U.S. Paves Way for African Counterdrug Cooperation, Success
STUTTGART, Germany, June 29, 2012 – When U.S. Africa Command was garnering unprecedented international attention in October during its campaign to protect Libyan civilians from Moammar Ghadafi’s violent crackdown against a rebellion, the command achieved another, less headline-dominating victory.
Police in Cape Verde, a small group of islands off Africa’s west coast, seized an estimated 3,300 pounds of cocaine in the country’s largest-ever drug bust. The cocaine had originated in South America and was transiting through Cape Verde bound for Europe, Africom officials said.
And as confirmed by an International Institute for Strategic Studies report in April, proceeds from shipments like this one are a major funding source for terrorist activities.
Thanks in large part to the new Africom-funded Counter-Narcotics and Maritime Security Operations Center in Cape Verde, profits from the $100 million in captured cocaine there never made it into terrorists’ hands.
The center, built with about $1.5 million from Africom and formally presented to the Cape Verdean government in May 2010, is enabling the country’s police, coast guard and military to collaborate more closely to crack down on illicit trafficking, piracy and other transnational threats, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Mark Huebschman said.
“We feel that interagency center was a key asset that helped facilitate this very significant drug seizure,” Huebschman, chief of Africom’s counternarcotics and law enforcement assistance division, told American Forces Press Service.
The center features inter-island communications relays that give Cape Verdean government agencies and offices the ability to share information and coordinate their activities against narco-trafficking and other illegal activities, Huebschman explained.
To complement its operations, the United States also helped Cape Verde upgrade its tiny, four-craft patrol boat fleet and donated another small high-speed vessel.
As a result, Cape Verde is better equipped to monitor and patrol its vast territorial waters and economic exclusion zone, with the United States providing only a supporting role, Huebschman said.
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, Africom’s commander, called these efforts an example of the capacity-building initiatives that are helping Africans to solve African problems.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in February, Ham called narcotics trafficking a destabilizing influence throughout Africa, particularly in West Africa.
“The Africans are not the overall consumers of these drugs that are coming from Central and South America,” he told the House panel. “But they are the transit point for the narcotics that go into Europe.”
Yet the consequences impact Africa directly, he said, breeding corruption and undermining good governance wherever illegal narcotics flow.
“That,” he told Congress, “works contrary to our national interests.”
As traffickers move cocaine shipments through West Africa, their counterparts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are increasingly funneling heroin shipments through East Africa, Huebschman reported. In addition, traffickers are beginning to pay couriers in drugs rather than cash, he said, creating new local markets for drugs on the continent.
Africom is working with its African partners to confront drug trafficking head-on, while also drawing on resources and expertise from its staff representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FBI and Coast Guard, all of which have reach-back to their agencies in the United States.
“This is really a problem we have approached through a whole-of-government effort,” Huebschman said.
The efforts run the gamut, from training to building capacity within partners’ civilian law enforcement agencies or equipment for them to operate, to minor construction projects to establish bases for their operations.
“We also do projects that promote information sharing, like computer systems and telecommunications systems,” Huebschman said. “All are geared toward providing these law enforcement agencies with an enhanced capability to be able to attack these drug-trafficking organizations.”
For example, officials used high-tech full-body scanners provided by Africom and ICE-led training to interdict a drug courier at one of Nigeria’s international airports almost immediately after putting the system into operation, Huebschman reported. The scanners have proven so successful in supporting Nigeria’s counternarcotics efforts that the United States last year removed Nigeria from its list of major illicit drug-producing and drug-trafficking countries.
Meanwhile, Africom continues to promote cooperation among its African partners so they can provide a unified front to address the problem.
For example, law enforcement officials from seven West African countries met in Sierre Leone in December to explore ways to curtail drug trafficking in the region. The conference, organized by the U.S. State and Justice departments under the auspices of the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative, focused heavily on the need to combat transnational organized crime activities, particularly corruption, in West Africa.
A new strategy document developed through that initiative is designed to take this effort to the next level by leveraging ongoing efforts by international partners and organizations: G8 partners, The European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, among them.
“We’re trying to approach this problem from an international perspective, and to leverage all the resources and capabilities that these various countries and agencies bring to this challenging problem,” Huebschman said.
Meanwhile, rather than basking in the glory of their recent cocaine interdiction, the Cape Verdeans are continuing to exercise with their counterparts from the United States and Europe to improve their maritime security operations.
They recently took part in the multinational Saharan Express 2012 exercise, part of the Africa Partnership Station mission focused on combating illicit activities -- such as illegal fishing, narcotics-trafficking and piracy -- that are endangering the maritime security in many of the participant nations.
Ten regional militaries participated in the training, conducted off the coasts of Cape Verde, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia, with scenarios that included visit, board, search and seizures, search-and-rescue scenarios, medical casualty and radio communication drills, and information management practice techniques.
“We live in a world that is confronted with many problems like piracy, drug trafficking, terrorism, organized crime,” said Col. Alberto Ferdandes, chief of staff for the Cape Verde armed forces. “It’s necessary for each of us to find a solution to respond to these problems in an efficient manner, we need to have a communal response and it is important that we are all prepared so we can produce a unified action.”
“We all know that illegal fishing threatens the food security of our countries,” agreed Senegalese Chief of Naval Staff Adm. Mohamed Sane. “Illegal acts like immigration, arms trafficking, pollution, piracy and terrorism threaten social stability. No maritime power can face these challenges alone.”
(Navy Lt. Nathan Potter, public affairs officer for U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, contributed to this article.)