Nowatzki, Mike. "General Stresses Terrorism Reforms." Forum, 17 December 2004.
The U.S. military needs to train more soldiers in northern Africa to prevent the area from becoming a breeding ground for terrorists, says a four-star Air Force general and North Dakota native.
Gen. Charles F. Wald is in Fargo today to receive an honorary doctorate from North Dakota State University. He also will speak during the commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. at the Fargodome.
As deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, Wald oversees U.S. military operations across 21 million square miles in 91 countries and territories in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Since the United States began applying pressure on terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks, the European Command has paid extra attention to activity in northern Africa, Wald said in an interview Thursday.
The Sahara Desert's lack of government, loose borders and sparse population make it a hotbed for smuggling, corruption and terrorist recruiting and training, he said.
|Gen. Charles F. Wald Minot native Receives degree from North Dakota State University|
Two years ago, the military began the Pan Sahel Initiative, an effort to train and equip soldiers in four African countries: Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
About $7.5 million has been spent training 750 troops, Wald said.
Now, the European Command wants permission to continue and expand the program to five additional countries -- Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia -- and change the name to the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative.
The total area covered would be roughly equal to the land mass of the continental United States, Wald said.
The military would spend about $300 million over the first five years to train and equip troops and improve communications and intelligence sharing between the countries, he said.
Wald said that area's most well-known terrorist group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, has pledged allegiance to the al-Qaidi terrorist network and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
"It's an issue that's festering and growing and could potentially become a big problem," Wald said. "We want to get ahead of it before it does become a big problem like it did in Afghanistan."
Wald said he expects the plan to receive approval from military leaders as early as next week before being forwarded to Congress.
A Minot native, Wald graduated from NDSU in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in political science with a pre-law option. He holds a master's degree in political science from Troy State University and completed the program for senior officials in national security at Harvard University.
NDSU is proud of Wald's successes, wrote Thomas Riley, dean of arts, humanities and social sciences, in a nomination letter for the doctorate degree.
"When he left NDSU, I am sure that neither Charles Wald nor the faculty and staff who mentored him here could imagine that he would one day have direct operational response for the defense of much of Western Europe, Southwest Asia including Afghanistan, and West Africa as his responsibility," Riley wrote.
The ex-fighter pilot said his experience at NDSU, which included participating in the ROTC program and facing national competition as a member of the Bison football team, helped to shape his career. Wald was a star wide receiver on the 1969 national champion football team.
"That gave me the confidence that there was something I could do bigger, so it made a big difference," Wald said.
Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota