The commanding officer of the U.S.-led task force in the Horn of Africa says a war against Iraq would not affect military efforts to hunt down suspected terrorists in the region.
The commanding officer, Marine Major General John Sattler, was in Kenya to discuss the partnership between Kenya and the United States in the war against terror.
General Sattler says the United States and its allies in the Horn of Africa are determined to continue the fight against terror, even if there is a war elsewhere.
"If something else happens in the world, we stay focused on the seven countries, that we continue to collect, to do analysis, and any potential targets that we might come up with to make sure that the terrorists know that if something else happens, the attention in this region will not be diverted," he said.
The seven countries the United States is focused on are Kenya, Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.
Sudan is still on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism and Somalia has no effective central government. But aside from these two, all the others are coalition partners in the newly formed Combined Joint Force/Horn of Africa.
The headquarters of the task force are aboard the U.S. Navy ship USS Mount Whitney, which is in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen.
The floating command center has been operating in the Horn region for six-weeks with about 400 U.S. troops, civilian personnel, and coalition forces. A rapid-response force of 900 U.S. troops on the ground in Djibouti is also part of the task force.
General Sattler says since his arrival, he and his staff have met with all coalition military commanders and senior leaders. He says the United States received full support from them in its effort to improve intelligence gathering and expand security cooperation.
Kenya is especially eager to strengthen security ties. In recent years, the country has been the target of two major terrorist attacks: the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and the November car bombing of a hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa. Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network has blamed for both attacks.
At U.S. urging, some coalition partners have already begun implementing broad anti-terror initiatives. In the latest security crackdown Monday in Yemen, security forces arrested 20 people linked to militant Islamic cells plotting to kill Yemeni intellectuals and Westerners in the country.
But even with full coalition cooperation, General Sattler predicts the war on terrorism will last years. He says the task force is prepared for an extended war and nothing, including military operations in other parts of the world, will keep it from fulfilling its mission to remove the terrorist threat in the Horn of Africa.