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US Security Assistance for W. African Countries Delayed - 2003-06-11

West African officials may be getting impatient over the time it is taking U.S. authorities to implement a new counter-terrorism program announced last year.

Seven months ago, the State Department announced what it called the Pan Sahel Initiative, a $6 million security training and equipment program to assist Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in countering terrorist operations and border incursions.

But at the Pentagon, which is implementing the program, a spokesman tells VOA that while there have been preparatory talks and visits, so far no equipment has been transferred and no training has been conducted.

The spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Humm, says those activities are not expected until "late summer or early fall", that is, sometime between August and November.

The disclosure of the delay follows private expressions of concern by some U.S. government sources that officials in the four countries who were promised aid under the program might be getting impatient.

These sources, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, say they believe two recent stories about alleged terrorist threats aimed against the U.S. embassy in Mali may have been concocted by Malian authorities anxious to obtain the promised American security assistance.

The two stories - one about an alleged terrorist bomb plot and the other about an anonymous telephoned threat, both linked to al-Qaida - could not be confirmed.

U.S. State and Defense Department officials who spoke to VOA said there have been no recent changes in the security alert status at the U.S. embassy in Bamako.

Pentagon officials call Africa an area of growing concern because they view it as a continent where terrorist groups can take advantage of weak governments and porous borders.

They say this is particularly true in the Sahel region where terrorists with links to al-Qaida have been operating in remote frontier areas among ethnic groups that are Islamic and who have been politically marginalized.