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US Army Special Forces Help Train Northern African Armies to Combat Terrorism

The U.S. Defense Department continues an ambitious military counter-terrorism program in nine nations across poor and largely Muslim areas of northern Africa. The program is designed to train African soldiers to fight terrorists who might set up training camps in their countries. VOA's Chris Simkins reports on some of the programs that are helping train armies in Algeria and Niger.

On the streets of Maradi, people are selling carrots, and that's a good sign. Last year's devastating famine is over. This land-locked desert nation is short of resources but full of spirit, an example of which can be seen in the country's army paratroopers.

Ibrahim Sanifu Issa is one of them. "The country can be poor. Yes, I agree that is true,” he says. “But our Army is a lot better than the ones I've seen around Africa."

These soldiers do not get a chance to wear flight helmets often. Niger's third-largest city has an airport -- but no airplanes. So most of these men have not parachuted for four years. But on this day, U.S. Special Forces are giving them a chance to jump.

A team of 12 U.S. Army Special Forces, some of America's best-trained and equipped soldiers, have spent a couple of months here, part of a U.S. Defense Department program to train North African armies to combat terrorism.

The U.S. team leader, identified only as William, says the military from one of the poorest countryies in the world is pretty good. "Honestly, they have got a superb military once you think though they do not have the resources they have professionalism, they have 'esprit de corps,' the discipline."

As the paratroopers get ready, the crowds to watch them grow and grow. Some 70 Niger soldiers flew with the Special Forces.

From the air, you can see why for an army in the Sahara, parachuting is more than a joy ride. Their commanders say, if they had to fight terrorists in the desert at a moment’s notice, it would be difficult to get soldiers by land to a potential combat zone, so parachuting in is the way to go.

U.S. Special Forces are not just in Niger, but throughout the Sahara Desert in nine countries, helping train soldiers to fight terrorists. Here America's elite Special Forces train alongside Algerian commandos, teaching them how to improve their shooting techniques.

A U.S. Special Forces commander says armies in Niger, Algeria and other northern African nations have to be ready. "I don't think there is necessarily an evident threat every day. However the potential threat here is what is important, " said an unnamed major.

The U.S. Defense Department plans to spend $500 million over the next five years dispatching Special Forces units throughout the Sahara, training North African armies to fight against terrorists.