After receiving information of threats against American interests in Mauritania and Senegal, the United States dispatched an anti-terror team to the region on January 10. Under a $100 million antiterrorist initiative for Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Niger, this small team will be followed by more US Army personnel and California-based defense contractors over the following months. This program will help the region's governments guard their desert borders against Islamic extremists.
This first team will teach, train and reinforce the capacities of the Mauritanian army for about a week, although American officials declined to say how many experts were on the team in Mauritania or where they were based. The Mauritanians initially being trained are responsible for frontier surveillance against cross-border terrorism.
In addition to indicators of threats against Americans in Mauritania and in Senegal, the weakly policed frontiers along the Western Africa's Sahara are potential crossing points for armed Muslim extremist groups. No country in Western Africa has seen a terror attack against American or European interests to date, but there are already Al Qaeda cells in-place in the region.
Two days before, the Al Qaeda-allied Algerian Islamic militant group Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (known by its French acronym GSPC) accused the United States of plotting to take control Algeria's key hydrocarbons industry, but did not say whether it would try to attack US investments.
There are plenty of lucrative targets in the region. In addition to Mauritania's recent discoveries, the GSPC terrorists have plenty to work with right at home. Algeria earned a record $24 billion from its oil and gas exports (or 95 percent of it's foreign revenue) in 2003. American oil companies have invested billions of dollars in Algeria's oil infrastructure. Work on the third trans-Mediterranean gas-pipeline connecting Arzew to Almeria (Spain) will begin on January 14th. This 2,200 kilometer long gas-pipeline will have a capacity of 4 billion cubic meters a year, supplementing the currently saturated pipeline (which has reached it's capacity of 11 billion cubic meters a year). - Adam Geibel