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US, African Militaries Meet to Discuss Cooperation in Sahara


Defense chiefs of the United States and nine African countries are wrapping up a two-day meeting in Dakar, Senegal on increasing military cooperation around the Sahara. As the conference was taking place in Senegal, news came from Washington of the creation of a new Africa Command by the U.S. Defense Department. For VOA, Jordan Davis reports from Dakar.

Officials say the goal of the annual meeting of the Trans-Saharan partnership was to build the capacity of local militaries to address the threat of terrorist groups in the remote Sahara region.

The partnership is currently run by the European Command of the U.S. military, but is likely to change hands as the U.S. military restructures to create a new unit consolidating its African operations.

U.S. General William Ward of the European Command says over eighty million dollars have been allocated to the partnership in President Bush's budget proposal for next year.

The general says the partnership's work will continue regardless of which command is in charge.

"Over the coming months as the U.S. is hoping to look at roles and responsibilities we will ensure that whatever is done with the creation of the Africa Command brings 'value added' to the good work that's being done by the U.S. European command in Africa," he said.

Nine countries from north and west Africa train regularly with U.S. forces through the partnership. Much of the work focuses on policing vast stretches of largely uninhabited territory in the Sahara.

Officials say that cooperation has helped lead to the capture of elements of the Muslim militant organization Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

The group has announced its intention to attack French and American targets.

General Ward says greater cooperation is needed to prevent the region from becoming a base for far-reaching attacks.

"There is a demonstrated history of activities occurring in one area so they can be exported and conducted and carried out in another," he added. "That is something we have to be concerned about and the partner nations in the trans-Saharan partnership recognize that."

The Trans-Sahara Partnership was created in 2004, building on an earlier partnership between the U.S. and four African countries.

Currently, the militaries of Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, plus those of the United States, participate in the partnership.