WASHINGTON, May 27 (UPI) -- The United States is training counter-terrorists in four African countries regarded as crucial to fighting al-Qaida, using funds from classified Pentagon budgets.
The U.S. strategy, of training partner nations instead of conducting land wars of its own, is expected to be mentioned by President Barack Obama Wednesday in an address at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. The plan for northern and western Africa is costing $70 million, drawn from a secretive Pentagon account, and includes training and equipment for counter-terrorism battalions now in their "formative stages" in Niger and Mauritius, a senior Pentagon official said.
"Training indigenous forces to go after threats in their own country is what we need to be doing," Michael Sheehan, former Pentagon official in charge of Special Operations policy, told the New York Times.
An admitted weakness of the program is the reliability of the partner nation. The effort in Mali has been hampered by a civilian government only now recovering from a military coup. A training base in Libya lost a considerable amount of specialized equipment after it was stormed by a militia group. Personnel to be recruited, in each country, must be thoroughly investigated.
"You have to make sure of who you're training," said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue, U.S. Army commander of soldiers operating in Africa. "It can't be the standard -- has this guy been a terrorist or some sort of criminal? -- but also, what are his allegiances? Is he true to his country or is he still bound to his militia?"