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Pentagon May Consider New Anti-Terror Options in West Africa - 2004-03-09

A senior U.S. military commander indicates the Pentagon may be considering possible new options for tackling the terrorist problem in the desert wastelands of West Africa.

Senior officers of the U.S. military's European Command have traveled recently in West Africa and have voiced fresh concern about terrorist activities, especially in the Sahel region.

Asked about those expressions of concern, General Peter Pace, the number two man in the U.S. Armed Forces, declined to specify what actions the Pentagon may be contemplating to tackle the terrorist problem there.

But the Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff indicated to Pentagon reporters that various new options may be under consideration. "I'm not going to get into specifically what we will or won't do about terrorists in Africa other than to say that when you lay out the mosaic, it becomes apparent those that are current threats to the U.S. and those you need to do things about and then we go about giving options to the Secretary [Rumsfeld] to do something about it," he said.

Other U.S. officials have told VOA recently American concern over terrorist activity in the deserts of West Africa is linked in part to the growing influence of Algerian-born terrorist Saifi Ammari, nicknamed the "para," a reference to his reported service in a parachute unit in Algeria's armed forces.

According to these officials, Mr. Ammari has been operating with small mobile armed groups in areas along the Algerian-Malian border that are outside of government control. They say he has also been recruiting among potential Muslim supporters in Mauritania, Niger and Libya.

Mr. Ammari is a member of the feared Algerian terrorist organization known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. Mr. Ammari and the group are on the United Nation's list of al-Qaida related individuals and organizations.

U.S. officials say American interest in his activities has been heightened because, in the words of one official, "he seems to be watching our security efforts closely."

Defense sources have previously indicated there has been intelligence-sharing with Algeria but a spokesperson for the U.S. military's European Command says there are at present no American troops in Algeria. U.S. military trainers are however working with Malian forces and other troops in the Sahel to improve their counter-terrorist capabilities.