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Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP)
Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI)

The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) is a multi-faceted, multi-year US Government program aimed at defeating terrorist organizations by: strengthening regional counterterrorism capabilities, enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among the region’s security forces, promoting democratic governance, discrediting terrorist ideology, and reinforcing bilateral military ties with the United States. The overall goals are to enhance the indigenous capacities of governments in the Pan-Sahel region of Africa (Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as Nigeria and Senegal) to confront the challenge posed by terrorist organizations in the region. Additionally, TSCTP will facilitate cooperation between the Pan-Sahel countries and Maghreb partners (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) in combating terrorism. TSCTP is a sustaining program of counterterrorism, democratic governance, and military assistance and includes a public diplomacy component.

Counterterrorism programs create a new regional focus for trans-Saharan cooperation, including use of established regional organizations like the African Union and its new Center for the Study and Re-search on Terrorism in Algiers. These programs include training to improve border and aviation security and overall counterterrorism readiness. TSCTP also continues specialized Counterterrorism Assistance Training and Terrorist Interdiction Program (TIP) activities in the Trans-Sahara region and possible regional expansion of those programs.

TSCTP conducts public diplomacy programs that expand outreach efforts in the Sahel and Maghreb regions, Nigeria, and Senegal and seek to develop regional programming embracing this vast and diverse region. Emphasis is on 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 Program also engages in governance programs that strive, in particular, to provide adequate levels of US Government support for democratic institutions and economic development in the Sahel, strengthening those states' ability to withstand internal threats.

Lastly, the TSCTP conducts military programs intended to expand military-to-military cooperation, to ensure adequate resources are available to train, advise, and assist regional forces, and to establish institutions promoting better regional cooperation, communication, and information sharing. Support for these programs is provided through the Department of Defense's Operation Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara (OEF-TS). That mission works with partner nations to provide training and support to partner nations with an emphasis on preventing terrorism and helping to enhance the stability of OEF-TS countries.

Other US government agencies are active players in the partnership. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) was working on developing civil society programs in TSCTP countries including distribution of radios in Mail and Niger to help connect the government with local communities and providing governance training and assistance in Chad. Other US Government partners that were working with the TSCTP included the Department of Treasury and Federal Bureau of Investigation. TSCTP also built upon existing African regional coalitions such as the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS). The US State Department actively engaged other countries and organizations to join TSCTP efforts in the region.

Torn apart by war, disease, and poverty, and marked by vast ungoverned spaces, Africa emerged haven for enemies in the Global War on Terrorism. Stability in Africa subsequently emerged as such a key goal of US European Command's strategic plan. Despite obvious problems, African nations were joining together and making progress in their quest to provide security and stability for Africans. The United States looked to focus efforts on assisting African partners in building their regional capabilities.

The Trans-Sahara region spans 10 African and Maghreb countries and was an area of acute vulnerability due to vast expanses of desert and porous borders. With a long history of being a center through which arms and other illicit trade flow, it became increasingly important as terrorists sought to use these routes for logistical support, recruiting grounds, and safe haven. The US Government saw indications of extremist groups with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq operating in the Sahel. Islamist terrorist organizations in the countries that bordered the Sahara, like the al-Para faction of the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) that held 32 Europeans hostage in 2003, continued to pose a threat to the stability of an already vulnerable region.

As a result, the United States considered a long-term interagency plan to combat terrorism in Trans-Saharan Africa. The goal of what was initially termed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI), was to assist governments in the region to better control their territory and to prevent huge tracts of largely deserted African territory from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups.

The TSCTI built on the successful Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI), launched after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 to prevent terrorists from setting up safe havens in Africa. Vast, relatively unpopulated areas and a lack of strong government controls made parts of Africa particularly attractive to terrorists. Traditional caravan routes in this area could provide hideouts and staging areas for international and regional terrorists and criminals who moved goods and money to support their operations without detection or interference.

Other factors, such as war, poverty, disease, corruption and lack of education, further created an atmosphere of hopelessness where extremists' messages resonate, particularly with the younger generation. The very conditions that caused these humanitarian tragedies were also the very conditions that could lead to breeding grounds for the kinds of threats that the US was most concerned about in the region.

TSCTI was planned as a follow-on to the PSI that began in 2002, which helped train and equip at least one rapid-reaction company, about 150 soldiers, in each of 4 Saharan states: Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. The PSI had been constrained from its inception by limited funding and a limited focus.

The overall approach to the TSCTI was straightforward: build indigenous capacity and facilitate cooperation among governments in the region that ware willing partners (Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia, with Libya possibly to follow later if relations improve) in the struggle with Islamic extremism in the Sahel region.

TSCTI would help strengthen regional counterterrorism capabilities, enhance and institutionalize cooperation among the region's security forces, promote democratic governance, and ultimately benefit our bilateral relationships with each of these states. Key aspects of the TSCTI training would include basic marksmanship, planning, communications, land navigation, patrolling and medical care.

TSCTI, like the PSI, would seek to directly engage with participating nations and assists in protecting their borders and exploiting opportunities to detect and deter terrorists by providing basic training and equipment and train additional forces. The TSCTI also envisioned engagement with more countries than PSI with a greater emphasis on helping to foster better information sharing and operational planning between regional states. EUCOM would fully coordinate TSCTI efforts with US Country Teams to ensure that the total US effort in the Global War on Terrorism was complementary and tailored to the unique conditions within each country in the region.

The TSCTI would support US national security interests in the Global War on Terrorism by enhancing African regional security and promote an Africa that was self-sufficient and stable. The program would also better prepare participating nations to stop the flow of illicit arms, goods, and people through the region helping focus nations to better protect their own vast borders and regions. It would increases assistance with detection and response to the migration of asymmetric threats throughout the region. The initiative will also help these nations maintain security by building the capacity to prevent conflict at its inception. TSCTI seeks to maximize the return on investment by implementing reforms to help nations become more self-reliant.

