Almost 10 000 African police officers trained by the US in anti-terrorism over the last five years

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Thousands of African police officers have received help from counterterrorism training provided by the United States Bureau of Counterterrorism and the US Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) under the US Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) programme.

“Between Fiscal Year 2018 to Fiscal Year 2022, DSS/CT ATA programs trained approximately 30 600 police officers globally; of those, 9 920 (32%) were from 24 African nations,” a State Department spokesperson told defenceWeb on Tuesday.

“This includes: 6 820 participants from 19 Sub-Saharan African nations and 3 100 participants from the five nations of North Africa-Maghreb,” he said, pointing out that, “ATA consistently trains 7 000 to 8 000 officers per year. Training declined significantly in 2020-21 due to travel restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic. ATA has since returned to its pre-pandemic levels of programming.”

In activities “helping nations combat terrorism and confront terrorism,” the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary and assistant director for Training in the Diplomatic Security Service, Julie Cabus, has expressed that America is “excited to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Antiterrorism Assistance training programme they have been implementing with African countries.”

Speaking in Washington about how the Counterterrorism Bureau is in support of the White House in responding to and approaching counterterrorism threats today, deputy coordinator for Regional and Multilateral Affairs in the Counterterrorism Bureau, Gregory LoGerfo, recalled an official trip saying, “I recently was in coastal West Africa — I visited Benin, Togo, and Cote d’Ivoire — with the deputy assistant secretary from our INL Bureau as well as from our Africa Bureau.” INL is the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement department within the State Department. LoGerfo expressed legitimate concerns about West Africa, where “al-Qaida and ISIS affiliates are increasing their activities in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, and now expanding into coastal West Africa.”

Additionally, he said, “several states across East and Southern Africa continue to face entrenched, well-resourced, and well-organized terrorist groups as well as nascent and expanding terrorist activity.”

LoGerfo explained that, “After examining the global terrorism landscape and lessons learned from the past 20 years of counterterrorism efforts, the Biden-Harris Administration set forth a new CT approach last October that, while still acknowledging the continued need for kinetic action, is ‘partner-led, US-enabled’ and places a premium on diplomacy, multilateral partnerships, and building partner capacity. This is exactly what the ATA programme has been doing for 40 years and, undoubtedly, will continue to do in improving our partners’ CT capacities.”

Created in 1983, this 40th anniversary is said to highlight how it has worked in countries with overlapping law-enforcement and military forces. On Tuesday, a State Department spokesperson described to defenceWeb that “ATA trains military or national guard forces that possess civil arrest authorities. US Department of State policy prohibits the ATA programme from providing training to personnel assigned to an intelligence agency or military unit. However, personnel assigned to an intelligence unit within a law enforcement organization and who support the law enforcement function of that organization may be approved for training.”

“Similarly, ATA training can also be approved for personnel assigned to a military unit that performs a counterterrorism law enforcement function in situations where law enforcement units do not perform those duties within that country.”

On levels of assistance in parts of Africa, LoGerfo said, “CT has already obligated over $148 million over the past four years to West Africa, to include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Senegal, most of which is focused on ATA-implemented programmes for crisis response, investigations, and border security professionals.”

The work of the DSS is a clear example defence diplomacy, because it encompasses Regional Security Officers assigned in US Embassies and Consulates around the world. They are “serving as the senior security advisor to the US Ambassador or Consul, as well as maintaining working relations with host nation enforcement organizations,” a State Department spokesperson explained to defenceWeb on Tuesday, further stating that, “CT’s staffing for priority countries includes domestic policy officers and programme managers assigned to every country or region; as well as regional program advisors based in Embassies globally.”

The Antiterrorism Assistance Program (ATA) was mandated by the USA 1984 Act to Combat Terrorism.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe