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Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI)

The Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI) was completed in March 2004. Subsequently it was replaced by the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and Operation Enduring Freedom - Trans-Sahara.

The Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI) was a US State Department funded program in the northern African countries of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad designed to enhance border capabilities throughout the region against arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and the movement of trans-national terrorists. US Army Special Forces, assigned to US European Command's (EUCOM) Special Operations Command, Europe (SOCEUR), trained selected military units in Mali and Mauritania on mobility, communications, land navigation, and small unit tactics.

The PSI was reportedly initiated in November 2002, and was designed to protect borders, track movement of people, combat terrorism, and enhance regional cooperation and stability. The PSI was a State-led effort to assist Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation. Its goals supported 2 US national security interests in Africa: waging the war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security.

The key points of the Pan Sahel Initiative were to foster regional cooperation and coordination; to counter terrorist elements that were operating and cooperating in the region now; to bolster EUCOM's interest in the regional; and to make a US policy statement using active US forces. It was seen as a kind of door opening exercise over a few years, with every intent to broaden the program.

Technical assessments taking place in each country helped focus training and other capacity building resources. The PSI assisted participating countries to counter known terrorist operations and border incursions, as well as trafficking of people, illicit materials, and other goods. Accompanying the training and material support was a program to bring military and civilian officials from the 4 countries together to encourage greater cooperation and information exchange within and among the governments of the region on counterterrorism and border security issues.

It was important to have US military trainers to establish the military-to-military relationships in order to foster cooperation among the various militaries, both bilaterally and regionally. It would be hard to generate the same results using contractors, because there would be no direct military-to-mililitary relationship. The whole reason regional cooperation was important in the Global War on Terrorism was so that the terrorists could not use or abuse artificial state borders. Such a focus in policy was helping Africa build the capacity to enable them to deal with these problems as a force multiplier for US forces. The PSI was targeted at promoting US policy interests as part of the Global War on Terrorism in the Pan-Sahel region of Africa.

The Sahel region of Africa is the subarid climatological zone located south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from east to west across Africa. The 47 million people in the 9 Sahelian countries (Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal) have been among the poorest in the world. The countries' annual per capita GDPs range from $200 to $700 as of the mid-2000s.

The Sahel is a loosely defined strip of transitional vegetation that separates the desert from the tropical savannas to the south. The region is used for farming and grazing, and because of the difficult environmental conditions that exist at the border of the desert, the region is very sensitive to human-induced land cover change. There was increasing concern that clearing natural vegetation for farming exposes the fragile topsoil to the brunt of desert winds, and that these changes might be permitting the expansion of the region's deserts.

The Sahel region of West Africa is endowed with a highly diverse, yet fragile environment. It is a transition zone between the hyper-arid Sahara to the north and the more humid savannas and woodlands to the south. For many thousands of years, the Sahel has supported a scattered population of humans, living within the dynamic ecosystems that make up the Sahel. Humans learned to cope with the annual cycle of wet and dry, and survived many longer term cycles of wet periods and droughts. During the 20th century, the human factor in the environmental equation changed dramatically as population growth exploded. Humans have become a major driver of change in an already dynamic environment.

In the 1960's a series of abnormally rainy years encouraged farmers to expand their herds and grazing lands. Then in the early 1970's there was a terrible drought. The plant life of the region was virtually wiped out. Some 40 percent of the cattle died. By the 1980's continuing drought had completely denuded the soil, creating choking dust storms and migrating dune fields. The desert was creeping into formerly verdant areas at an average rate of 10 to 15 meters a day, destroying the livelihoods of over 20 million people. More than a hundred thousand starved to death.

The Sahel has a number of serious development challenges. The fragile ecological system, marked by historically high rates of deforestation, soil degradation and erosion, and a rapidly expanding population places a large portion of the population at continuous risk. Even in "good" years, the region is speckled with pockets of high vulnerability to food insecurity. Food security is further reduced by low and highly variable rates of economic growth. The region has a number of countries which have begun to shift to more participatory, more democratic institutions. The continued existence of these fragile institutions depends on establishing and maintaining sustainable, broad-based economic growth.

One of the PSI's biggest successes was the capture of Abderrazak al-Para, a key figure in the extremist Salafist Group for Call and Combat, who was turned over to the Algerian government in 2004.

In March 2004 soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Stuttgart, Germany, trained African soldiers along the outer reaches of the Sahara Desert in support of the global war on terrorism. Special Forces training teams from SOCEUR were in Bamako, Gao and Timbuktu, Mali; and Atar, Mauritania in northwestern Africa to provide foreign internal defense training for the PSI.

The African soldiers were not the only ones to benefit from the PSI. The SOCEUR forces, known throughout the US European Command for their abilities to excel in the most austere locations within the command's area of responsibility, were getting the opportunity to learn new cultures, terrain, and languages by working with the African forces. They also conducted special operations forces specific training requirements in a new environment that they did not normally encounter in central Europe.

The "$100 million DOD funding" for the PSI was a misstatement by the Department of State. PSI funding started out as 6.25 million. Then for a second-year sustainment, trying to continue the program on a shoestring, the State Department added $1.5 million, for a total of $7.75 million. The FY06 proposed program Exercise Related Construction (ERC) included PSI work with $475,000 in exercise facilities and airfield ramp upgrades at Bamako Senou Airbase, Mali.

Despite its successes, the PSI was constrained from its inception by limited funding and a limited focus. A follow-on program, initially referred to the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative and eventually established the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, was expected to be better funded and have a wider scope, adding Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, and Nigeria to the original 4 countries included in the PSI.




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