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US Readies to Lauch Military Training Program for Sub-Saharan African Countries - 2002-07-25

The United States is poised to go forward within the next few weeks with a new military training program for sub-Saharan African countries. Armed forces from Ghana will be the first, followed soon by troops from Senegal and several other nations.

The new training program is designed to enhance the ability of African forces to conduct peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations, not only in Africa but elsewhere in the world if called upon to do so.

The program is called ACOTA, or Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance. It is a successor program to the now-defunct ACRI, or African Crisis Response Initiative. Over the past five years, that program saw several thousand African soldiers trained in peacekeeping and crisis assistance tactics.

Greg Engle, the Director of the Office of Regional and Security Affairs at the State Department, said in a VOA interview that the first country to participate in the new training scheme will be Ghana. But he added Senegal will soon follow along with several other countries, most of them veterans of previous U.S. training and many with first-hand peacekeeping mission experience.

"We're moving ahead with Ghana, with Senegal, both countries where we've gone in and had program development teams talking with the host government, trying to find out what their requirements are and what their capacities are so that we can give them a tailored program. We're going ahead with Kenya, with Botswana. Ethiopia has indicated interest in going ahead. We're in discussions with the South Africans to build a program for that country and also with Nigeria," Mr. Engle said.

Tailored or individualized programs are a key difference between ACOTA and the previous ACRI training. Another fundamental change, according to Mr. Engle, is that the emphasis will be on training trainers, not just troops. He said that should help maintain high levels of readiness among African forces.

"Under ACOTA, the approach we are taking is to enhance the country's capacity to train its own troops, so we're trying to give them something that is a bit more sustainable," Mr. Engle said. "If we train the troops, then after a year or two we're not sure how well the skills have been maintained. If we train the trainers, then the country can continue to train troops and that I think is the principal difference."

In addition to training individual countries in peacekeeping and humanitarian crisis operations, ACOTA is also aimed at enhancing the ability of African militaries to work together. Pentagon officials said that should facilitate regional operations involving troops from several countries.

No details have been released so far on funding levels for the new program. Officials said the availability of resources will regulate the rate of the program's expansion in Africa.