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US Considers African Offers of Access to Military Facilities, says Pentagon Official - 2003-07-31


A senior Pentagon official says the United States has received more offers for access to military facilities in sub-Saharan Africa than it can take up. The official insists the Bush administration has no plans to station military personnel on the continent permanently.

The senior Pentagon official tells VOA that defense officials are considering an expansion of the network of military facilities which American forces have access to in Africa.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, links the Bush administration's interest in such an expansion to the global war on terrorism, calling it another reason besides humanitarian crises and emergency evacuations why U.S. forces may have to conduct operations in Africa.

The Pentagon already has special arrangements at various locations around the continent, including a two-decade old access agreement with Kenya for ports and airfields. It also has what is termed an "intermediate staging base" in Senegal, which is one of the U.S. military's so-called "fuel hubs." Additional fuel hubs for U.S. forces are located in Gabon, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia.

Beyond these countries, the official says Mali has approached the United States to offer facilities, an offer which the official says is under consideration. Ethiopia has also offered U.S. forces airfield access. But the official indicates that while this might be useful in the war on terrorism, it is not under active consideration.

The official says Eritrea is willing to open its airfields and ports to U.S. forces and, given the country's strategic location, says "there could be something there in the future." But the official cautions that the Bush administration is not looking at Eritrea's offer seriously, and notes there is what the official terms a "sizable political obstacle" - a reference to Eritrea's continued detention of two local workers for the U.S. Embassy.

The official concedes some of the sites currently open to U.S. forces may require American-financed improvements. But the senior official emphasizes there are no plans to establish any permanent U.S. bases or even to station U.S. military personnel in Africa to oversee these facilities.

The only sizable U.S. military presence in Africa is in Djibouti, where some 1,800 personnel have been deployed in connection with the war on terrorism. However, that base is considered temporary.

Other U.S. forces are gathering off the coast of Liberia to assist in a West African peacekeeping operation, but that is considered a short-term, emergency assistance activity.

The senior Pentagon official insists the United States is not imposing its forces on Africa, noting all arrangements granting access to military facilities involve negotiated agreements.

The official says, "They are not coerced in any way, shape or form, and in many cases the offer comes first from the African country." The official says there are more offers than the United States can take up, because African countries perceive there will be benefits.

VOA has obtained copies of a recent exchange of letters between the Pentagon and a leading African-American congressman, who has suggested the Bush administration may be imposing its military will on Africa.

Congressman Charles Rangel has written two such letters. The second came after he described as inadequate the Pentagon's response to his first. That response, a brief, two-paragraph letter, says many African countries have offered military access but emphasizes the Defense Department has no plans for permanent bases in Africa.

The senior official dismisses the congressman's criticism about U.S. intentions as unjustified, but says another reply is being prepared.