Doubts over United States’ North Africa initiative

Islamist warlords effectively wrested control of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu a few weeks ago and the remaining American-funded factional leaders had to be evacuated. This development has, however, not deterred the United States, which has already committed itself to a five year half a billion project that it says will aid North African governments flush out “terror” groups in what Washington has dubbed “the latest front in the global war on terror”.

Those opposed to the TSCTI have warned that the American’s strategy could have the same backfiring effect of the CIA operation in Somalia by actually working to strengthen the very people it seeks to alienate.

Furthermore, there has been intense speculation that the increased military presence of the US in North Africa can be directly linked to that region’s vast oil resources as the terror threat there is not as great as Washington would like the world to believe.

In its campaign to justify the increase, the US has likened the Sahara to the “Wild West”, and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) is at the top of the ‘most wanted’ list.

A public affairs officer at the US Special Operations Command Europe was quoted saying: “It’s the Wild West all over again,” adding that the initiative aimed to stop terror groups from reaching out to the “disaffected, disenfranchised, or just misinformed and disillusioned”.

Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia are taking part in the initiative.

In the first phase of the operation, which started in June 2005, 700 American Special Forces troops and 2 100 soldiers from the nine African countries led 3 000 ill-equipped Saharan troops in tactical exercises designed to better co-ordinate security along porous borders and beef up patrols in ungoverned territories. Writing on Internet news site, Jeremy Keenan ‘ a Sahara expert with the University of East Anglia in Britain ‘ said: “If anything, this initiative will generate terrorism, by which I mean resistance to the overall US presence and strategy.”

Keenan added that the US was hard-pressed to provide concrete evidence of terrorism in the Sahara and was in fact exaggerating the activities of the GSPC so as to justify intervention in the region.

“Without the GSPC, the US has no legitimacy for its presence in the region,” he said, noting that a growing US dependence on African oil, which President George W. Bush declared a “national strategic interest”, moved Washington to bolster its presence in the region.

The GSPC has apparently become less of a threat in recent years with Algerian authorities coming down hard on the organisation, consequently giving credence to the belief that the US simply wants to be strategically placed to exploit the region’s oil reserves.

A report by the National Energy Policy Development Group anticipates that by 2015, West Africa will provide 25 percent of American oil imports.

June 2006
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