|The fight against terrorism has spread across the planet. Even in West Africa, the old routes of the trans-Saharan traders may be used by terror organizations. Producer Zulima Palacio went to Dakar, Senegal in West Africa to see what the United States military is doing about the situation.|
The Sahara, the world's largest desert, extends through North, West and Central Africa, touching more than a dozen countries. Some are poor, most are Muslim countries and are potentially vulnerable to extremist movements.
The U.S. military is taking preventive measures. It says the desert, with its ancient trade routes and little government supervision, offers a tempting home for terrorism.
General Thomas Csronko is in charge of U.S. military operations in most of Africa. "I think the conditions in the area exist for the development and sustainment of terrorist organizations. A way to look at defeating of terrorists' network organizations is to work on the capability of denying them sanctuary, denying them mobility and denying them support. The potential does exist within the Sahara region for the development of sanctuaries."
The U.S. military has conducted joint exercises with nine West African countries: Senegal, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Morocco and Nigeria. Known as "Flintlock," the exercises are an attempt to enhance the African military capabilities, to provide security along borders and promote collaboration among neighboring African countries.
U.S. Army Major Holly Silkman speaks about the exercises. "The whole purpose is to get these countries to form relationships that are habitual and lasting and cause them to work together."
"Flintlock" was billed as the largest deployment of U.S. forces in Africa since World War Two. More than 1,000 U.S. troops were in West Africa on joint exercises with over 3,000 African troops.
Even so, some African officers see terrorism as a remote threat. Colonel Antoine Wardini is Public Affairs Director for the Senegalese Army. "I have not seen terrorists. I have heard and we have learned in the newspapers."
Botswana's Logistics Commander, General Kabu Aman Tlokwane said he has no information about terrorist threats in his country but he is not counting them out, either. "Terrorism knows no borders. Even for small countries like Botswana we take terrorism as a real threat."
Nigerian General Alexander Agomudia, the Defense Chief of Staff, said the terrorist organizations have the initiative and they decide when, where and who the target is. But he says there's no terrorist activity in his country. "Not that I am aware, not at all. Of course, you always have some degree of violence that every state has, anywhere."
But American authorities say the exercises are needed because of organizations, such as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, which they say is based in Nigeria but has carried out attacks in Mauritania and Algeria.
U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, Richard Roth says, "The fact that GSPC, which is an organization indigenous to Nigeria, has claimed affiliation to Al-Qaida gives us concern."
The ambassador says this is only the beginning of a long battle by African nations against terrorism. Ambassador Roth speculates on how long it will take. "This is a process that is not going to take six months or a year, it is an ongoing process."
The "Flintlock" exercises are held every two years. In addition, the U.S. is gearing up for a new five-year, $100-million program of aid and military cooperation called the "Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative;" a program U.S. official's hope will further reduce the potential for terrorist groups to take root in Africa.