A US-trained Kenyan bomb disposal technician showed colleagues from more than 20 countries how to collect evidence after detonation of a roadside explosive.
Security experts meeting in Nairobi last week say African nations must do more intelligence-sharing to counter weapons widely considered the greatest threat to their security forces: improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Popularised by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, homemade bombs were deployed by militants in nine African countries last year and killed about 3 600 people, according to US Defence Department figures.
Some groups now use the weapons in complex attacks targeting civilians, including January when a suicide bomber and gunmen from Somalia-based al Shabaab stormed an office and hotel complex in Nairobi, killing 21.
African officials at the meeting, arranged by the US military, acknowledged IEDs pose a major challenge, in part because the devices constantly evolve as do the militant groups using them.
“The enemy adapts faster than we react,” said a Western official at the conference who asked not to be identified.
Training for Africa’s police and military forces has typically focused on avoiding and defusing IEDs.
Now governments are looking to the next step: attacking networks deploying them. This requires new skills, including analysing bomb remnants to glean information about who made it and how it works.
Acquiring that intelligence is half the battle, US military and FBI experts told the conference. Ensuring it is disseminated throughout national security agencies and shared with counterparts in other countries is the other half.
Groups such as al Shabaab and Nigeria-based Boko Haram launch attacks in multiple countries, they reminded the conference.
“Unless intelligence is shared at appropriate levels and in a timely way, we’ll never get ahead of the curve in dismantling these networks,” said Matt Bryden, director of Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank.
The amount of co-operation between security agencies varies in Africa, said Michael Solis, who co-leads counter-IED programmes at US Africa Command.
“It is a nascent concept to share information,” he added. “We had the same evolution in the US. We went through it decades ago,and have an effective multi-agency security sector.”
Kenya, which is improving its bomb squad with training and support from the United States and other Western nations, is further ahead than most, US experts said.
“It’s essential for the military and police to work together, so we can win the battle against the common enemy,” said Patrick Ogina, senior superintendent of the Kenyan police and deputy head of its bomb disposal unit.