Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fighting Terrorism in Trans Sahara Africa

Crossposted from our new home blog,They gave us a republic...

In 2004, the US Government realized that it needed to do something about the spread of terrorism in Trans-Saharan Africa:

U.S. Gen. Charles Wald, deputy commander of the European Central Command, has been warning Congress and the Pentagon for months that al Qaeda-affiliated groups are active in Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Niger. The trade in diamonds used by terrorist groups, begun under the protection of former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, continues despite international efforts to curb it. "The terrorist activity in this area is not going to go away," Wald warned recently. "This could affect your kids and your grandchildren in a huge way. If we don't do something about it, we are going to have a real problem on our hands."

Unfortunately, the efforts since then have mostly failed, due to a lack of cooperation between the State Department and the Department of Defense.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report that shows that the US State Department, the Department of Defense, and the USAID Agency are having key issues with regards to stopping the spread of terrorism throughout Trans-Sahara Africa. The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP)was set up to coordinate efforts to stop the spread of terrorism into the region.

First, the agencies lack a comprehensive, integrated strategy for their TSCTP activities, and the documents used in planning the activities do not prioritize proposed activities or identify milestones needed to measure progress or make improvements.

Second, disagreements about whether State should have authority over DOD personnel temporarily assigned to conduct TSCTP activities in partner countries have led to DOD's suspending some activities, for example, in Niger.

Third, fluctuation in State's and USAID's distribution of funds for TSCTP resulted in suspension of a peace-building program in Mali.

Fourth, although the agencies measure activities' outputs, such as the number of foreign military personnel trained, they do not measure their activities' outcomes in combating terrorism--for instance, any decrease in extremism in the targeted countries.

This region is familiar to anyone who understands that the spread of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Trans-Sahara region is of great concern to our European allies.

Simply implementing programs and activities that would help these countries better fight the spread of terrorism has run into the usual challenges--State and DoD can't collaborate on anything, and this goes back to the way Don Rumsfeld operated, which, in most cases, was often in contradiction to the efforts of the State Department:

Several factors have hampered the key agencies’ ability to collaboratively implement TSCTP activities, in some cases limiting their ability to achieve or assess progress in combating terrorism and inhibiting the spread of extremist ideology.

First, no comprehensive, integrated strategy has been developed to guide the agencies’ activities, and documents used in planning program activities have not included some elements that we have identified as needed in an interagency counterterrorism program’s strategic plan.

Second, despite some collaboration at the headquarters level, disagreement between State and DOD about whether State should have authority over DOD personnel temporarily assigned to conduct TSCTP activities in the partner countries has contributed to the suspension of some of these activities.

Third, fluctuation in the distribution of obligations for TSCTP in Mali resulted in the suspension of some program activities.

Fourth, although the agencies have indicators to measure activities’ direct results, the agencies have not yet developed the capability to measure and report on overall progress toward program goals.

Take a close look at this distribution of funds:

These are relatively small amounts of assistance and aid, but of note should be the assistance given to Mauritania, which just underwent another coup that saw the President and the Prime Minister arrested. Instability in countries like Mauritania are one reason why terrorists might locate there and take advantage of the political situation.

Most of our assistance is going to Niger, in hopes of slowing the spread of terrorism there. Overall, though, it doesn't matter who gets what because the GAO has uncovered a decidedly common lack of focus on the part of the US State Department:

To enhance U.S. agencies’ ability to collaborate in strengthening country and regional counterterrorism capabilities and inhibiting the spread of extremist ideology in northwest Africa, we recommend that the Secretary of State work through the Director of Foreign Assistance, who serves concurrently as USAID Administrator, to develop a comprehensive strategy for the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership in conjunction with the Secretaries of Defense and the Treasury, the U.S. Attorney General, and the heads of any other partner agencies. The strategy should include clear goals, objectives, and milestones, including output and outcome indicators, and identify resources needed to achieve the program’s goals.

We also recommend that the Secretaries of State and Defense develop and issue joint guidance with regard to DOD personnel temporarily assigned to conduct TSCTP activities in the partner countries.

No one could reasonably expect Secretary Rice to be fired before the end of the Bush Administration, but this is one more issue that will land in the lap of the next Secretary of State, thanks to the neglect and the lack of interest in fighting the actual spread of terrorism in the world. The US military now has a command dedicated to Africa--AFRICOM--but will it focus on stopping terrorism or on keeping the flow of oil moving out of Nigeria?

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