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EXCLUSIVE-U.S. to spend up to $550 mln on African rapid response forces

Source: Reuters - Thu, 7 Aug 2014 00:49 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Ugandan peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) ride in an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) as they patrol the streets of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, August 31, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
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(Adds President Obama's announcement)

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - The United States announced on Wednesday plans to spend $110 million a year over the next three to five years to help African nations develop peacekeeping forces that can be rapidly deployed to head off militant threats and other crises.

President Barack Obama unveiled the program during the third day of a summit of African heads of state in Washington, along with another U.S. plan to spend an initial $65 million to bolster security institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia, the official said.

The United States plans to partner with Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to develop rapid response forces. Those forces would be ready to deploy as part of United Nations' or African Union missions.

"The United States doesn't have a desire to expand and create a big footprint inside of Africa," Obama said at a news conference at the conclusion of the summit.

"What we want to make sure we can do is partner with the African Union ... with individual countries, to build up their capacity," he said.

Reuters reported earlier that Obama would make the announcement.

"We've seen over time increasingly capable African peacekeepers who are deploying to address crises across the continent," an administration official said.

"But there continues to be a gap in systematically supporting these peacekeepers to help them deploy more quickly and to help them better sustain themselves once deployed."

From Somalia to the Sahel, the United States has been increasingly backing African-led military efforts to counter Islamist militants, while avoiding direct involvement in those conflicts.

It says it has trained more than a quarter-million African troops and police for service in U.N. and African Union peacekeeping operations. Recently, it sent a specialist team to help Nigeria search for the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist group Boko Haram.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told reporters there was a need for "troop contributing countries" to help serve as rapid reaction forces to deal with groups such as Boko Haram, al Shabaab and al Qaeda affiliates.

"So we're thinking in our bilateral relationships, how can we ensure that there is a group of countries that are ready and able to step into the emergencies," she said.

The new funds would start bolstering U.S. military efforts in Africa during the next fiscal year, which starts in October. Unlike previous funds, these would be geared directly to ensuring a rapid response to emerging crises by building capacity in African nations.

"We'll have increased training, particularly to train the trainer and to train specialized enabler units," the official said.

Another program Obama unveiled, dubbed the Security Governance Initiative, would aim to strengthen institutions in African nations to address a range of issues, which could include border security, the official said. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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