Global Terror Threat Prompts US to Review Importance of Military Involvement in Africa
Voice of America, 19 Apr 2004
Ten years ago, following the deaths of 18 American soldiers in a single battle in Somalia, it seemed U.S. forces could not disengage from Africa quickly enough - a policy decision that meant tragically there would be no U.S. intervention when genocide erupted in Rwanda. Now, though, the Pentagon appears firmly settled on a new course of involvement in Africa - a decision accelerated by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Ten years ago, writing for the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, then American ambassador to Somalia Daniel Simpson asked why the United States should concern itself with Africa.
"It is not easy," Ambassador Simpson wrote, "and it is sometimes dangerous as well as expensive to work there."
He went on to assert that in the wake of the deaths of American troops in Somalia in late 1993, it was clear the United States was no longer ready to expend American blood in pursuit of such policy objectives in Africa as democratization, conflict resolution and economic development.
There is still little desire on the part of defense officials to risk American lives in Africa, especially with U.S. forces strained by involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But now senior military commanders are looking at Africa as a strategic part of the world - and not just because of its vast natural resources or exploding population.
General Charles Wald told VOA in a recent interview the threat of terrorism has effectively re-awakened the United States to the importance of the continent.
"It has always had a lot of resources. It has always had a lot of people. But strategically, it has [just] been there, if you will," he said. "It has changed a lot. The terrorism issue, the whole environment of the world is changing dramatically and the fact that unstable governments and large areas of potentially ungoverned or maybe not ungoverned, but not patrolled landscape are a breeding ground for terrorism, and in North Africa in particular that is a huge issue."
General Wald is the four-star Air Force officer who is deputy commander of the European Command, which oversees military activities in most of Africa. He is a prime driver of the Pentagon's new engagement on the continent, an engagement that includes an expanded training program as well as logistical support for African militaries and, crucially, intelligence-sharing at what appears to be a greater level than ever before.
That help has in recent months led to the disruption of terrorist activities in the Sahel region as well as in the Horn of Africa.
Speaking this month at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington policy studies organization, General Wald said the United States had learned a lesson from Afghanistan, not to let ungoverned areas fester as terrorist havens.
He told the audience of academics, businessmen and diplomats the U.S. government will not let another September 11th happen.