- Title: CAPE VERDE: NATO signals African role with Cape Verde war games
- Date: 24th June 2006
- Summary: AMPHIBIOUS TANKS ON THE GROUND
- Embargoed: 9th July 2006 13:00
- Location: Cape Verde
- Country: Cape Verde
- Topics: International Relations,Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVACR51LYXRA6VMMG75QLNYORW7R
- Story Text: The sleepy cluster of islands in the Atlantic Ocean that make up Cape Verde have been stormed by 7,000 NATO troops who are conducting war games.
NATO put on a spectacular show for the media on Thursday (June 22) to introduce its effort to launch the NRF - the NATO Response Force - due to go fully operational in October 2005.
It will be made up of 25,000 international forces and is aimed at silencing critics who argue the alliance is too slow to respond to 21st century conflicts.
The land, air and sea exercises were NATO's first major deployment in Africa and designed to show the former Cold War giant can launch far-flung military operations at short notice.
NATO troops stormed a beach on one of the islands on the archipelago in a mock assault on a fictitious terrorist camp.
The choice of island shows signs of the alliance's growing interest in playing a role in Africa.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the show was intended to display that the alliance was responding to the needs of the 21st century and that NATO was "transforming, evolving" and able to give "protection" and "stability" in an unstable world increasingly threatened by acts of terror.
"You cannot say if the African Union comes, if the Pakistani comes, knocks on NATO's doorbell after an earthquake 'could you help' or if the United Nations, going back to our most important mission in Afghanistan says 'NATO can you run this operation for us?' you cannot say 'sorry we are not at home, ring the neighbour's doorbell'. So that's the answer to your question. Its not strange that NATO finds itself now doing an exercise in the Cape Verde islands. Not at all. It is a consequence of a threat in violence in which NATO operates which is completely changed," de Hoop Scheffer said.
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Jones, the alliance soldier in charge of NATO operations, said he hoped the two-week Cape Verde exercises would help break down negative images about NATO in Africa and elsewhere.
He also said he envisaged the NRF missions to be short, ranging between 4 to 6 months, very rapid, united and integrated.
"There is a pre conceived notion that all that NATO is is a war fighting organisation and 'what are you doing, NATO, in a humanitarian operation? What are you doing here? What's your ulterior motive? What are you really after?' and everybody is amazed after the touch and brush up with NATO that its a good experience. We take as much pride in being able to bring about good things that help people, in people's lives, and sometimes its really a life saving presence, that NATO can do and should be known to be able to do a whole variety of things and not always sitting around and waiting for the next war," General Jones said.
He added that Cape Verdeans had responded very well to their presence on the island.
Not only did the government invite NATO in, but it got cross-party backing.
Cape Verde, 500 km (310 miles) from the west coast of Africa, is keen to cooperate with international partners in combating problems it faces such as drugs and human trafficking.
In its first foray onto the African continent, NATO started offering transportation and small-scale training last year to African Union troops struggling to quell violence in Sudan's western Darfur region. It has also launched defence partnerships with several north African states.
The alliance is looking to extend the Darfur mission this year while ruling out a direct combat role.
Yet any presence for NATO in Africa remains controversial. While Washington is keen to explore possibilities, France and several other European nations argue it has no natural role there and only reluctantly agreed to the Darfur support mission.
However the exercises highlighted the scope for possible future activities in the region. They ranged from a show of force to deter the outbreak of a territorial dispute, to an evacuation of residents in the face of an erupting volcano.
The June 15-28 exercises are the final test of the NATO Response Force, due to go fully operational with 25,000 troops this October and aimed at silencing critics who argue the alliance is too slow to respond to 21st century conflicts.
MILITARY EXERCISES SPANISH MILITARY MILITARY COOPERATION
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