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American Forces Press Service

NATO, European Command Working in Africa

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2005 The United States and Europe are paying increasing attention to the problems of Africa, NATO's supreme allied commander for operations, said.

Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who also is commander of U.S. European Command, said NATO and American efforts on the continent should be aimed at helping the Africans realize their economic potential.

The developed countries must do this so African nations "don't become the Afghanistans and Iraqs of the future," he said during an Oct. 20 Pentagon news conference.

Since 1994, NATO has engaged in the Mediterranean Dialogue with North African nations. The dialogue covers problems such as terrorism, immigration and drug trafficking. In addition, NATO is supporting the African Union effort in Darfur, Sudan. U.N. officials estimate that between 180,000 and 300,000 people in Darfur have been killed and almost 2 million are refugees. U.N. officials said more than 200,000 refugees have fled to Chad.

Almost 8,000 African Union troops are in the region, and NATO is providing logistical support, airlift and some expertise.

A number of NATO countries maintain relationships with countries formerly their colonies and with whom they now have constructive encounters. "The most recent phenomenon is that the United States now is paying more attention to problems surrounding Africa," Jones said. "And we believe that proactive investment is always cheaper than reactive investment."

Jones said the happenings in Liberia illustrate the problem. He said that when Liberia falls into civil war, the United States - working with African allies -- sends troops in to evacuate foreigners and separate the fighters. "(Then we) leave and then come back two or three years later and wonder why we're back," he said. "A better answer is to leave a small, focused, tailored force as presence - military and civilian alike - to help a country like Liberia get through this difficult period."

The teams could help the Liberians institute law and order, institute economic reforms, train its armed forces to support democratic values and be there for them as they help themselves into the future, the general said. "That model is what we're trying to export to sub-Saharan Africa to the northern rim and to anyone else who wants to have a relationship with the United States," he said.

Africa is the poorest continent and is a fertile ground for terrorism. "We already have evidence of fighters going from Africa across the Balkans and through a well-known route and spending some time in Iraq and Afghanistan and then migrating back to Africa," Jones said.

The danger, of course, is that these fighters gain experience in the Middle East and import jihad back to their countries. "You have teachers who can come back to their villages and marshal the easily led people who have no hope, no aspirations," he said.

European Command has sponsored small grass-roots efforts throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These exercises are tailored to the area and people and include not just the military in the form of special operations forces, but also the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"The American presence is valued as long as we do it the right way," Jones said. "(There has to be a) commitment on the part of the United States to help African help themselves in a way that preserves their dignity and is not neo-colonialist, and a way that allows (African nations) to join the family of productive economic nations whose best days are ahead of them."

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