At the southern end of CENTCOM, there's a quiet battle going on against Al-Qaeda and their allies. Fought mostly with intelligence and civil affairs assets, with unreported missions executed by predictably taciturn Special Operations personnel.
In his first in-depth interview since taking command in May 2003, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), Marine Brigadier General Mastin Robeson told the Associated Press that his forces have disrupted several planned terrorist attacks against Western and other targets in the Horn of Africa.
While Robeson acknowledges that terrorism is a growing problem and that stabilizing the region is a long-term effort that will take years to complete, he stressed that CJTF-HOA has been successful with host nation partnerships at disrupting terrorist plans. While he did acknowledge that a plot to destroy the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya this past June was one instance of a foiled terrorist attack, Robeson declined to describe any of the other planned attacks or name the countries involved. He also refused to say how many terrorists his men have captured during their operations.
The fear is that the poorer areas in the Horn of Africa could become another Afghanistan, providing a pool of recruits. Suspected terrorists from Tanzania all the way up to southern Egypt and Saudi Arabia are working with each other to promote radicalism. But local authorities have also killed or captured more than two dozen militants and of the hundreds of foreign fighters detained by US troops in Iraq, approximately 25 percent come from the seven countries under CJTF-HOA's purview: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan, Kenya and Somalia.
In the past, American officials have estimated that at least five to maybe 15 senior Al-Qaeda terrorists tied to Osama bin Laden lived in the Horn of Africa, but Robeson said that those initial estimates were too low. He told the AP that there have already been 25 captured or killed, and "now it's in the hundreds of named people that we and host nations would like to find and talk to."
The goal is to help countries control their own destiny and stop terrorism, before the United States has to launch a military intervention like the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Robeson's analogy is that "if Iraq and Afghanistan were an apple and an orange, we're a Volkswagen". Robeson's job is to help friendly governments improve their militaries, police, coast guards and intelligence services to fight their own battles against the terrorists. Between the humanitarian projects, assistance programs and active operations, CJTF-HOA is establishing a model for future operations that will depend more on intelligence and less on firepower.
For instance, CJTF-HOA forward deployed 30 soldiers from the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion to Lamu, Kenya on a "hearts and minds" mission in July. They set up at Lamu's King Fahd District Hospital, performing routine medical checkups and surgery. In early September, they staffed some temporary medical and veterinary clinics in Wajir (about 95 kilometers from Somalia and said to be an Al-Qaeda haven). There they fixed the school's plumbing and rebuilt the waterfront steps where the local dhows dock.
Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh acknowledged the economic advantages of having the Americans on his soil and in early November, the administrator of USAID - (the US government's humanitarian assistance body) unveiled a $20 million health and education projects package. Even the United Nations has conceded that since the Americans established themselves at Lemonier in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, it appears the Djibouti's fortunes have changed for the better.
People with good jobs tend to avoid becoming terrorists and creating long-term employment in the area depends on a healthy trade network. Soon, Djibouti will become the major seaport of East Africa. Before the 1998 Eritrea-Ethiopia War, the port was operating at about 20 to 30 percent capacity but local authorities now say it's operating at 100 percent capacity. Since June 2000, it has been managed by the Dubai Ports Authority, and there are plans to set up a free trade zone. A two-phased, $400 million project has overhauled the facilities. The first phase (construction of the oil terminal) is due to be completed by the end of next year while phase two (the container area and free trade zone) is scheduled for completion in 2006.
Meanwhile, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines replaced Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines in the force protection mission for Camp Lemonier. India Company had just redeployed home in June from Operation Iraqi Freedom, where they engaged in heavy combat as part of Task Force Tarawa. After their return to the states, they were ordered to Marine Corps Security Forces Training Command for security training. - Adam Geibel