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Pentagon Could Soon Boost Anti-Terrorist Operations in Horn of Africa - 2002-10-29

The Pentagon is considering the deployment of a special military command-and-control ship to the Horn of Africa region to coordinate anti-terrorist operations there.

Word of the possible deployment of a special command ship to the Horn of Africa comes from General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. military's Central Command.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon, General Franks said that, as previously reported, a force of some 800 U.S. troops remains in Djibouti, prepared to undertake anti-terrorist operations.

But he disclosed for the first time that they may be joined by a new ship. "We have an 'afloat' command-and-control capability that we move around and so one may well see that afloat capability," said General Franks. He gave no details.

But other military officials identified the type of vessel as a Blue Ridge class amphibious command-and-control ship with a crew of more than 800. Such ships are outfitted with an array of sophisticated computers, communications equipment and other electronic facilities that can monitor activities in the air, on the ocean and below the sea.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, tell VOA that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has not yet approved the deployment. But if sent to the Horn of Africa region, the vessel could coordinate activities by the U.S. forces in Djibouti as well as the nearly 2,000 Marines aboard the amphibious troop ship USS Belleau Wood, which has been cruising in the area for weeks.

General Franks said the build-up will enable U.S. forces to conduct exercises with countries including Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen. But he stressed the emphasis will remain on anti-terrorist activities.

"We're going to want to work with them in order to help them help themselves get over the terrorist problem," he said. "And we also said it may be necessary from time to time to coerce others to get rid of the terrorist problem."

General Franks offered no elaboration.

U.S. intelligence officials have been concerned for some time that al-Qaida terrorists may be using the Horn area for transit purposes or as a sanctuary. The two countries in the region most often identified as possible terrorist havens are Somalia and Yemen.