U.S. backs Chad against extremists
From Barbara Starr
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A small group of U.S. troops quietly helped Chad's military in a running battle this week against an Algerian Islamic group, U.S. sources said Thursday.
U.S. forces have been providing communications, intelligence and reconnaissance support to the Chad forces, but have not participated in combat, U.S. sources said.
The reconnaissance includes Navy P-3 aircraft operating out of Algeria, a U.S. military source said.
The effort is part of a broad, low-key, U.S. military initiative to support Algeria, Mali and Niger against the Algerian terrorist organization Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which the United States consider a terrorist group and which has declared its allegiance to al Qaeda.
Publicly, the United States has only acknowledged that it is providing training for African military forces in the region. The U.S. military mission is not covert, but officials have not talked about the details because of sensitivities in the region concerning the presence of U.S. forces.
The overall U.S. goal is to prevent terrorist groups from gaining a foothold in the ungoverned regions of North Africa. While the GSPC has been mainly focused on Algeria, it is believed to be spreading recruiting efforts into nearby Mauritania and Niger.
In the latest firefight, military forces from Niger chased GSPC members across the border into Chad. The GSPC group, believed to number 43, was surrounded by Chad forces, which U.S. intelligence estimated to be "in the hundreds," according to a U.S. source.
The government of Chad said GSPC leader Saifi Ammari, also known as "al-Para" was killed in the firefight, but the United States has not been able to confirm that. Chad asked U.S. intelligence officials for a photograph of the terrorist leader so it can be compared with one of the bodies, sources said.
U.S. military officials said this military support is separate from U.S. Special Forces training in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.
Chad, in north central Africa, is about three times the size of California.