The U.S. Defense Department said Tuesday it is seeking more legal authority to train and equip foreign militaries, particularly in Africa, in order to enhance their ability to fight terrorism.
The senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita says that while the Defense Department has been involved in training foreign forces for many years, it wants to do more, and needs new legal authority to do it.
"The Department of Defense has not traditionally had the mission of train and equip of foreign militaries. And it's one we're working closely with the State Department and the Congress to expand our authorities in those areas. We feel it's a very important aspect of being able to enable other countries, with pretty modest investments up front, and some interaction with our forces to become a lot more capable quickly," he said.
The U.S. military operates a small, permanent base in Djbouti designed to help countries in East Africa and the Persian Gulf improve their counter-terrorism operations. In addition, several U.S. ships have visited West African ports with the same mission. Currently a U.S. Coast Guard ship is operating in the Gulf of Guinea on a mission to improve the coastal waterway control of countries in that strategically important and oil-rich area.
The Chief of Operations for the U.S. military, Lieutenant General James Conway, says such relatively small scale operations away from the conflict centers of Iraq and Afghanistan are very important.
"It seems to us a very effective use of troops, looking at those places where you could see terrorists start to move when they leave Afghanistan, when they leave Iraq. It precludes that next location where we might have to engage. We track what we think are terrorist movement zones, and Africa is included in that observation."
General Conway says there have not been any "high value" terrorists captured in Africa in recent months, and he believes that is in part a result of the joint U.S. and African effort to keep them out. He says the Joint Task Force based in Djbouti is a good model for further cooperation involving small numbers of U.S. forces who, in his words, "strengthen the resolve and the capability" of local forces to ensure that their countries do not become the next safe haven for terrorist groups.