U.S. special operations forces are attempting to build small teams of elite counterterror fighters in four African countries as part of a Pentagon program targeting al-Qaida-affiliated groups, but the effort is struggling to get off the ground as the military confronts a host of challenges in the region, The New York Times reported.
The Pentagon has been working to train special operations units in Libya, Niger, Mauritania and Mali, where concerns have been growing over groups such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Times reported online Monday. The effort involves members of the Army's Green Berets and Delta Force.
The Defense Department is spending nearly $70 million to help train a counterterrorism battalion in Niger as well as a similar unit in Mauritania. The initiatives are still in the "formative stages," a senior DoD official told the Times.
Meanwhile, $16 million was allotted by the Pentagon to train and equip two companies of Libyan troops and their support elements, which also involved an attempt to train troops at a secret military compound outside of Tripoli. That ended in August after militiamen stormed the base, stealing "hundreds of American-supplied automatic weapons, night-vision goggles, vehicles and other equipment," the Times reported.
"As a result, the training was halted and the American instructors were sent home," the Times reported.
Officials from both countries have been looking for a more secure training site, but American officials are rethinking how they select local personnel to train, the Times reported.
Such incidents underscore the challenges of building counterterrorism teams in regions where resources are limited, the security environment is risky and regional partners are unpredictable.
The training effort in Mali, for example, is struggling as the country attempts to recover from a military coup that upended political order.
For more than a decade, the U.S. military has been gradually building up its counterterror programs across Africa, with a particular focus on training indigenous troops to lead the effort. Both conventional and elite U.S. units have been involved in the mission, which has included training Ugandan soldiers to fight militants in Somalia as well as western African forces to take part in the fight against militants in Mali. The new effort to build elite teams in Libya, Niger, Mauritania and Mali is the latest signal that the Pentagon and its Africa Command remain focused on the effort to push local forces into the lead.
At the same time, the U.S. has been bolstering its network of surveillance aircraft on the continent, which includes a facility in Niger aimed at assisting French forces operating against militants in Mali as well as a more recent drone site in Chad, which supports international efforts to locate more than 200 girls kidnapped by extremists in Nigeria.