The new program would be better funded than the PSI, expected to receive about $100 million a year for at least 5 years. Unlike the PSI, the TSCTI would also introduce a more comprehensive approach to regional security. The Defense Department would continue to focus on military operations, expanding its scope from the company to the battalion level.

In addition, other US government agencies also would also become active players in the program. USAID, for example, would address educational initiatives; the State Department, airport security; and the Department of Treasury, efforts to tighten up money-handling controls in the region. While providing an interagency approach to the region, the United States would continue efforts to get participating nations to think regionally about their mutual security concerns.

The Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative officially started in June 2005, paired with the annual Exercise Flintlock. US special operations forces from Special Operations Command, Europe (SOCEUR) trained their counterparts in 7 Saharan countries, teaching military tactics critical in enhancing regional security and stability. At the same time, they encouraged the participating nations to work collaboratively toward confronting regional issues.

The new initiative represented an important step in the United States' effort to address and fight global terror, with an emphasis on prevention rather than reaction. By building African nation's ability to counter terrorism within their borders, the United States can help prevent the region from becoming a safe haven where terrorists can train, organize and plan their operations.

In a story in September 2007, Voice of America looked at criticisms that the TSCTI, and its associated Exercise Flintlock, were misguided and a waste of millions of dollars. Experts quoted suggested that Americans did not understand criminality in the Sahel desert stretching from Senegal to Sudan and that African governments took advantage of a lack of knowledge of the so-called "ungoverned spaces" in the desert to generate fears about the potential terrorism only as a way of receiving money for their under-funded militaries with aging vehicles, tattered uniforms and low salaries. Spokesmen from countries receiving anti-terrorism support via the program, including specifically Mali, said that the threat was real. The Malian government had launched an international appeal to fight a recent resurgence in violence in its northeast around the time of the publication of the article. A spokesperson from Mali's army said the killings could not be dismissed as desert banditry, and were clear acts of terrorism. VOA's story also cited a congressional budget document that said the US government had requested more than $27 million to spend on terrorism initiatives in Africa, up from the existing $20 million as of the end of 2007.

In July 2008, the Government Accountability Office released a report entitled "Actions Needed to Enhance Implementation of Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership." GAO found that in fiscal years 2005 through 2007, State, USAID, and DOD distributed about 74 percent of their obligations for the TSCTP to Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger; about 3 percent to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia; and about 8 percent to Nigeria and Senegal. The remaining 15 percent was distributed through regional assistance, such as military exercises in multiple partner countries. The agencies expected to distribute about half of total funds committed for TSCTP for FY08 to Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger and the remainder among the other countries. State, USAID, and DOD supported a wide range of diplomacy, development assistance, and military activities aimed at strengthening partner countries’ counterterrorism capacity and inhibiting the spread of extremist ideology. For example, State—the lead agency for TSCTP—has hosted educational programs intended to marginalize violent extremists; USAID supported efforts to improve education and health; and DOD has provided counterterrorism training in marksmanship and border patrol to the militaries of partner countries. From 2005 through 2007, the key agencies participating in TSCTP obligated about $230 million for TSCTP activities. For 2008, the agencies' commitments totaled approximately $123 million. Fluctuation in the distribution of these funds for TSCTP activities had limited USAID's implementation of its activities in Mali. USAID received funds for its TSCTP activities in Mali in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006. Having received no funds for 2006, the mission suspended a peace-building program in northern Mali. Embassy officials in Mauritania also stated that the reduced distribution of funds for 2006 primarily resulted from a US decision to curtail its activities following a political coup in Mauritania in 2005.

The 2008 GAO report also criticized the TSCTP for having no comprehensive, integrated strategy to guide the program’s implementation and having not settled disagreements about whether State should have authority over DOD personnel temporarily assigned to conduct TSCTP activities in the partner countries. The documents used in planning TSCTP activities lacked key elements that were found to be needed in strategies for large interagency programs, such as a clear definition of the program’s goals and objectives and milestones linked to these objectives. State, USAID, and DOD had developed separate plans related to their respective TSCTP activities. However, while these plans reflect some interagency collaboration—for example, in assessing country needs for development assistance—the agencies’ plans are focused on their respective missions and do not comprise an integrated strategy addressing TSCTP activities in all nine countries.

The agencies also agreed that State was responsible for the security and coordination of all US government executive branch personnel assigned to all diplomatic and consular posts abroad, except for personnel under the command of a US military commander, and that DOD was responsible for all activities carried out by military personnel deployed by a combatant commander. However, in some partner countries, agency officials had disagreed about whether some DOD personnel carrying out TSCTP activities should be subject to State’s authority. For example, in one country, State and DOD officials disagreed about the number of DOD personnel to be permitted in the country; this disagreement contributed to DOD’s suspension of some of its activities. According to agency officials, such disagreements cannot be resolved at the country level and require higher-level guidance or intervention.

In 2008, the US created a unified command for Africa, US Africa Command (AFRICOM), splitting responsibility for the continent from EUCOM. As a result, the responsibility for the TSCTI became the responsibility of AFRICOM's Special Operations Command component, Special Operations Command, Africa (SOCAFRICA). The name of the program was also subsequently changed to the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP).

Between 2009 and 2013 alone the US allotted $288 million in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) funding to help armed forces of Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. US special operations forces provide regular training to Niger's army. Washington has spent millions of dollars on planes, trucks and "other gear" to the African nation - just the tip of iceberg given the Pentagon's significant military presence on the continent.

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Page last modified: 12-10-2016 19:46:56 ZULU