WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- As the United States grapples with its policy toward Africa, vast ungoverned territories in North Africa are being increasingly used by terrorists groups for training and criminal organizations for smuggling, a top military official said Thursday.
But because of sanctions and legal restrictions, the United States is limited in what pressure and inducements it can bring to bear on the situation.
"What I see is they are moving back into the ungoverned area," said Maj. Gen. Jonathan S. Gration, the director of strategy, policy and assessments for U.S. European Command. "More recently we are seeing extremists with battlefield experience coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan" to North Africa. "Terrorist continue to operate freely in ungoverned areas. The threat is becoming transnational," he said.
It is not specifically an al-Qaeda presence in the Trans-Sahel region, but an amalgam of local extremists and terrorists, criminals, narco-traffickers and smugglers with increasingly transnational ties.
American policies, however, prevent full engagement with the governments and the militaries of those countries. One of the chief limits is a law passed by Congress in 2003, the American Servicemembers Protection Act. That law prohibits U.S. military assistance and training and economic support funds from being provided to any country that is a member of the International Criminal Court and has not signed a bilateral immunity agreement exempting American service members from the ICC.
"We're severely restricted in what we can do," said Gration, an Air Force general who grew up in Africa and speaks fluent Swahili. "The restrictions we're put on our ability to move in Africa may be hurting the very people we are trying to help."
In North Africa, opportunities are being lost to train those militaries in English and in anti-insurgent tactics, as well as cutting off a primary avenue for learning about the cultures and developing close political relationships with their leadership.
China is stepping into that breach, in many cases. Its rapidly expanding economy means it is on a global hunt for natural resources, and Africa has replete with them. According to Gration, Chinese aid to Africa has increased more than 50 percent since 2004.
"They are focused, well financed and they know what they are trying to achieve," he said. "We can't give Kenya foreign military financing or (military training) but China offers it like crazy. Kenya doesn't have another option."
"They go in, give aid, and say what do you want? We go in and say, this is what you need and we can't give it to you," he said.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, trade between China and Africa doubled to $18.5 billion between 202 and 2003, and nearly doubled again in the first ten months of 2005, jumping to $32.17 billion, most of it in oil imports. China's direct foreign investment in Africa was $900 million of the continent's $15 billion total in 2004. In 2005 Africa saw 5.2 percent economic growth, its highest ever, in part because of Chinese investment.
China has also sent military trainers to help their African counterparts, in large part because its oil exploration activities require improved security. In 2004, China contributed 1,500 peacekeepers to U.N. missions across Africa, including Liberia. It has cancelled $10 billion in bilateral debt from African countries, sends doctors to treat Africans, and hosts thousands of African workers and students in Chinese schools.
The ICC restriction on U.S. investment and military aid limits American latitude to encourage North Africa's separate militaries into working together as a regional force, widely viewed as a key to stabilization. Insurgents and extremists regularly cross national borders. If they are not dealt with regionally, they can easily avoid capture. And the ungoverned territory spans several countries. To bring that area under control and deny to terrorists and criminals will require a cooperative effort. Without economic, military and diplomatic inducements to offer, European Command has few tools to encourage that outcome.
And Gration believes North Africa is ready for such an effort.
"There's an increased awareness that individual countries can't deal with it alone," said Gration. "I honestly believe there is an awareness of terrorism that predates ours by a decade. They've been dealing with terrorists, IEDS, indiscriminate bombing for a long time."
The National Security Council is working on a new strategy paper for U.S. policy in Africa.
"We want to help these nations work their problem," he said. "We have to do it in such a way that makes sense and doesn't come across as arrogant ... Africa's problems need to be solved regionally and multilaterally."