Africa Handshake, Part Two: Human Trafficking

April 21, 2009

With two expensive land wars draining the treasury, the Pentagon wants to prevent future conflicts without spending a lot of money. Two years ago the Navy launched its first, roughly annual Africa Partnership Station, sending ships on solo cruises up the West African coast to deliver training and humanitarian aid. The idea: to win new friends and re-assure old ones, and boost their ability to handle security crises on their own. Our own David Axe joins the landing dock USS Nashville for APS 3.0 in Gabon.

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They’re born to poor, single mothers and set loose to fend for themselves on the streets of West Africa’s cities. Snapped up by criminal gangs, these children are smuggled across borders and sold into slavery as farmers, laborers or even prostitutes.

USS Nashville‘s teams deployed in Libreville today, a day late. (The crew had discovered that, contrary to expectations, the vessel drew too deeply to dock at Libreville’s humble port, hence the delay.) First stop: Centre Arc-en-Ciel, a Catholic school in downtown Libreville where kids freed from slavery are cared for and, hopefully, re-united with family. Nashville‘s doctors and nurses did some quick check-ups, pictured, while Seabees fixed toilets, light fixtures and doors.

Africa Partnership Station doesn’t normally address human trafficking, but the U.S. embassy in Libreville had requested this brief visit, and Nashville‘s people were able to throw something together. Just goes to show how flexible APS can be. Needs arise that the host nation can’t address on its own, and APS steps up.

(Photo: David Axe)