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Sept. 11 Attacks Boost US Anti-Terrorism Effort in Africa - 2003-09-11


In the two years since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Africa has emerged as a major focus of the Bush administration's efforts to defeat global terrorism. The threat of terrorism has dramatically boosted U.S. involvement on the continent, where many al-Qaida operatives are believed to be active.

Kenyan businesswoman Penina Mwaniki says she remembers vividly the moment she heard the news about the September 11 attacks.

Ms. Mwaniki may have been far from ground zero that day, but she says she felt the horror of that moment as if she had witnessed it.

"It was not right. It ended up killing very many innocent people. Children losing their parents. Parents losing their children. It was bad," she said.

Three years before the September 11 attacks, Ms. Mwaniki had witnessed the bloody aftermath of the al-Qaida bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 200 Kenyans, as well as 12 Americans. That same day, another terrorist bomb devastated the U.S. embassy in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, killing many more people.

Knowing the terrible pain terrorism inflicts on its victims, many people here reached out to people in the United States to offer their condolences, through letters and emails.

Having been victims once, many Kenyans believed they were safe from another terrorist strike in their country. But they were wrong.

Last November, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. The blast killed at least 16 people, including 11 Kenyans.

That attack also took an enormous toll on Kenya's tourism-dependent economy. A subsequent flurry of terrorist warnings from Western countries, and mass flight cancellations, left many coastal resorts and game parks deserted. Tour operators and major hotels began filing for bankruptcy.

Nairobi resident, Evelyn Anyango, says the threat of terrorism is now a reality that has everyone here worried.

"People nowadays, wherever they are, they're always scared," she said. "They think anything bad can happen, maybe a bomb blast, plane crashes and such things."

Kenya has been the country in Africa most affected by terrorism. But in the past two years, many other countries on the continent have also found themselves on the frontlines on the global war on terror.

Since last October, the U.S. military has been active in the Horn region and elsewhere in East Africa, conducting anti-terror operations. In May, a new counter-terrorism task force for the Horn of Africa was set up in Djibouti to coordinate those operations.

The commanding general of the task force, U.S. Marine Brigadier General Mastin Robeson, says it was necessary to shift the anti-terror focus to Africa after the massive military campaign against the Taleban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan two years ago.

He says the United States believes many al-Qaida operatives fled to the continent, trying to find refuge and to recruit new members in the vast, lawless areas of Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and possibly Sudan. With the exception of war-torn Somalia and Sudan, General Robeson says all of the countries are now firm partners in the war against terror.

"We're here because the terrorists are here and President Bush is committed that we will eradicate transnational terrorist networks. Where the transnational terrorist networks are, we will go," he said.

And it is not just military assistance the United States is offering various African nations to defeat terrorism and bring stability.

The United States has begun implementing a $150 million anti-terror initiative in five countries in East Africa, the bulk of which is to go toward humanitarian assistance and other efforts to lessen anti-American sentiments among Muslims in the region.

The Bush administration has also significantly increased U.S. funding for the prevention and treatment of AIDS in Africa, pledging $15 billion over five years to help battle the disease that is devastating the continent.

Both initiatives came in the wake of Mr. Bush's five-nation tour of Africa in July. Completing his trip, the president warned that terrorists would not be permitted to operate on the continent.

On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Mark Bellamy, reiterated Mr. Bush's vow to keep Africa from becoming a terrorist haven. He says all Africans must reject terrorism.

"It is a battle between, on the one hand, the values of decency and tolerance in civilized societies everywhere, and, on the other hand, of the repressive forces of violence and intolerance. And in this struggle, there is no room for fence sitters," he said.

People in Kenya, hit twice by terrorist attacks, say they know that violence and intolerance first-hand. They want the United States to help end the terror threat, but they say they are concerned about how that can be done, and how long it might take.