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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 09:27 GMT
US hails Horn anti-terror efforts
US troops stationed in the Horn of Africa
US troops lead the anti-terror task force
Horn of Africa nations have arrested dozens of people linked to militant groups over the past 15 months, a top US military commander says.

Brigadier General Mastin Robeson, the head of the US-led Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, said the arrests involved key members of terror groups.

He told Reuters news agency that the detentions had been carried out since the force was inaugurated in 2002.

The CJTF-HOA has up to 1,600 personnel and is based in Djibouti.

"Every one of (the arrests involve) significant members of the terrorist organisations here - all of them are not necessarily al-Qaeda," Brig-Gen Robeson said in an interview with Reuters news agency.

"But all of them are involved in the terrorist operations here in the form of operators, planners, financiers or supporters," he said.

He said the arrests had been made by security forces in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti and also Yemen.

Brig-Gen Robeson added that the long-term aim was to establish communications directly between each country and the task force's headquarters to share intelligence information.

The CJTF-HOA was launched in December 2002 to bolster what Washington describes at its "war on terror" in the Horn and East Africa.

Somalia concerns

Experts say the US fears terror groups - including al-Qaeda cells - may be seeking hideouts in the area, where poor policing of vast deserts and relatively unprotected coastlines have made it a potentially fertile training ground for militants.

Malian soldiers enact an ambush exercise under the supervision of US Special Forces in the desert near Timbuktu
US special forces have been training Malian troops in the Sahara

They say Somalia - which has no central authority and has been wracked by civil war - represents one of the toughest challenges for the task force.

Brig-Gen Robeson's comments come as the US has begun training and equipping a growing number of armies in other parts of Africa - which is seen by experts as an extention of Washington's anti-terror campaign in the Horn of Africa.

The US Army's 10th Special Forces Group have been supervising anti-terror exercises in Mauritania and Mali in the Sahara Desert, while US Marines are preparing for similar missions in Niger and Chad.

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