By Erwin, Sandra I.
National Defense , Vol. 91, No. 633
Worries about the expansion of Islamic extremist groups in Western Africa and the growing influence of China have spurred U.S. military presence there, particularly along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.
One of the most recent initiatives to strengthen U.S. clout in the region is an outreach program run by the U.S. Navy 6th Fleet, based in Naples, Italy, to help African nations boost their maritime defense forces.
West-Central Africa--rich in natural resources but plagued by extreme poverty and corrupt governments--has become a friendly habitat for radical al-Qaida-like organizations, contends Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, leader of the U.S. European Command.
That region of Africa has turned into one of EUCOM's major areas of interest, and Jones periodically has traveled to Washington, D.C., to convince administration officials and Congress that steady U.S. military engagement in Africa will pay long-term dividends.
The United States not only should worry about Africa welcoming and harboring terrorists, Jones says, but also must be concerned about China's calculated moves to gain leverage in the area, and ensure access to Africa's rich reserves of oil and other natural resources. "As Asia's emerging industries expand, requirements for petroleum products and strategic metals will grow exponentially and will likely compete more intensely for these resources with the United States," Jones says at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
China, for example, offers military aid, cash and political support in exchange for access to oil, Jones suggests.
According to European Command briefing charts, the United States imported more oil from Africa than from the Persian Gulf in 2005. As a rule, about 14. …