Trans-Saharan Conference Focuses on 'Expanding Partner Nation Capacity-Building'

Participants from across the U.S. government, as well as European liaisons, attended the fourth annual Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and Operation Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara Conference March 26-28 in southern Germany.

Led by the U.S. Department of State, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) mobilizes U.S. government resources from a variety of sources, including the Department of State, Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to help partners in West Africa improve their ability to safeguard borders and deny operating space for terrorists, address underlying conditions that can produce extremism, particularly among the young, and discredit extremist ideology.

Operation Enduring Freedom - Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) is the Defense Department's military component to support TSCTP. It is currently coordinated by U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, but will transition along with EUCOM's other operational responsibilities on the African continent to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) this fall. The TSCTP/OEF-TS partnership includes the African nations of Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia and the United States. In addition to emphasizing regional security, the Trans-Sahara program assists international partners to enhance commerce and education.

"The theme of this year's event was 'Expanding partner nation capacity-building,'" Army Lieutenant Colonel Randall Horton, OEF-TS team leader, U.S. European Command, said. "This really is a chance to bring everyone together to identify and synchronize activities that are being done in Trans-Sahara."

The conference was attended by representatives from U.S. government agencies including: the State Department's nine U.S. embassies in Trans-Sahara and its regional bureau offices, Department of Justice, Department of Treasury, FBI, Homeland Security, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Defense Intelligence Agency, CIA, Special Operations Command, the Joint Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. European Command and its component commands, including U.S. Africa Command.

"They hear first hand what's being done so they can better support these efforts on the continent," Horton said.

United Kingdom and French military liaisons also participated in the conference. "We wanted to include the French and U.K. liaisons, not only for their Ministry of Defense-side, but also their State Department equivalencies in both their governments, so that they could hear what our agencies are doing in a focused effort across the Trans-Saharan region," Horton said. "We're trying to get them involved because there really are a lot of issues, beyond what just the U.S. can do, in Trans-Sahara. There are many people and organizations involved with that region that have similar interests in building capacity and helping to create a more stable North and West Africa."

Horton, who has been involved with the Trans-Saharan planning group for the past three years, says one of the major tasks for the large group is communication; for members to inform each other about desired activities in Trans-Sahara and to coordinate them.

"For example, when we engage on the military side, and USAID comes in and follows up with the Embassy or with us, it's only one-way communication for that specific activity. However, here we all get to talk and coordinate at the same time; we get a chance to hear and learn what the desires of each agency are and to bring that information together for core planning."

Horton said the program has come a long way since TSCTP was established in 2005. "In the past three years, the OEF-TS team has identified requirements and gained about $100 million per year to support activities within the region. An additional $50 million in funding is provided by other U.S. government agencies in support of the TSCTP program."

During the meeting, the group also focused on the upcoming transition of military operations in Trans-Sahara from U.S. European Command to U.S. Africa Command.

"The move should be transparent," Horton said. "We grew the OEF-TS program within EUCOM over the past four years and it is now its own branch of the command. The same people who are overseeing the program now, who are orchestrating the moving pieces will continue to do this under AFRICOM. Some of those established relationships we have with EUCOM, we'll continue to use."

Each year, the conference is alternately hosted by the State Department, Defense Department or USAID. Previous conferences have been held in Stuttgart, Germany, and Washington, D.C.

"The vast majority of Africans reject extremism in the region," Todd Moss, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said in policy speech March 5, 2008, in Baltimore, Maryland. "But many African countries need support to increase their capacity to deny terrorists potential safe-havens, recruits, and financing."
Interagency West Africa humanitarian assistance Special Operations U.S. European Command