U.S. military teams will visit Africa up to 25 times a year

May 06, 1992|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Elite U.S. Special Forces teams would be deployed to Africa as many as 25 times a year under a Bush administration policy that seeks to expose African armies to "our values and forms of civil-military relations," according to a senior State Department official.

The expansion of U.S. military activities would be more than triple the number of such missions in 1991, Pentagon records show.

The deployments, typically involving no more than a dozen troops at a time, would be aimed mostly at delivering "non-lethal military assistance," Herman J. Cohen, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said in a written statement received by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday. This may include medical training and instruction in tactics that could be applied to anti-poaching operations, he said.

"Contact with African militaries is extremely important as African countries make their transitions to democratic governance," Mr. Cohen said. "These militaries can either aid the transition process or be effective roadblocks.

"We believe that continually exposing African military leaders to our military will help inculcate our values and forms of civil-military relations," he said.

His remarks were released by Sen. Alan Cranston, a California Democrat on the committee, who had asked Mr. Cohen in March to respond to an article in The Sun that revealed recent increases in U.S. military training activities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Cranston, who is reviewing the need for some U.S. military aid programs in a post-Cold War world, has attacked the administration for turning to the Pentagon "as the preferred agent of change in our relations in Africa," which he says "makes little sense."

He and others on the panel, including Sen. Paul Simon, the Illinois Democrat who heads the subcommittee on Africa, have been concerned that a higher military profile in Africa could undermine U.S. efforts to demilitarize the heavily armed continent.

Mr. Simon has scheduled a hearing tomorrow on U.S. military activity in Africa.

In his statement, Mr. Cohen said Special Forces personnel were "effective spokesmen for the role of the military in a democratic state." He called short-term training exercises "a cost-effective means of maintaining" ties to African militaries.

"We hope to expand the number of Special Forces exercises in Africa to 20-25 annually over the next several years," he said. "We also are working to increase the number of deployments for training by National Guard engineer and medical units for similar exercises."

Records attached to his statement, supplied by the Defense Security Assistance Agency, show that U.S. military "mobile training teams" were dispatched on eight exercises last year, including trips to Botswana and Senegal by Army weapons trainers and four previously undisclosed visits by Coast Guard trainers to Cape Verde and Ivory Coast.

Among this year's completed deployments, a Navy team has gone to Namibia to assess its need for military aid and Army Green Berets have been in Niger and Senegal. The records show that Navy SEALs and Coast Guard trainers are planning eight trips later this year to Ghana, Sao Tome, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon and Ivory Coast.

The U.S. military aid program "is now focused on helping African militaries to restructure and to downsize their military forces to manageable and affordable levels, and to make them productive elements of their societies," Mr. Cohen said.

He cited as an example a "defense resources management course" conducted in January by U.S. military trainers in Botswana for senior civilian Cabinet officials of 10 countries, including Uganda and Kenya.

His statement made no mention of Operation Silver Eagle, one of the largest U.S. military exercises ever in sub-Saharan Africa, which was staged with members of the Botswana Defense Force near the capital of Gaborone during roughly the same period in January.

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