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Desert Travels - Motorcycle Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa!

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Old 15 Jan 2004
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Americans in the Sahara

Just let everynoe know about the piece of news in today's The Guardian newspaper about The American military opening a new front of the War on terror in the Sahara desert. They want to tightent the borders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. I personaly feel that this is madness and very worrying development indeed. Does anyone have any more info on the subject? I wonder, how would this development affect not only travel in the area but the lives of the locals and the delicate balance of the desert environment? I have enclosed below a paste of the article as it appears in todays Guardian:

US opens new front in war on terror by beefing up border controls in Sahara

Rory Carroll, Africa correspondent, and Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Wednesday January 14, 2004
The Guardian

The US is sending troops and defence contractors to the Sahara desert of west Africa to open what it calls a new front in the war on terror.
A small vanguard force arrived this week in Mauritania to pave the way for a $100m (£54m) plan to bolster the security forces and border controls of Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Niger.

The US Pan-Sahel Initiative, as it is named, will provide 60 days of training to military units, including tips on desert navigation and infantry tactics, and furnish equipment such as Toyota Land Cruisers, radios and uniforms.

The reinforcement of America's defences in a remote, poorly patrolled region came on a day when US police forces gained important powers in the homeland to conduct searches.

In a 6-3 ruling, the supreme court yesterday reversed a lower court decision in Illinois not to allow police to set up roadblocks to collect information from motorists. The supreme court said it did not represent an unreasonable intrusion on privacy. The three dissenting judges said the ruling exposed motorists to police interference.

West Africa is not known as a hotbed of support for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network but Washington is taking no chances in a region with strong Arab and Muslim ties.

"A team of military experts has been here since Saturday to teach, train and reinforce the capacities of the Mauritanian army charged with frontier surveillance against cross-border terrorism," Pamela Bridgewater, a US deputy undersecretary of state for African affairs, told reporters in the capital, Nouakchott.

Since dropping support in the mid-90s for Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime, the government of Mauritania has angered some local Islamic groups by forging links with Washington. At least one such group was allegedly behind a failed coup last year but some sceptics claim the government exaggerated the threat.

Mali, Chad and Niger also have porous borders, sizeable Muslim populations and disgruntled opposition groups but al-Qaida has so far concentrated its African operations in the east: blowing up US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and a rocket and car bomb attack against Israeli targets in the Kenyan resort of Mombasa last year.

Armed groups roving the desert have abducted western tourists and caused the Paris-Dakar rally to be rerouted, but whether they are opportunistic bandits or Islamist guerrillas is not clear.

Ms Bridgewater said there had been threats against US interests in Mauritania's neighbour Senegal, the scene of extraordinary security measures during President George Bush's visit last year.

"Yes, we have heard. But this question is very sensitive, and I don't want to respond to this question," she said.

West Africa is comprised largely of former French colonies and Paris might be expected to be wary. The French defence minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, is to visit Washington this week to meet Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser.

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Old 15 Jan 2004
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I may not get the full picture but I dont see this as completly bad news (apart from them making thermselves a target.) The worst affected will be local smugglers who, ASAICT, work with local military anyway. We just carry on doing our thing where we can and hope not to attract friendly fire.

If all they are going to do is supply some nice 78s and 2 months of training and then scoot back (as I understand it) things may soon return to normal.

And let's face it, none of us want Al Q to establish themselves in the dz as it ends up with the restrictions we are currently facing.

Chris S
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Old 15 Jan 2004
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I think the US is being a bit over-ambitious in hoping to seal these borders. I read somewhere the other day, they were berating some country for not sealing their borders more tightly, yet many Mexicans hop into the US every year!
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Old 15 Jan 2004
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I fail to see how the training of personel and supply of equipment will have a negative affect on you as a tourist. If the local military/police were maybe a little bit more professional than they are today, banditry etc wouldn't be as much of a problem, and would eventually lead to less silly restrictions like compulsary "guides"...
Do you really think that tightened borders would affect you? As a tourist, you not exectly the "badguy" that they're looking for, and border crossings are time consuming and burocratic anyway.
As for the environment, what is it you are worried that they'll do with the Land Cruisers and other equipment? Make new tracks in the desert? Like yourself?

And as Chris mentioned, if Al-Qaeda is allowed to establish and hide themselves in the saharan countrys, you might as well find a new intrest and hobby...

I think it's best not to jump to conclusions about why this is going to be so negative, just because it's US troops that are going to train the locals. The French and English have been duing the same thing for years. All threes expertise is used to train forces all over the world via advisor programs like this, so I wouldn't worry too much yet. Time will tell.

Erik D.


[This message has been edited by Erik D. (edited 15 January 2004).]
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Old 15 Jan 2004
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According to many independant experts, oil reserves are supposed to peak in the next 6-10 years and Africa contains many of the last big reserves. Any connection there?
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Old 16 Jan 2004
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Oil may well be a factor in this game.
But the question remains, is it safer for
travellers in the long run that bandittry, terrorism and corruption continues?
The oils going to be drilled eventually no matter what. Have no doubt. We can only hope it will be to at least some local benifit, and not only line the pockets of yet more corrupt african bureaucrats...
Better trained, equipped (and hopefully paid) troops are at least generally far less likely to hassle you than ones that aren't.

Erik D.

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Old 16 Jan 2004
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< benifit, and not only line the pockets of yet more corrupt african bureaucrats...>

And american bureaucats,politicians etc (Exxon, Cheney, halliburton, bush snr etc.)

The problem with american involvement is it rarely is the 2 months they say (how many 'advisors' went to vietnam)

The other problem is that american involvement can focus opposition where there was not opposition before simply by being there

Well we will have to hope that it does not change the situation for us. Or that they start firing on Landrover 101's because they have a military silouette

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Old 27 Jan 2004
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Sand castles in the Sahara: US Military Basing in Algeria.

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Old 27 Jan 2004
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Well spotted Mike. Well written and most interesting. It gives plausable explanations to a lot of puzzling factors about the abductions (MBM, the set up, dithering rescues, how they got to Mali) and revives early theories about the whole operation and who was involved.

Makes the US sound liike some nutter in a Bond movie!

Chris S
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Old 27 Jan 2004
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Originally posted by Chris Scott:
It gives plausable explanations to a lot of puzzling factors about the abductions Chris S
The most significant and convincing must relate to hostages journey to Mali. Those who have been to the region, including the Amguid corridor, will know that there can be no way that so many people and their cars could pass through a highly scruitinised region without being noticed and without help. For me this is the most powerful reason that funny stuff happened because it is a reason we (as people who have travelled to the region) can be absolutely sure about ourselves and involves no speculation about higher order politics and smokey rooms.

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