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Report Claims US Africa Command Will Focus on Protecting Oil Supplies

CNSNews.com | February 16,2007
Stephen Mbogo

Nairobi, Kenya - A report charging that the Pentagon's proposed new U.S. Africa Command will be used to train militaries in West Africa's oil triangle so they can protect the resource on behalf of America has been dismissed here as baseless.

The report by the Washington-based Centre for International Policy (CIP) alleges that the U.S. is setting up the Africa Command, or Africom, under the guise of fighting transnational terrorism but that its real focus will be on training armies in oil-producing African countries.

"Given the internal security problems often found in resource rich countries, it is much more likely that the newly-acquired skills and equipment [provided to the African armies] will be directed against domestic opponents than global terrorists," CIP says.

But retired Lt. Col. Jaw Kitiku, a pan-African security researcher at the Nairobi-based Security Research and Information Centre, questioned the claims.

Militaries in Africa are progressively reforming to embrace democracy with their focus being supporting democratically elected civilian governments, he told Cybercast News Service.

"This is exemplified by the drastic reduction in military coups in Africa," Kitiku said. "It shows African militaries are not interested in politics or being used to oppress the citizens."

He said military organizations in Africa are focused on becoming more professional, and that is why the continent has agreed to skills exchange programs and capacity-building partnerships with the U.S., as well as with some European countries and India.

The CIP report cites - as one conflict Africom aims to help suppress - the violence in Nigeria's oil producing Niger Delta, where since late 2005 armed groups have abducted foreign oil workers and vandalized oil pipelines.

Militants claiming to be fighting for an equitable share of oil revenues in the marginalized region have succeeded through their violent actions in cutting Nigeria's oil output by almost 30 percent, resulting in an almost similar margin loss of national revenues. Nigeria currently provides 10 -12 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Kitiku said the main responsibility for "ensuring equitable distribution of resources is the mandate of respective governments and its people and not the U.S. or any other buyer of that resource."

At the same time, there would be nothing wrong with U.S. armed forces protecting oil shipping routes if such oil has been legitimately bought from a country like Nigeria.

"If the U.S. is capable of policing the sea to secure what they have, and by doing so are not violating any international law, then there should be nothing wrong with that," he said.

Monica Mbaru, director of the International Commission of Jurists - Kenya, attributed the instability in Nigeria to poor governance by a series of military regimes.

Mbaru said while she does not herself see the need for the formation of Africom, there was nothing wrong with the U.S. training African armies to build their capacity in the anti-terrorism field and in natural disasters response.

But she cautioned that such armies should not be allowed to interfere with internal conflicts.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has so far declined to order military intervention in the Niger Delta although a militant leader is in custody facing treason charges.

Obasanjo spokesman Remi Oyo said the president was not opting for a military solution.

"If the president is not rolling out all the tanks, it is because he believes it is possible that within the Niger Delta region, we can have people come to the table," said Oyo.

While announcing the proposal for Africom, President Bush said the goal would be to strengthen security cooperation with Africa, and the command would focus strongly on training African armed forces.

The U.S. has several other military initiatives involving joint training with African forces across sub-Saharan Africa.

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