Liberia: The Case For A Strategic Partnership With The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)


By Emmanuel Abalo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 4, 2007


As The U.S. Defense Department, the Pentagon continues the task of exploring, organizing and integrating its response to a myriad of global threats, terrorism and islamic radicalism, Africa remains a clear challenge of confusion, inclusion and responsibility.

Currently, the U.S. Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, is composed of specialized entities of the U.S. military including the the Special Operations Command, Marine Corps, Army and Navy became operational in early 1983 as a direct offshoot of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force. CENTCOM which is based in the southeastern United States is charged with securing the U.S. interests in about 25 countries around the world from the Gulf to Asia and the Horn of Africa.

International terror organizations and criminal enterprises including Al Qaida and major drug cartels pose numerous challenges to American ideals, security interests and its allies including cultivating and establishing footholds in some weak and corrupt nations including Africa. Much concern has also been expressed about free lance "jihadists" cropping up and expanding their network in weak African states including Liberia.

A stark reminder of the reach of global insecurity and terror was the August, 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in the East African nations of Kenya and Tanzania in which over 200 fatalities were reported. Al Qaida claimed responsibility for the attacks then and vowed to continue.

The reality is that although CENTCOM has responsibility for parts of Africa including the region where the attacks occurred, intelligence, for whatever reason, miserably failed to detect and foil the bombings.
Former Liberian President and war crime indictee Charles Taylor is reported was to have played host and done "lucrative diamond business deals" with well known international terror suspects and gun runners who found it safe to operate under his protection.

The West African sub-region became a fertile ground for such international saboteurs to trade in blood diamonds, maintain a destabilized status quo and create launch pads for global attacks against the U.S and its allies - all to the detriment of civilians and meager national resources of some of these countries in the region.

In August, 2003, as part of its mission to secure its own interest but also under heavy international pressure the U.S. deployed several war vessels from CENTCOM stationed in the Mediterranean to Liberian waters for humanitarian reasons, as a show of force, security for its own nationals and support for ending the bloodshed.

Under the mission known as Operation Shining Express the the war ships arrived a few days after the deployment order was signed by President George Bush. rior to the arrival of these military assets, iberians, upon hearing the news of the deployment, went to the beaches daily to await the arrival of the ships and acknowledged that this was a surety of an end to the conflict.
Of course, it goes without saying that the U.S. military has the capacity to deploy materiel and resources anywhere in the world to combat any threat to its security and the Liberian mission is a case in point. The mission was considered a success. Charles Taylor stepped down and left the country, the marines landed and secured the ground for the advent of U.N forces and the fighting ended..

In February, 2004 the U S. and Liberia, the world's No. 2 shipping registry signed an accord which would legally allow the USA to conduct interdictions on the high seas against terror networks and drug syndicates that may want to use ships for attacks by taking advantage of comparatively lax security on the water.

There is a sustained debate now at the Pentagon as to where to position and maintain a robust presence in potential problem spots in Africa short of a token CENTCOM presence in the Horn of Africa. Hotspots like Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Dafur, Zimbabwe and possibly Nigeria are of concern.

It appears that until Africa can develop, train, equip and maintain a professional Rapid Deployment Force that enjoys international credibility, the task of protecting its own people and African ideals, sadly, will rest on outsiders.
The case can be made that while the US debates its role and collaboration with African allies, Liberia and other sub-regional countries can provide an attractive theater for all levels of development that will lead to mutual benefits.

For example, The Atlantic seacoast provides strategic access to CENTCOM and its allies for operational maneuvers to deal with threats. A pro-American Liberian populace and government remain indispensable to maintaining, fostering and achieving shared goals as co-equals. English as the official language offers is also an asset for Liberians and Sierra Leonens. The agreement allowing US security interdiction of ships in the Liberian maritime registry serves a useful purpose as well for countries in the region.

As a matter of precedence and historical context, Liberia has hosted one of several U.S. government owned OMEGA Navigational Satellite Earth Stations in Wehn Town and the Voice of America (VOA) Relay Station were considered strategic to the interests of the U.S. and heavily utilized in years prior to the civil strife. The VOA operation folded just prior to the war and relocated to Sao Tome. Botswana, considered a relatively stable country has hosted a VOA Relay Station for over 25 years.

In December, 1941, following arrangements made in secret between U.S. President Roosevelt and Liberian President Barclay, the The Roberts International Airport in Robertsfield was built by PANAIR. The base served the U.S. and its allies including the Royal Air Force of the UK as a strategic refueling stop station for troops and supplies en route to North Africa during World War II. The historical partnership and cooperation exist and can and must be revisited. The goal here is to fully exploit such strategic bilateral and multilateral alliances.

Liberia and Sierra Leone's attempt at the rebirth of democracy provide an immense opportunity for developing strong governments and self sustaining economies like those of Ghana or Senegal who represent themselves as competitive candidates for U.S. strategic interests including CENTCOM and the benefits that come along with such partnerships.

Emmanuel Abalo is an exiled Liberian journalist, media and human rights activist. He is the former Acting President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). Mr. Abalo presently resides and works in Pennsylvania, USA.
© 2007 by The Perspective

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