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US Offers Nigeria Military Aid to Protect Offshore Oil

THE United States, keen to develop new sources of oil supply outside the Middle East, has offered to help Nigeria protect the flow of oil in the Gulf of Guinea and combat terrorist attacks on the oil industry, officials said. The Gulf of Guinea, stretching from Liberia in the west to Angola in the south, currently provides about 15 per cent of US oil supplies. That share is expected to grow to 25 per cent by 2015, according to a recent report commissioned for the U.S. Congress.

Deputy Commander of the US European Command, General Charles Wald, met Nigeria's Defence Minister Roland Oritsejafor and military chiefs in the capital, Abuja recently and they discussed how the United States could help Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, to improve security for the oil industry throughout the region.

"We talked with Nigerian military leaders about having a way that we could co-operate together in monitoring the waters of the Gulf of Guinea," Wald told reporters afterwards, although he gave no further details. The British publication Jane's Defence Weekly had reported earlier in the year that Washington wants to re-launch the African Coastal Security Programme to improve the capability of the navies and coastguard services of African governments and combat piracy.

It quoted US military officials as saying that in return, America would like to have access to rudimentary bases for military training and operations in the event of crisis.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country with 126 million people and is also the continent's biggest oil exporter, ranking seventh in global terms. Nearly two-thirds of Nigeria's entire oil production of about 2.5 million barrels per day goes to the United States.

However, organised gangs steal over 40,000 barrels per day or 20 per cent of Nigeria's output and export it illegally, while part of the money realised from such sales is used to procure sophisticated weapons which fuel the cycle of violence in the area.

Employees of some oil companies have often been taken hostage and last April seven people, including two U.S. oil workers were killed during an attack by militants on a boat belonging to ChevronTexaco.

Following his talks with General Wald, the Nigerian defence minister indicated the readiness of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration to co-operate with Washington to improve security in the Gulf of Guinea, which contains over10 per cent of the world's known oil reserves.

"Where you have wealth, if you don't protect it, you are vulnerable to terrorism and illegal arms dealers and so you are not safe," Oritsejafor said, and added that "all countries which believe in global peace and stability must at one point come together and say no to evil. And that is the point we are gradually getting to."

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