Military-to-Military Relations in Libya, Elsewhere in Africa

Our friends at Inside the Pentagon this week are reporting a number of interesting developments (scroll down to “Mil-to-Mil”) relating to the U.S. military presence in Africa.

First, in another step in the process of normalizing U.S.-Libya relations that began when Libya voluntarily abandoned its covert WMD programs in December 2003, the U.S. government will soon restart military-to-military relations with the country, ITP reports:

The United States is close to signing a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan government that will open the doors to formal military engagement following years of strained relations, according to a senior military official in the Joint Staff.

The Libyans are “certainly ripe for engagement,” the official told Inside the Pentagon.

The United States should “promote and award” their efforts at reform and reintegration into the international community, he said in an interview from his Pentagon office. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Libya’s at a very nascent stage in terms of mil-to-mil cooperation with us,” the official said. “We’re, I think, very close to signing a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan military, which is a prerequisite for us to begin any sort of official mil-to-mil relationship with them.”

Discussions between the United States and Libya have been ongoing for at least 18 months, the official said. He added the Libyan government, which has “no stated concerns except they wish for more progress” in forging an agreement, has the final draft. The official predicted it will be signed in two to three months.

ITP also reports on U.S. counterterrorism aid to troops in neighboring Tunisia:

The Pentagon is equipping Tunisia’s troops with surveillance systems and night-vision gear to cut off armed extremists’ unfettered access to the country’s open borders with Algeria and Libya.

The aid, worth nearly $10 million, will be provided through the Defense Department’s global-train-and-equip authority, also known as the Section 1206 program. The authority lets DOD boost the capacity of foreign militaries, a task traditionally handled by the State Department.

The U.S. government considers Tunisia a key ally in the Arab world. Tunisia’s defense minister, Kamel Morjane, visited Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon on May 12.

“The lunch discussion focused on training and exercises, both past as well as future opportunities to strengthen the mil-to-mil relationship,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told /Inside the Pentagon/. There were also some “fairly standard discussions” about ongoing defense security and cooperation issues, he said.

U.S. officials worry that extremist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) pose an unprecedented terrorist threat to Northern Africa.

For more on AQIM, see this World Politics Review analysis by Aidan Kirby.

Finally, on top of the birthing difficulties Africa Command has already experienced (see here and here) due to African skepticism about U.S. intentions, Inside the Pentagon reports that Congress is now worried about staffing shortages at the nascent command:

Senate authorizers support the Pentagon’s decision to establish U.S. Africa Command, which would rely more heavily on a whole government approach than other combatant commands, but the lawmakers worry the other departments and agencies involved are not adequately resourced to support this model.

The concerns are outlined in the May 12 report that accompanies the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal year 2009 defense authorization bill.

Inside the Pentagon is subscription only, but their twice-weekly Insider alert is free, and articles can be downloaded on a pay-per-view basis.

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