WASHINGTON --- The American military is more dedicated now than ever before to helping Africans deal with security concerns that threaten their stability and hard-won economic gains, says Marine General James Jones, commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM).
Jones told a September 28 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee looking into the crisis in Sudan, that Africa remains a top priority for U.S. civilian and military policymakers because conflict, poverty, disease and terrorism on the continent "will continue to directly affect our homeland [American] security."
Economic ties with Africa also are growing, he added, and with "25 percent of [America's] oil coming from Africa in 10 years," security cooperation is more important now than ever. "Modest near-term investments will enable us to avert crises that may require costly U.S. intervention in the future," he said.
The Marine, who is also supreme allied commander (SACEUR) of the 26-member NATO alliance, told the lawmakers that in Sudan, EUCOM, NATO and the European Union (EU) are cooperating on a humanitarian mission to provide airlift for 7,000 African Union (AU) peacekeepers, a number of whom will provide security for beleaguered refugees in the war-torn Darfur region.
In other sub-Saharan African nations, Jones said, EUCOM is working with the State Department "to assist the African Union and African regional organizations to develop their security structures." Security challenges in Africa range from protecting vulnerable fishing grounds and offshore oil platforms to countering al Qaeda-related terrorist operations in the Sahel region.
"The centerpiece of our efforts," Jones told lawmakers, is EUCOM's theater security cooperation (TSC) programs, which involve military training and education aimed at peacekeeping operations and managing military resources and infrastructure. They are focused on countries that "possess the capability and show the desire to lead Africa into the future."
The jewel in that crown in many respects is the African contingency operations training and assistance (ACOTA) program, which followed up on an earlier training partnership called the African crisis response initiative (ACRI). Since 1996, more than 12,000 African troops from 10 nations have been trained in peacekeeping operations under the program.
Jones said the $40 million ACOTA program got a boost recently when the White House chose it to be the leading training element in Africa in the Bush administration's Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), aimed at increasing the ability of foreign militaries to increase their "peace operations" skills.
Senate support for the popular training partnership was emphasized when the body re-authorized funding for ACOTA in 2005. "This committee finds that several years of experience with ACOTA and its predecessor, the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), have confirmed their value," it stated.
Another ongoing EUCOM program Jones mentioned was the Tran-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI). Again, that program builds on and expands a popular former security training partnership, the Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI) with Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad. The initiative had some success last year when a PSI force engaged the extremist Salafist Group for Call and Combat, capturing a key commander, Abderrazak al-Para.
Noting that TSCTI has been expanded to include Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia "and possibly Libya," Jones told lawmakers, "The overall approach is straightforward: build indigenous capacity and facilitate cooperation among governments in the region that are willing partners in the struggle with Islamic extremism in the Sahel region."
NATIONAL GUARD STATE PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
Jones touched on another innovative program EUCOM hopes will create close relationships with African militaries and their counterparts in the individual states and territories of the United States, called the National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP).
In America each of the 50 states has its own National Guard military establishment, commanded by its governor. The units, consisting of part-time soldiers from the local communities, take time out from their civilian jobs to train on a regular basis. They might at times be federalized -- called up for duty by the president -- for natural disasters and other emergencies and for service overseas.
The EUCOM commander said, "The unique civil-military nature of the Guard allows it actively to participate in a wide range of security cooperation activities" that can help "partner nations make the transition from authoritarian to democratic governments."
As well as providing training, and in some cases equipment, the military contacts forged between Africans and Americans under the State Partnership Program "build valuable, often lifelong relationships at all levels that serve to enhance cooperation and advance U.S. strategic interests," Jones told the Senate panel.
Most of EUCOM's SPP partnerships are with Eastern European countries, but two years ago the program was extended to Africa and formed the following matches: South Africa-New York; Morocco-Utah; Ghana-North Dakota; and Tunisia-Wyoming.
The program has proved so successful, Jones said, that "EUCOM is planning to seek funding to expand the program in Africa."
Click here to read Gen. Jones’ testimony, on the Senate website (25 pages in PDF format)