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Posted at 8:35 PM ET, 05/14/2010

Report advises Africa-based GIs: Mind the nomads

By Jeff Stein

Some things never change: American GIs have always pitched in to help the locals with medical clinics and digging wells.

In the Horn of Africa task force, however, where about 1,650 military and civilians based in Djibouti work quietly on regional counterterrorism projects, it’s part of the job.

A congressional watchdog report out Friday is advising the hearts-and-minds personnel there to study up on local customs before heading out the door.

“In one case, according to a U.S. embassy official, [a civil affairs team] provided 3 days notice to the host nation that it would conduct a medical clinic in a remote village in Djibouti.” the Government Accountability Office related.

“However, because the villagers are nomads, it was difficult to get participants due to the short amount of notice.”

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Next time, make an appointment.

“U.S. embassy officials also shared with us an instance in which [a] proposal for a 1-day veterinary vaccination event could have actually harmed the livestock by having them travel when they were weakened from a recent drought.”

Check the local rainfall -- not to mention religion.

One day, the task force “distributed used clothing to local Djibouti villagers during Ramadan, which offended the Muslim population,” the GAO said.

But it’s not all head-scratching, the GAO was quick to add.

“In Tanzania, for example, a U.S. embassy official said that the [task force] team members had become proficient in Swahili, helping them to develop relationships,” the GAO said.

“Getting to know the language, culture, and the people in the region, the embassy official said, has contributed to the success in developing a Tanzanian-American partnership in a region where extremists are known to operate.”

The main thrust of the report was described by its title: “DOD Needs to Determine the Future of Its Horn of Africa Task Force,” a multi-agency project, now part of AFRICOM, that conducts counterterrorism operations and training from Yemen to West Africa.

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By Jeff Stein  | May 14, 2010; 8:35 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  
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