The Pentagon is moving forward to cement its military ties with countries in the Horn of Africa as an integral part of the global war on terrorism.
While visiting Djibouti and Eritrea in December, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld floated the idea of a U.S.-backed coastal security program for the two countries.
Now, a senior Pentagon official tells VOA planning for implementation of that program is moving ahead. The official said money is being allocated and preparations are under way to select training teams to go to both countries as early as June.
The official said Djibouti, in addition to training in coastal security, is likely to receive boats in order to effectively patrol not only its harbors and coastline, but also its waters out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit.
In the case of Eritrea, which the official says manufactures its own patrol vessels, the emphasis will be on training to improve its operational capabilities.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledges relations with Eritrea remain complicated by the detention of two U.S. embassy employees. But the official said the Pentagon wants the Eritreans to play a positive role in coastal security because the Horn is a strategic area.
The official said the effort to forge closer military ties in the region does not stop there. A U.S. assessment team is in Ethiopia to pave the way for a military training program for Ethiopian troops. The official said it is likely to be a comprehensive program focused on preparing Ethiopian soldiers for further participation in international peace support operations.
The assessment team heads next to Kenya, according to the official. The official says Kenyan authorities want specialized training in command-and-control operations.
A special U.S. military task force arrived in the Horn area late last year to coordinate anti-terrorist efforts. Although the task force is headquartered aboard a military command ship that is patrolling regional waters, a ground force including elite Special Operations troops is based in Djibouti.
The task force is focusing primarily on possible al-Qaida activities in Yemen and Somalia.