DAKAR (Reuters) - The United States and Senegal signed a cooperation agreement on Monday to ease the deployment of American troops to the West African nation to counter humanitarian crises, natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
"Terrorism knows no border and it's very important for everyone to cooperate," James Zumwalt, U.S. ambassador to Senegal, said during a joint news conference in Dakar with Senegal's Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye.
"We believe that this agreement will help the U.S. military and the Senegalese military reinforce our cooperation together to deal with threats to our common interests."
Around 40 U.S. Department of Defense personnel are currently stationed in Senegal, according to the U.S. Africa Command. The U.S. embassy in Dakar said that number would not increase under the deal.
"This agreement is about access, is about coming when there is an urgent desire and when both sides agree," Zumwalt said.
It sets out the rights and responsibilities of future U.S. access to Senegalese facilities for joint training and possible troop deployments.
Foreign Minister Ndiaye said the pact was the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa and would bolster Senegal's ability to respond to growing challenges.
"Crises are not always predictable, that's why this agreement is a long-term agreement," he said.
Senegal faces a growing threat from jihadist groups following a string of deadly attacks on neighboring countries claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The group has made clear Senegal is in its sights due to its close ties to France, which has some 3,500 soldiers fighting with regional armies against Islamist militants in West Africa.
The U.S. military used Senegal as a staging post from 2014 to transport troops, health workers and supplies to West Africa to combat an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Joe Bavier and Andrew Roche)