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New U.S. Military Command Reflects Africa's Growing Importance

12 February 2007

Talks to begin within weeks for location of headquarters for AFRICOM

Washington – U.S. officials say President Bush’s decision to create a new military U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) reflects the long-term strategic value of Africa and is not aimed at protecting oil, fighting Islamist militants or countering China’s growing involvement on the continent.

U.S. officials expect within weeks to begin talks on where in Africa the new headquarters will be located. However, such a decision is unlikely to be made for months, if not longer. Also, no decisions have been made on the troop levels for the command. The U.S. military’s regional headquarters typically have more than 1,000 personnel assigned, but AFRICOM is in the very early planning stages, and no decisions have been made about how the command will be structured or staffed.

“The importance of Africa is the reason we are establishing this new unified command,” Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Africa affairs, told reporters February 9.

AFRICOM will make U.S. military interaction on and around the continent more effective, Whelan said at a Washington press briefing. The new command also will better integrate the Defense Department with other U.S. government and international agencies working in Africa, Whelan said.

The Bush administration on February 6 announced plans to create the new command by September 30, 2008. (See related article.)

However, the idea of creating the command has been evolving for decades and is not a response to any recent political or military events, officials stressed.

“This isn’t about a scramble for the continent,” Whelan told reporters. The creation of AFRICOM is also not a response to recent military actions in Somalia, she said. In December 2006, Somalia’s internationally backed Transitional National Government, aided by Ethiopian forces, routed an increasingly anti-Western jihadist force called the Council on Islamic Courts (CIC), which had gained control of most of Somalia. The United States believes some members of the CIC were linked to the al-Qaida terrorist group and were responsible for the August 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. (See related article.)

Whelan said AFRICOM has a more long-term purpose than searching for militants in lawless or ungoverned areas. Asked if AFRICOM marks an expansion of anti-terrorist military operations, Whelan responded, “That isn’t the purpose of this command in any way, shape or form. … [T]his isn’t about chasing terrorists around Africa.”

The Defense Department regional commands play a largely diplomatic role. Regional commands are an outgrowth of the United States’ global role following World War II. Although organized by the military, the commands typically are a focal point for all U.S. government interactions within a region. Currently, the Defense Department coordinates its worldwide affairs using five regional commands: U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command for North and South America plus the Caribbean; U.S. Central Command for the Middle East, parts of Central Asia and the Horn of Africa; U.S. European Command for Europe and much of sub-Saharan Africa; and U.S. Pacific Command for East Asia and the Indian Ocean, including Indian Ocean islands off the coast of Africa.

In 1983, as U.S. strategic planners acknowledged the growing importance of Africa, much of the continent was placed within U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility because the majority of African nations are former European colonies with continuing cultural and political ties to Europe.

Since the mid-1990s, Defense Department regional experts involved with Africa have been advocating the creation of an Africa Command. The recently retired chief of U.S. European Command, former Marine Corps Commandant General James Jones, spent his 2003-2006 tenure highlighting the importance of a coordinated U.S. government effort in sub-Saharan Africa to mitigate ungoverned regions and promote development and health polices. (See related article.)

“The growing, ever-growing strategic importance of the continent is one of the main drivers of why we are now standing up this command,” U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Robert Moeller told reporters February 9 at the Foreign Press Center. Moeller is directing the AFRICOM transition team in Stuttgart, Germany, where the U.S. European Command headquarters is located.

Moeller’s team has drafted a mission statement for the new command that emphasizes working with African nations to encourage stability and help prevent future conflicts. The draft mission statement reads, in part: “U.S. Africa Command promotes U.S. national security objectives by working with African states and regional organizations to help strengthen stability and security in the AOR [area of responsibility].”

The command’s tasks, Moeller said, will include:

• Building partnerships

• Supporting U.S. government agencies;

•  Conducting regionwide security cooperation;

• Increasing counter-terrorism skills of partner nations;

• Enhancing humanitarian assistance, disaster mitigation and response;

• Fostering respect for human rights;

• Supporting African regional organizations; and

• If necessary, conducting military operations

“Virtually all these kinds of things are ongoing today,” Moeller said. But, by creating an Africa-focused command, he added, “we think that we will be able to do all of these kinds of activities even more effectively.”

See also Peace and Security in Africa.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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