U.S. eyes permanent military bases in North Africa

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The United States is probing Arab and other allies in North African states for the stationing of permanent military bases.

U.S. officials said the Defense Department is discussing the prospect of a U.S. military presence in such states as Algeria, Djibouti, Morocco and other countries in North Africa. They said the United States has sought naval bases or port rights while in other cases Washington wants permission to deploy ground troops.

The U.S. effort is part of an assessment that North Africa, the southern Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa will be major sources of tension in the next decade. The Pentagon has also launched the effort as part of a drive to reduce the U.S. military presence in Western Europe, particularly Germany.

Officials said the U.S. presence could come under the NATO umbrella. Over the last two years, NATO has increased port visits and cooperation with several North African states, particularly Algeria and Morocco, Middle East Newsline reported.

"We might wish to have more presence in the southern rim of Mediterranean, where there are a certain number of countries that can be destabilized in the near future, large ungoverned areas across Africa that are clearly the new routes of narco trafficking, terrorists training and hotbeds of instability," Gen. Jim Jones, NATO's supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, said.

Jones, a U.S. general, said new insurgency threats would require a greater U.S. presence along the North African coast. He said this could result in a realignment of U.S. naval forces in the Mediterranean, with aircraft carriers spending more time along the African coast, rather than near Europe.

"The carrier groups of future and the expeditionary strike groups may not spend six months in the Mediterranean," Jones said. "But I bet they will spend half the time going down the west coast of Africa."

The United States launched its military presence in North Africa by stationing 1,300 troops in Djibouti. The troops form part of a new task force meant to stop insurgency activities in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa.

Officials said the Pentagon has also explored the issue of a military presence or greater access rights to other countries in North Africa. They cited Algeria and Morocco. They said Egyptian President Mubarak has rejected a U.S. approach for basing rights in Egypt.

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