This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes. There are vast numbers, not only in this Island but in every land, who will render faithful service in this war, but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded. This is a War of the Unknown Warriors; but let all strive without failing in faith or in duty, and the dark curse...will be lifted from our age.
Keeping the Sahara Quiet
March 4, 2006: Noting that Islamic radical organizations were using remote bases in the arid regions of the Sahara and Sahel (the semi-desert region just south of the Sahara), in 2003 the U.S. began the "Pan-Sahel Initiative," a program that uses Special Operations Forces personnel to train local security forces in a number of the ten Saharan nations. Over the next three years American training teams, mostly from the Army's Special Forces, helped organize, train, and equip one or more 150-man strong "rapid-reaction" companies (per country) in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. In June of 2005, this program was supplanted by the "Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative" (TSCTI) which essentially extends the program to the rest of the Saharan states. In addition to the original four countries, it is believed that Algeria, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, and Tunisia are taking part in the program, and that Libya has expressed a willingness to participate as well. One objective of the new program is to develop battalion-sized counterterrorism forces in each of these countries, and improve command, control, communications, and intelligence capabilities, to enhance effectiveness against terrorists infiltration.
The program, which is to operate on a budget of about $100 million a year, is a low profile effort. Only a very small number of special operations personnel are involved, and they are being careful to keep out of combat operations (though they have reportedly occasionally been involved in planning). One of the missions seems to be to promote inter-national cooperation against terrorism, which has borne fruit in a number of interesting developments. Several of the countries involved have been sharing information on the movements of potential terrorists, and in a number of instances have cooperated for mutual security; for example, Mali and Mauritania have actually concluded a pact allowing each their troops to conduct some operations on the other country's soil.
The TSCTI has the potential to play a major role in defeating Islamic terror in northern Africa, and could serve as a model for similar programs elsewhere. But there are some dangers. Several of the countries involved have fragile governments, and some have problems with internal opposition groups that may align themselves with Islamists as the only alternative to corrupt and oppressive regimes. To promote greater stability in the region, several other U.S. agencies (AID, etc.) are planning educational and developmental projects.
The war goes on. Around the globe, the forces of terror and counter-terror are on the move, seeking advantage and initiative. It is a war with few heroes, noisy defeats, and silent victories.
While we here at home go on with our protests and mock trials, American and allied servicemen continue to go out in the world and do the dirty, obscure, and necessary work of defending their homes and their loved ones. Some give their lives. All go little-noticed and unheralded. Yet they go, and keep going.
Where, indeed, do we get such men and women? And by what mercy of God are we priviledged to have them among us? For I'm not sure we deserve them.
We have a hard enough time even remembering them.