U.S. special operations troops are training and equipping elite counterterrorism units in four African countries as part of a strategy against Al Qaeda-affiliated groups and associates, according to a published report. 

The New York Times reports that the training of hundreds of commandos in Libya, Niger, Mauritania, and Mali began last year and is being carried out with the help of trainers from units that include the Army's Green Berets and Delta Force. 

The report comes ahead of a speech by President Obama Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., at which the president is expected to stress the use of such training programs as opposed to large-scale land wars like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

"Training indigenous forces to go after threats in their own country is what we need to be doing," Michael Sheehan, a former senior Pentagon official in charge of Special Operations policy, told The Times.  

The training program would represent a larger role for the United States in the battle against Islamic extremism in Africa. Previously, the U.S. has backed African and European armies, most notably the French in Mali, in their fights against militants. 

However, the Times report notes that the efforts have occasionally struggled to get off the ground. In Libya, for example, a group of armed militia fighters stole hundreds of U.S.-supplied automatic weapons, vehicles, and other equipment from a training base last August. In addition, a senior Defense Department official told the paper that counterterrorism units in Niger and Mauritania are still in their "formative stages."

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