May 27, 2014
J. Peter Pham and Rudolph Atallah on US Antiterror Efforts in Africa
J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center of the Atlantic Council, a policy research group in Washington, said the United States must make tough political judgments before investing in ambitious counterterrorism training programs. Mr. Pham cited the lessons of Mali, where American-trained commanders of elite army units defected to Islamic insurgents that seized the north last year.
“The host country has to have the political will to fight terrorism, not just the desire to build up an elite force that could be used for regime protection,” Mr. Pham said. “And the military has to be viewed well or at least neutrally by a country’s population.”
American counterterrorism officials also warn that without a commitment to support the specialized units, training can stall. “It’s very difficult, very challenging dealing with African forces,” said Rudy Atallah, the former director of African counterterrorism policy for the Pentagon. “You train them to a certain level, and then they can run short on gear, communications, even tires for their vehicles.”