Exclusive: U.S. to spend up to $550 million on African rapid response forces

By Phil Stewart
Exclusive: U.S. to spend up to $550 million on African rapid response forces

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will announce 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, an Obama administration official told Reuters.

President Barack Obama is expected to unveil 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 would partner with Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda to develop rapid response forces. Those forces would be ready to deploy as part of United Nations' or African Union missions, the official said.

"We've seen over time increasingly capable African peacekeepers who are deploying to address crises across the continent," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"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.

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.

U.S. officials were hopeful that an intelligence-sharing initiative might also emerge from the discussions at the summit, but details were still unclear.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler)