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Navy focuses more on Africa

| Saturday, June 17, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

The Navy is devoting more resources to help African countries protect their waters and natural resources, the admiral overseeing operations in that region said Friday.

"Where there are rich resources and a lack of governance and a lack of rule of law, people who are terrorists or wannabe terrorists or would wish to do bad things gravitate," Navy Adm. Harry Ulrich said after a speech to the Military Affairs Council of Western Pennsylvania in Moon. "And that area is defined by rich resources, lack of governance and the lack of rule of law."

The area supplies 20 percent of the United States' energy and is a growing market for eco-tourism and American products. It has a wealth of natural sea resources but protects them poorly, said Ulrich, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and NATO commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy.

African nations lose billions of dollars a year to illegal activities such as oil theft and fish poaching, Ulrich said. Legitimate offshore mining operations -- for metals, diamonds and other minerals -- also could be threatened, he said.

Fish poaching alone costs those nations an estimated $1 billion, roughly equal to U.S. non-food aid to the region, he said. It also is decimating an industry on which people depend for their diets and incomes.

Nigeria alone loses at least $1.5 billion a year in stolen oil, he said.

American investment in the area is high, and U.S. military forces and money also will increase in the region, he said.

U.S. and European forces are working with African maritime security forces and governments to assess their capabilities and train them in improving or starting their own forces, focusing on the Gulf of Guinea, Ulrich said. The amount of training needed varies widely, from improving existing forces to starting them from scratch, from recruitment to training.

In 2004, the Navy deployed to the region for 12 days, mostly for traditional war game exercises, but it has been there every day this year, Ulrich said.

South Africa is the most capable of protecting its waters and resources, and the two-island nation of Sao Tome and Principe has no maritime security force in the Gulf of Guinea, he said.

"Nobody even knows that country exists, and they're sitting on a pile of oil and natural gas" discovered in the past few years, he said.

The Gulf of Guinea, at the intersection of the equator and prime meridian, is considered the earth's geographic center and is where much of the Navy's attention is focused.

"We know there are bad things going on down there. We know there's revenues being lost. We know the ecology is being destroyed down there," Ulrich said. "They're bad now, and they're only going to get worse unless we do something about it. It's a long-term effort."

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