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US Navy Helps West Africans Tackle Illegal Fishing, Migration

The United States Navy recently completed a half-year tour of the Gulf of Guinea, where it has worked to train West African maritime patrols. U.S. officials say the goal of the program was to improve African navies, so they can enforce local laws and combat illegal fishing and migration and drug trafficking. Ricci Shryock reports from Senegal's capital.

The Dakar midday sun shone onto the USS Fort McHenry and the wind frantically whipped a large American flag back and forth, as nearly 200 Senegalese military lined up behind their U.S. Navy teachers for a recent graduation ceremony.

One by one, their squadron names were called out, to mark the soldiers' completion of a one-week course taught by their American counterparts, as part of the Africa Partnership Station program.

Among the graduates was Yves Ntione, a Senegalese mechanic. He said he learned important things during the course, such as how to change filters. But he says a week was not very long, and he hopes to continue the process.

In June, another U.S. ship will begin a tour of West and Central African nations to again train local maritime forces.

These programs are run by the Africom U.S. military command structure for the continent, which is based in Germany.

At a symposium in Dakar last week, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta stressed the importance of training African forces, and adapting to their specific needs.

"The first thing is that we will continue to listen. We will continue to engage. We will continue to be present in the waters in West and Central Africa, and that we will continue to help build you and your capacity to provide for maritime safety in West and Central Africa," said Kurta. "That is our pledge, and that is what we will work to do."

Navy spokeswoman Jane Tyler says the training also helps African countries build stronger economies by curbing illegal activity in their waters.

"The biggest concern for a lot of these West and Central Africa coast regions is illegal fishing, drug trafficking, illegal theft, illegal immigration, and that does not create an economically prosperous region, and by coming in and doing this military to military training, we help the African nations build up their navies, their capability, so they can control their own coastal waters, which can provide a more economic prosperous region," said Tyler. "And if they prosper, and they have stable regions, then that will trickle to Europe and the United States."

There has been an increase of such U.S. military training programs in recent years, including to fight alleged terrorist activity in the West African region as well.

Many human-rights activists in Africa say they fear their governments are taking too much of a militaristic approach to solve what they say are mainly social and poverty problems.