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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Horn of Africa in the GWOT

by SGT Claude Flowers (on page 8 and 9)
CENTCOM Public Affairs

It's no accident that the Horn of Africa is a military front in the Global War on Terror. Four countries from that region--Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea--have liaison offices serving at US Central Command to help build a bright future for their corner of the globe.

"The Horn is a hotbed now," said Eritrean Navy Cdr. Berhane Tesfamichael, who serves as his country's Senior National Representative (SNR)to CENTCOM. "There is the Sudan problem, the Somalia problem, and the Red Sea is a strategic place connecting the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. It is actually a main transport line and it is in the Middle East where the terrorists are now."

He also noted that his countrymen have a personal interest in combating extremism.

"Eritrea had its own war on terrorism before 9/11. We had our own terrorists that we've been fighting for ten, fifteen years. It is not so big that we can't handle it. We are handling it ourselves. We don't need any help, but they come from the Sudan to their neighboring countries. In 2003 and '04, they tried to bomb our towns. They were putting bombs on buses. They were captured, but we had people killed and wounded."

Indeed, while most of the public's focus on Operation Enduring Freedom centers on the mission in Afghanistan, important work is also being done in Africa. The nation of Djibouti hosts the regional headquarters of the Combined Joined Task Force-Horn of Africa, which oversees the Coalition's work in that part of the world. It is a partnership which is aiding both the country itself, and the GWOT.

Djibouti's geographic location, at a narrow point where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden, makes it strategically important.

"Just see a map," said Lt. Col. Mohamed Robleh, Djibouti's SNR to CENTCOM. "It's a chokepoint. There are about 40 kilometers between us and Yemen. Whatever happens in the Arab side affects us. The only difference is there is a small sea between us. We are not in the Gulf region, just looking at it!"

He added that the Djiboutian people are grateful for the presence of American servicemembers.

"First of all, it is a great honor for us to host the Coalition headquarters in our country," he said. "After a lot of studies and analysis, our country was chosen to be the headquarters. Also, the presence of the Coalition in our country means they are doing a lot of work. Our people get a lot of jobs -- employment. There are a lot of (humanitarian projects): drilling wells, constructing the schools and giving medicine, helping our people. All that, we appreciate. It is a very good thing that we are gettting from the Coalition."

Robleh also enjoys the exchange of ideas that comes from working alongside fellow Coalition officers at CENTCOM headquarters.

"No one had ever imagined that anything like this would happen somewhere in the world before 9/11," he said. "For me, it is a great feeling. This could only happen in this great country, the USA."

"We have one objective, all the SNRs," Tesfamichael said. "It doesn't matter what political positions they have in their countries, everyone is working on the GWOT."

"They're similar," Robleh agreed. "First off, everybody has the mission to defend his country. That's a shared mission, even though we are from different countries. Also, we just look alike: Uniform, boots, hats. It's all the same! Militaries are militaries."

According to Kenya's SNR, Brig. Gen. David J. Baburam, "Apart from the different colors of uniform that we see, everything else (about the Coalition countries) is common. Absolutely. We think in the same way. Apart from small peculiarities here and there, the philosophies, concepts and procedures are basically the same. Everything in the military stands on precision. That is common to all militaries. Things are done according to procedures, very, very precise, well-defined procedures. The way we do our business in the Kenyan military is basically the same apart from the size--and to a degree the sophistication--as the USA, Russia, Pakistan, and all these other countries which are in this coalition. The military language is the same. Whether you're speaking in Russian, or in English, or in Urdu, it's the same."

"It's very nice working together in a consolidated force," said Col. Negash Y. Abreha, Ethiopia's SNR to CENTCOM. "It enhances our capacity and makes it easier to fight the threat of terrorism."

Ethiopia is a participant in Operation Enduring Freedom. Abreha said his nation is committed to fighting terrorism because, "It is not one country's threat. It is a global threat. It is widely interrelated. The terrorists are working in a network and to fight it, we should not apply (solutions as) individual counttries. We must consolidate our forces' capacities."

