News

US Anti-Terrorism Training in Niger Has Supporters, Skeptics - 2004-09-21

Two dozen U.S. Marines are currently giving anti-terrorism training to Niger's army to protect the West African nation's large desert areas from becoming transit areas for terrorists. Niger is the last stop for the four-country, $8 million U.S. exercises, previously held in Mali, Mauritania and Chad. Soldiers seem to welcome the training, but as VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the Tondibiah military camp in southern Niger, ordinary citizens and human rights activists appear more skeptical.

Marines bark orders, as teams of two Nigerien soldiers fire machine guns at the sniper range of the Tondibiah camp on the outskirts of Niamey.

More training is needed though, as once again, the soldiers have fired out of order. As dust swirls around him, Sergeant Scott Hill explains, they are also shooting in the wrong direction.

"You have to aim on six o'clock on the target, you're pulling it in really tight and the A-gunners have to be talking to these guys, and letting them know exactly where they're shooting," he explains.

Niger's Sergeant-Major Ibrahim is acting as translator. He has been given repeated training in the United States, and says he welcomes the American way of getting things done, even in these dry, hot desert conditions.

"I know that they would be able to adapt everywhere in the world," he says. "I know them, I work with Americans. I used to be in American schools. I've been trained by Americans, so I know a little bit of who they are."

Later in the morning, lessons have been learned, and rounds go off without comment. The officer in charge, Major Paul Baker, says, despite cultural barriers in this largely Muslim nation, training is progressing nicely.

"They've been very friendly, very supportive. We've had absolutely nothing negative, as far as a Muslim threat, or anything," he notes. "They have been soldiers. We have been soldiers. Together, we have trained warriors, and that's what we do."

Other activities include closed quarter combat, making antennas out of wire and water bottles, as well as mortar training with cans.

Defense attaché at the U.S Embassy Roman Fontes says, because Niger is wedged between unstable neighbors Nigeria, Algeria, Mali and Chad, the terrorist threat is present.

"You have a number of different elements, such as traffickers that can involve anything from smuggling weapons to drugs to cigarettes that cross the whole of Niger, a lot of commercial interests in a very mobile society," he says. "And mixed in with them, you have the Salafists group that's common to everybody as the group Salafist for Preaching Combat, the GSPC, that comes out of Algeria that have trafficked and crossed through Niger in the north. They have ties to different other terrorist organizations in the world. Here in Niger you have to be aware of it, that it is going, on and it is a concern, and part of what we do here is to keep on track with the latest events on that."

After a recruiting trip through Mali, Niger and Chad earlier this year, leaders of the Salafist group, who seek to impose an Islamic state in Algeria, were captured by Chadian rebels. They remain in their custody.

Despite this terrorist presence, many Nigeriens, interviewed for this report, say they are skeptical of the usefulness of the American training. Some suggested more intelligence was needed instead.

The skepticism was particularly strong in the Islamic stronghold of Maradi, as Muslims went to attend evening prayers.

One shopkeeper, Maman Iro, says he fears that if Niger's military becomes too strong, it might unleash a crackdown on Islamist activists like himself.

He also says he doesn't want to see a repeat scenario of what happened in Algeria, where Islamists turned into extremists, after being ostracized by the government. A university student, Abdourahman al-Kassoum, also fears the anti-terrorism training could incite terrorism, rather than squash it.

"If there are terrorists in the north of Niger Republic, the answer could not be the violence, could not be the weapons, but the soft power, the negotiations, the dialogue, that's the best way," he adds. "If we take an example, in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, in Ivory Coast, everywhere in this world, we can see that never, never, violence has never been a response, has never been a weapon, has never been a power to eradicate the violence, to eradicate the terrorists, to eradicate the rebellion."

A Niamey-based human rights activist, Saidou Arji, also fears bolstering the army will lead to civilian casualties.

"You know, when soldiers are striking terrorists, they can kill other people, who are not terrorists," he says. "In Niger we have the experience during the Tuareg rebellion, sometimes soldiers killed citizens, because they think that the citizens are with the rebels. Sometimes, there are errors, because soldiers can kill people and discover after that they are not rebels."

Back at the camp, about 50 Nigerien soldiers are learning how to conduct desert raids. In all, 150 soldiers are receiving the training to become Niger's anti-terrorism unit. After the seven weeks of training, the Marines will be leaving behind 12 trucks, cartridges, uniforms, land navigation tools, fuel cans and other equipment.

For their part, some of the Marines will be heading back to Iraq, where they will apply their own training in combating terrorist groups.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs