- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

DAKAR, Senegal — Top U.S. generals are touching down across Africa in unusual back-to-back trips, part of a change in military planning as U.S. interest grows in African terror links and African oil.

Trips by two top European Command generals follow last week’s similarly low-profile Africa visit by the U.S. commander in Europe, Marine Gen. James L. Jones.

The generals are leaders in U.S. military proposals to shift from Cold War-era troop buildups in Western Europe to smaller concentrations closer to the world’s trouble spots.

Gen. Jones’ trip included stops in Morocco and Cameroon and talks with leaders of sub-Saharan Africa’s military giants, Nigeria and South Africa, European Command spokesmen in Stuttgart, Germany, said.

This week, European Command deputy head Air Force Gen. Charles Wald also is traveling to Nigeria and South Africa, as well as oil-rich Gabon, European Command spokesman Maj. Andres Ortegon said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler is visiting Mauritania, Mali and Niger, Maj. Ortegon said.

Gen. Kohler is the European Command’s point man on planning for force reconfiguration.

His trip is part of efforts to build relationships with government officials and discuss security issues as well as future exercises, Maj. Ortegon said.

An increased focus on Africa comes amid a push by some in the United States — conservative think tanks in particular — to do more to secure alternatives to oil from the volatile Middle East.

West Africa supplies the United States with 15 percent of its oil. The U.S. National Intelligence Council has projected the figure will grow to 25 percent by 2015.

Western security officials also are concerned about terror along Saharan routes linking Arab nations and north and west Africa.

U.S. security think tanks and others have listed Nigeria and Mauritania as being among nations that have al Qaeda cells.

The Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat, suspected to have links with al Qaeda, is believed to have spread across borders into Niger and Mali.

A State Department program drawing on members of the European Command is helping train and equip security forces of Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad to better guard their borders against incursions by terror groups.

Military proposals on overall reconfiguration of forces are awaiting a decision from Washington.

The European Command oversees U.S. military for Africa excluding the Horn of Africa, site of a U.S. counterterrorism effort for northeast Africa and Yemen.

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