State Department Helps First Responders Deal with Terrorism in East Africa

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SEATTLE–As part of 2016’s East African Joint Operations (EAJO) capstone project, the U.S. Department of State partnered with various task forces to ensure that first responders, civilians and military officials could collaborate to address terrorism in East Africa.

The training exercise, which was funded by the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (PREACT), took place on August 12 through 15 in Nairobi, Kenya. Formed in 2009, PREACT is an organization that is designed to encourage communication among key response groups.

PREACT’s primary objectives are to develop legal frameworks for counter-terror measures in partner nations, track funding for terrorist organizations, reduce operational capacity of terrorist networks and reduce the appeal of radicalization in at-risk communities.

In the spirit of collaboration, organizers brought together forces from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to bolster regional response to terrorist attacks.

These three nations are often targeted by al-Shabaab, which is a Somalia-based jihadist group with allegiance to al-Qaeda. Kenya has been ravaged by al-Shabaab attacks due to border issues, and between 2010 and 2013, attacks rose in frequency from fewer than 30 to over 140 per year.

A similar increase in terror attacks affected Tanzania over the same three-year period, with incidents rising from three in 2010 to 17 in 2013. Uganda’s experience with terror has been consistently high for decades.

The EAJO capstone project takes steps toward Secretary John Kerry’s desire for increased communication between governments, military groups and response teams both leading up to and in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.

Such a localized approach, in Secretary Kerry’s words, puts “communities who are most at risk in the driver’s seat” by giving them the tools they need to prevent further tragedy and deal with the fallout such attacks occur.

One hundred and eight participants, many of whom gained real-world experience after Kenya’s Westgate Mall attack in 2013, went through extensive training in the weeks leading up to the exercise. The capstone project culminated in a 24-hour terror attack simulation.

Military forces watched as first responders and civilian law enforcement handled the initial crisis. The idea was to help each person involved better understand their role in fighting terrorism in East Africa by observing the work of those around them.

While the benefits of training in East Africa’s terror epicenter will likely be felt immediately in the region, the plan has a globalized scope. All parties involved, from Secretary Kerry to law enforcement officers, realize that local actions against terrorism have global ramifications when it comes to dismantling the structures that keep terrorist networks afloat.

In funding programs like the EAJO capstone project, PREACT and the State Department hope to reinforce the idea that there is little efficacy to be found in a one-size-fits-all approach to counterterrorism.

“Local communities are on the front lines of this challenge,” Secretary Kerry explained just days after the Westgate Mall attack. “We need to be prepared to respond to each situation differently, to tailor each program in response to the conditions that empower terrorism.”

Through ongoing collaboration, the State Department, EAJO, PREACT and forces on the ground will take important steps toward solving the problem of terrorism in East Africa.

Madeline Distasio

Photo: Flickr

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