Special Forces Support Pan Sahel Initiative in AfricaBy 1st Lt. Phillip Ulmer, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service TIMBUKTU, Mali, March 8, 2004 -- Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Stuttgart, Germany, are training African soldiers along the outer reaches of the Sahara Desert in support of the global war on terrorism.
Special Forces training teams from Special Operations Command Europe are in Bamako, Gao and Timbuktu, Mali; and Atar, Mauritania in northwestern Africa to provide foreign internal defense training for the Pan Sahel Initiative, a U.S. State Department security assistance program.
"We're training basic platoon level tasks to one company of the 33rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in Bamako in order to enhance their capabilities to police their border regions in the north," said the battalion's operational detachment commander in Bamako. "They're really a sharp unit, and they're picking it up quickly."
Key aspects of the training include basic marksmanship, planning, communications, land navigation, patrolling and medical care. This foreign internal defense training, officials said, will help the countries involved better protect their own borders and regions.
Lt. Col. Robert Warburg, the battalion commander, met with the 33rd Parachute Infantry Regiment commander in Bamako during a recent visit and discussed the challenges and highlights of the training.
"The training here is a two-way street," said Warburg. "While we're here to train the Malian soldiers, we're also receiving tremendous training from them."
The African soldiers are not the only ones to benefit from the Pan Sahel Initiative. The SOCEUR forces, known throughout the U.S European Command for their abilities to excel in the most austere locations with the command's area of responsibility, are getting the opportunity to learn new cultures, terrain and languages by working with these African forces.
They're also conducting special operations forces specific training requirements in a new environment that they don't normally encounter in central Europe.
"We're fighting against terrorists, so this training is very important for us," said Malian Army Lt. Col. Unisa Barizamega, commander of the 5th Military Region, based in Timbuktu. "This training is helping us improve our combat skills and is teaching us new ones," he said.
"One of the highlights of our training was our joint airborne operation with the Mauritanian 1st Battalion Commando Parachutists using their aircraft and their airspace," said the battalion's operational detachment commander at Atar, Mauritania. "The soldiers are very motivated, and they have a good attitude."
The commander of the battalion's area operating base near Gao, agreed. "This is a good program, and we're glad to be a part of it," he said. The base near Gao serves as the Pan Sahel Initiative's headquarters, and two Special Forces teams conduct training there with local Malian forces. "The guys in the unit are working hard and doing a great job," said the AOB commander.
State Department officials said this region of Africa has become important in the global security arena. Vast expanses of unpopulated areas, instability, and porous borders make Africa an inviting playground for terrorists.
"By cooperating with Mali to better protect its borders and territory, we can help keep it from being used by terrorists. This makes Mali a very important partner in the war on terrorism," said Vicki Huddleston, U.S. ambassador to Mali.
(Air Force 1st Lt. Phillip Ulmer is assigned to 435th Air Base Wing public affairs.)
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