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US, Europe Share Information on African Security - 2004-06-01

For the first time, European nations and the United States have held a meeting to share information on military assistance in Africa, which is of growing strategic importance in the war against terrorism.

Fifteen nations and organizations, plus U.S. military officials, gathered around a table in Luxembourg for two days last week (May 25-26) to share information on their military assistance efforts in Africa.

U.S. Army Colonel Michael Anderson, who co-chaired the gathering, says it was precedent-setting. ?I think it is historic or important because it is a first, it is the first time that nations, as diverse as these European nations and the United States have sat down and spoken about Africa in an effort to coordinate and cooperate over a broad range of various issues, all within the military sphere,? he said.

Colonel Anderson says the topics discussed included the establishment of peacekeeping centers, de-mining operations, training, maritime security, trafficking in small arms, security for oil and gas supplies and illegal immigration.

?The beauty of the first meeting was this abundance of information sharing,? he said. ?The willingness of all participants, whether they be a nation, whether they be an organization like the EU, U.N. high-readiness brigade, to forthrightly and transparently share with each other just what it is that they are doing from a security perspective in West Africa.?

Another key topic was what the colonel calls ungoverned spaces. This refers to border areas or large territories which are poorly policed or where security forces are not able to properly monitor things. North Africa has a number of such areas, which some analysts say can become terrorist corridors.

The meeting was intended to focus donor nations' military efforts in Africa to make better use of available resources.

Colonel Anderson said that the meeting was a success, even if it was only a discussion with no specific conclusions.

Michael Emerson, a European Security specialist with the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, sees things differently. He said, whereas European countries look at the security in Africa from a broad perspective, the United States focuses only on the fight against terrorism.

?I think the terrible problems of sub-Saharan Africa, be it the genocidal cases in the central African republics or the violent chaos of the failed states in west Africa, those are big societal-humanitarian problems in their own right,? he said. ?Europe being close to these countries for a variety of reasons, geographic and historical, considers all of that as part of its security agenda. But I think the link to the global terrorism problem should not be exaggerated in that context.?

Last week's meeting brought together officials from 12 European countries, plus the United States, Canada and the United Nations. It was sponsored by the U.S. military's European Command.

The next meeting of the U.S. and European military officials to discuss fighting terrorism in Africa is set for November. U.S. officials say they hope participants will propose specific projects that the various nations can work together on, taking the cooperation one step further.