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US Exercise Focuses on Role of Police, Courts in West Africa Counterterrorism 

The Sahel Region
The Sahel Region

About 80 law enforcement and judiciary officers participated in last week’s inaugural West Africa Joint Operations regional exercise — a small figure compared to the thousands of personnel who sometimes take part in military-led counterterrorism exercises.

But this modest exercise could have a big impact against terrorism, said Julie Cabus, deputy assistant secretary and assistant director of the training directorate in the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

For this exercise, Cabus said, trainers and participants examined the complex systems of courts and law enforcement in several West African countries to learn how to fairly, quickly and justly prosecute terror cases.

“We focused on gathering timely, accurate evidence while working with judicial authorities to ensure adherence to local laws,” she said. “Goals of the exercise included enhancing the investigative capacity and capability of units focused on terrorism cases in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, ensuring investigations adhere to the rule of law and the principles of human rights, and facilitating regional cross-border cooperation by sharing best practices.”

Cabus’s agency is responsible for securing diplomacy and protecting the integrity of U.S. travel documents. Because of its global mandate, the service has the largest geographic reach of any U.S. federal law enforcement agency, with more than 270 offices outside of the U.S.

And Michael C. Gonzales, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs, says these small, targeted efforts form an important part of the State Department’s counterterrorism strategy in West Africa’s Sahel region, which include the countries who participated in the exercise: Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, All three of those nations have seen a rise in terrorist activity in recent years.

“Addressing the challenges in the Sahel will require security interventions,” he said. “But ultimately, the answer to the challenges of the Sahel lies in addressing the crisis of legitimacy and delivering governance and services to marginalized communities. And so this West African joint operation exercise that we saw last month is a really good example of the U.S. partnering with our partner countries in the region to develop their capacity so that they can gain greater confidence of their public by effectively delivering accountability and follow up to the security threats that are posed to communities.”

Cabus added that her bureau has been asked to look at running a similar exercise in Southern Africa, in the coastal nation of Mozambique, where violent extremists linked to Islamic State militants have recently stepped up their deadly attacks.