He cited freedom as a weapon against the terrorists, who "use people' differences of religion" to drive a wedge between populations. Ethiopia's Christian and Muslim citizens coexisst harmoniously.

"In my country, which is a democratic country, anybody is free to believe what he wants to believe," he said. "Every religion respects the other unless there is imposition. They are living together, brotherly."

What else is required to ensure a bright future for Ethiopia and its neighbors in the Horn of Africa? Economic progress.

"We believe our strategic enemy is povery. To fight poverty, there must be peace and stability," Abreha said. "Therefore, for Ethiopia this Coalition means working for peace throughout the world. When we consolidate our forces, when we share ideas, when we share training, we will achieve peace. Therefore, we see the Coalition working in this direction.

"Our enemies use backwardness as an instrument to call for violence. They use peoples' problems for their agenda. Therefore, we, the people of the world, should come together and assist each other."

He was quick to distinguish between asistance which leads to self-sufficiency and charity which only addresses the symptoms of a problem rather than the root causes.

"If you give someone something-food or money-they will use it and need it again. We must assist each country's basic development so that it can rely on itself. This could be through opining markets so Africa can export commodities without any taxation and benefit from trade.

"The developed and undeveloped states cannot compete (on the same level). Therefore, the undeveloped-as my country is-have to be assisted with skilled manpower, with training, and having some opportunities to work closely. If we share ideas, so many problems can be solved."

"I think all future security problems will be dealt with through an undertaking which is global in nature, a coalition of many countries together," Baburam said. "And the reason for that is that with the majority of security threats in the world now, there's a shift from the traditional military threat."

"That has actually receded. What we see now is a different nature of threat. We have terrorism, we have radical ideologies, we have natural disasters to deal with. We are facing individuals now and individuals in networks, like Osama bin Laden and his network of al Qaida. This is not an entity that you can pinpoint as a threat, like a country. This is a network, and so to deal with such problems--because they are wide and expansive--would require a coalition and grouping of several countries together. So, the Coalition will survive even beyond the threat of terrorism because any other threat conceivable in the future will be dealt with through policing of this kind."

Military relationships also allow for an exchange of ideas. Soldiers from [the] Horn of Africa have been training alongside their allies in the Coalition, learning how to better protect their own corner of the world.

"That is the way forward," Baburam said. "See, the biggest problem that makes this area (of Africa) so-called fertile ground for terrorism and piracy is instability. The military, I think, has got a very, very critical role to play to enable the states in the region to achieve effective stability in the respective countries: Improve on governance, improve the ability of those governments there to effectively police their boundaries. That's where the military training aspect will be very, very critical in the future. Apart from creating competence and skill within those individual countries, it also promotes regionalism, tackling this problem in the form of a cooperative model." While optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the GWOT, Tesfamichael stressed the importance of peatience. "From my perspective, this will take a lot of time. This is not a short-term war. The Horn of Africa, being near the Middle East, is one of the areas where terrorism will last for some time." Eventually, however, Eritrea and its African neighbors stand to gain much from their partnership with the Coalition, since stability will allow them to invest in domestic development.

"Mining and exploration is going on," Tesfamichael said. "I'm sure by 2008, we'll begin producing gold, diamonds, zinc and copper. We have oil, I'm sure, but we haven't started exploiting it due to financial (limitations). "Eritrea is a very beautiful country. The sea is not polluted. We have very beautiful coastal waters with plenty of fish, coral reefs and beaches. There is a big tourist industry. Everyone comes there, but some people are still scared because of the tensions in the region." Eritrea has welcomed its Coalition partners within its own borders, allowing them both to train alongside Eritrean servicemenmbers and to utilize the nation's infrastructure.

"We can't afford to give a lot," Tesfamichael said. "Eritrea is a small country, a poor country. Our government announced that the Coalition can use the ports, the airspace, the airports free at any time. We are not contributing (forces) to Iraq and Afghanistan, so we are giving moral and political support." Lt. Col. Robleh belived this spirit of cooperation will endure.

"The GWOT may last many years," he said. "I think this Coalition will not only last longer but will also grow and it will evolve."

Category: Press Release, HOA, Horn of Africa, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia.
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