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Thursday, July 27, 2006

BUSH CUTS IN AFRICAN AID IMPEDE WAR ON TERROR




Bush cuts in African aide impede war on terror, officials say.

Many in military upset; China gains influence in the area

By: Mark Mazzetti
New York Times
July 23, 2006


Washington---The Bush administration and Congress have slashed millions of dollars of military aid to African nations in recent years, moves that Pentagon officials and senior military commanders say have undermined U.S. efforts to combat terrorist threats in Africa and to counter expanding Chinese influence there.

Since 2003, Washington has shut down the Pentagon programs to train and equip militaries in a handful of African nations because they have declined to sign agreements exempting U.S. troops from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But the policy, which was designed to protect U.S. troops, has instead angered senior military officials, who say the cuts in military aid are shortsighted and have weakened counterterrorism efforts in places where the threat of international terrorism is said to be most acute.

Some cite as a case where the unintended consequences of the go-it-alone approach to foreign policy that Washington took after the Sept. 11 attacks affected the larger U.S. efforts to combat terrorism.

Last year, the United States cut off $13 million for training and equipping troops in Kenya, where al Qaeda operatives killed 224 people when they bombed the U.S. Embassy compound in Nairobi in 1998.

In 2003, the flow of $309,000 annually was suspended to Mali, where Pentagon officials contend an Algerian seperatist group with ties to al Qaeda---known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC---has established a base. Money has also been cut for Tanzania, Niger and several other African nations.

Citing Kenya as an example, Pentagon officials say it makes little sense to ask for Kenya's support in fighting terrorism while denying it the money it needs for training and equipping troops.

"Kenya is a key partner in our counterterrorism strategy and our goals in Africa," a Pentagon official who works on Africa strategy said. "This hurts us, there's no question about it."

Some military officials also contend that the aid cuts have given China an upper hand in what they describe as a kind of modern "Great Game," referring to the 19th century rivalry in Central Asia between the British and the Russians.

Specifically, the officials cite the millions of dollars the Chinese government has spent on infrastructure projects and military training in Africa to help secure contracts for such natural resources as oil, timber and metals.

China has substantially expanded its presence in Africa in recent years. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, China's trade with Africa doubled to $18.5 billion between 2002 and 2003, and the figure exceeded $32 billion in November 2005. China has overtaken Britain to become the continent's third most important trading partner.

But it is the impact on counterterrorism efforts in Africa that most alarms military officials.

The situation in Mali is of great concern because the Salafist group is believed to have established o foothold in that desolate country's northern region. A recent State Department report said Mali's northern territories had tuned into a "safe haven" for the group's fighters.

The Salafist group's ability to attack the Algerian government is believed to have diminished in recent years, but intelligence officials are now concerned that the group is expanding its ties to al Qaeda and other groups, and has used networks in the Middle East to send fighters into Iraq.

"Mali doesn't have any power production capabilities, and its military can't extend any power up into the north," said a U.S. official, who recently made a fact-finding trip to the Sahara. "The terrorist organizations can run around up there because the army can't get to them."

In March, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said blocking military assistance to nations seeking to combat terrorism was "sort of the same as shooting ourselves in the foot," and the Pentagon's recent Quadrennial Defense Review calls for the government to consider seperating military funding from the 2002 law.

Congress is also considering a bill to repeal some of these measures. But the policy still has advocates in Washington, especially in the White House.



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