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Pentagon: Africa, a Potential Sanctuary for Terrorists - 2002-04-02

The Pentagon's top official on Africa is warning that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa could be havens for terrorists.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Michael Westphal says the United States is closely monitoring the situation in Somalia.

U.S. officials have long considered Somalia a potential haven for al-Qaida terrorists because of its lack of a central government and its long and porous borders.

But Mr. Westphal tells reporters at the Pentagon it is unknown at this moment to what extent al-Qaida may have found a sanctuary in Somalia and what activities the group's members may be involved in if they are there.

Still, the senior Pentagon Africa official warns there are many other countries on the continent where terrorists could find a foothold, even using Africa countries as bases for operations as well as for activities like fund-raising.

"When I look at the map of Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, I see many countries that are not failed-states but they may not necessarily have the government structures to deal with or to keep track of who is coming in and out of their country and what they are doing," he said. "So there is plenty of potential throughout the continent to serve as a haven, base of operations, etc., for terrorists."

Mr. Westphal declines to single out any country by name and will not say how much Defense Department funding for programs in Africa is directed at counter-terrorism efforts.

But he notes any programs aimed at promoting stability on the continent are of assistance in halting the spread of terrorist activities. "Instability creates a vacuum which can draw terrorists to it so by working on things such as stability issue, written large, that is something in and of itself that helps to deal with the war on terrorism," he said.

Mr. Westphal adds the Pentagon is working to develop military partnerships with individual countries and regional groups for crisis response, peace support and humanitarian operations.

Among the Pentagon's current activities in Africa, U.S. troops are working with Nigerian and British military personnel to clear unexploded munitions left over from a fatal series of accidental explosions in January.

There is also a health initiative under way focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention among uniformed military personnel in select Africa countries.