Pentgaon budgets $100 million for N. Africa counter-terror units

Special to

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has been ordered to organize a counter-terrorism force for North Africa.

Officials said the Defense Department has allocated nearly $100 million to form CI units with the capability to respond rapidly to Al Qaida threats in North Africa.

naThe officials said the force, under the auspices of U.S. Special Operations Command, would focus on such countries as Libya, Mali and Mauritania.

“We simply can’t ignore this part of the world,” an official said.

In May 2014, the Pentagon said it organized a rapid response force that
consisted of commandos from the Marine Corps. At least 200 Marines were
stationed at a NATO base in southern Italy to respond to any Al Qaida or
other threats to U.S. embassies or personnel in North Africa.

“The idea is to build a larger and very flexible force that could hit
the ground running in any emergency,” the official said. “They would already
know the area, select targets and receive support on the ground and air.”

Officials said the Pentagon program began in 2013 and included plans to
organize and train CI units in Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. They said
the State Department has obtained permission from these governments for a
U.S. training program that could include American advisers.

But the program has been hampered by instability in these North African
states. Officials said the U.S. intelligence community has determined that
an American presence in Libya and Mali would come under an immediate threat
and abort the entire effort.

Officials acknowledged that the U.S. program would be based outside
North Africa. They acknowledged the withdrawal of a U.S. advisory team from
Libya in August 2013 after Islamist fighters stole assault rifles,
night-vision systems and armored vehicles acquired for a $16 million
training mission outside Tripoli.

“The assessment was that this was an inside job, probably facilitated by
one of the recruits,” the official said.

The U.S. rapid response team in Italy could be joined by similar units
closer to North Africa. Officials cited one option as Djibouti, where the
U.S. military operates its only base in Africa.

“The key to this program will be full cooperation with the host
government, particularly in security for our people,” the official said.
“Without this, the program would be insignificant.”

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