world for the residents in the affected regions.

Just below Djibouti, for example, sits Somalia, which has no functioning government and remains a source of regional trouble. The anarchy ashore has spread to the sea.

“When I took a look at what was going on in the region it became immediately apparent that you need to look more broadly than just what’s going on on the ground itself,” Hunt said.

Pirates attack shipping regularly off Somalia sometime forcing the U.S. Navy to jump into the fray.

At dawn March 19 off Somalia, the destroyer Gonzalez and the cruiser Cape St. George exchanged fire with a suspected pirate boat, killing one, wounding five and capturing another seven.

In order to establish some kind of control over the area, Hunt met with representatives of Djibouti, Yemen, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Mauritius, Comoros, Seychelles, India and Sri Lanka on July 25 to discuss regional maritime security.

Representatives from Pakistan, Britain and France also attended because their navies participate in Combined Task Force 150, which also provide maritime security in that region under command of 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

While piracy and smuggling remain a serious problem, Hunt said the region’s highest concern is illegal fishing.

“The intel folks here said that on an annual basis in the southwest Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa we think we lose about $2 billion a year to the criminal activity,” he said. “When you get into exploitation of natural resources, including fish, the dollar amounts go up very quickly.”

Hunt said the nations are not stealing from one another but, rather, fishing ships from Asia ply the seas unchallenged because the African countries cannot enforce their economic boundaries.

That lost potential revenue results in lost economic opportunity ashore, money that could be spent on social programs, improved infrastructure and other programs that help stabilize nations.

Hunt said that by engaging as many East African nations as possible, he hopes to promote more regional cooperation and, in turn, help more countries help themselves.

In June, the U.S. donated four 44-foot former Coast Guard patrol boats to the Djiboutian navy and dispatched a team of U.S. sailors to train the African sailors for one month.

Starting Aug. 8, U.S. forces including about 400 Marines as well as other troops based in Djibouti began taking part in training exercise ‘Natural Fire,’ Maj. Dave Westover, CJTF-HOA public affairs officer said. U.S. forces will train for 10 days with troops from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. About 1,000 troops total will participate. This exercise will focus on crisis response, military-to-military training and humanitarian events that include medical, veterinary and engineering civic assistance projects.

Hunt said the nations now working together for maritime security were “surprised” that the U.S. Navy would want them to be part of the allied fleet of 1,000 ships.

“Everybody looks at us as being so dominant,” he said. “They are surprised we would even value them as important components of the team.”

Source: The Navy Times


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