NATO sponsors project to help reduce terrorism risk in Mauritania

  • 28 Aug. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 12 Sep. 2012 17:32

Mauritania has seen its share of conflict over the years. Its volatile history has left the country with a large stock of Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS), shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles, and obsolete munitions that could pose a security risk to the country and to the safety of the public. A NATO Trust Fund project is now working to destroy these stockpiles and prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Countering a terrorism risk

Originally developed in the 1950s to provide military ground forces with a way to protect themselves from enemy aircraft, the demand for MANPADS has increased over the past three decades.

“MANPADS are a common feature in many countries,” points out Dr Frederic Peugeot, Trust Fund Project Manager with the NATO Support Agency (NSPA). “They are used to protect countries from air attacks and are especially popular in countries with either an underdeveloped air force or none at all.”

However, they also have other uses when they fall into the wrong hands. “MANPADS are a weapon of choice for terrorists who can use them to shoot at military and civilian airplanes,” says Jean-François Devaux, an explosive ordnance disposal expert seconded from Handicap International. “They can easily be used and concealed with a minimum of training.”

It is these types of attacks that the Trust Fund project, led by Italy, is helping Mauritania prevent. The project provides funding for the destruction of about 1,800 tonnes of munitions, including 141 MANPADS, stored at twenty depots throughout Mauritania.

“There’s a major anti-terrorism impact. By destroying these weapons, we also make sure they can’t be stolen,” says Fabio Rugge, Italy’s representative on the NATO Political and Partnership Committee (PPC) and its coordinator for the project.

Protecting the public

Public safety is another focal point of the project. Beyond destroying obsolete munitions, the Trust Fund project will also help ensure that the remaining ones will not pose a risk to the public. “These weapons, explosives and MANPADS are stored in very unsafe conditions and in populated areas, making them a potential element for civilian casualties if they were to explode by accident,” points out Mr Rugge.

Two new ammunition depots, each able to hold about 750 tonnes of ammunition, will be built near Aleg and Akjoujt. Physical security measures will be put in place, ensuring secure storage. Personnel will receive ammunition depot management training focused on safe handling, storage, issuance and maintenance procedures.

Practical benefits of partnership

Mauritania joined the NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue upon its launch in 1994. After Jordan, Mauritania is the second Dialogue country to receive this sort of support through a NATO Trust Fund project. “This project goes to the very heart of the Mediterranean Dialogue framework, which has always been a combination of political dialogue and practical cooperation,” highlights Mr Rugge.

In addition to the 300,000 Euro contributed by lead nation Italy, several other countries have given their support to the project, including Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Non-governmental organization Handicap International seconded an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) expert to assist with the destruction of the MANPADS and other obsolete munitions. Some 1.7 million Euros of the 2.25 million Euro budget have already been pledged to the project, which is due to end in December 2012.