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New US Africa Command Not for Combat, Says Defense Official

21 June 2007

A senior defense department official says the planned new U.S. military command for Africa is not being organized with combat in mind, and will not immediately result in any changes in U.S. military activity on the continent. The official spoke to reporters at the Pentagon Thursday and VOA's Al Pessin reports.

The senior official, Ryan Henry, says the creation of the Africa Command later this year will simply re-organize existing U.S. military training and counter-terrorism efforts on the continent, and will not include any new initiatives.

"We don't plan on fundamentally changing anything or our approach to start with. After the commander has had some time to look at the situation and work with it, then he might choose to make some choices," he said. "But going into it, this is basically a realignment of our activities on the continent."

The principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy has just returned from his second consultation trip to the continent to discuss the Africa Command plan. This time, he visited Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Egypt in North Africa, and Djibouti in the east, which hosts a U.S. task force involved in humanitarian and counter-terrorism efforts. Henry says the top security concern for those countries is fighting terrorism, but he says the defense department already has counter-terrorism cooperation programs in place.

"We think that we have a cooperative arrangement with them," continued Henry. "They appear to be satisfied with that. We appear to be meeting with some successes. And so we don't see a compelling need to change right now, and they don't see the compelling need either."

U.S. officials have previously made clear that Africa Command will have a strong contingent of diplomats and aid officials, and will take a long-term, inter-agency approach to improving security, governance and development on the continent. But Ryan Henry went a bit further on Thursday when pressed at his news conference on whether Africa Command might end up overseeing increased U.S. military activity on the continent.

"This command is not optimized for war fighting," he continued. "We're optimizing it for engaging in security cooperation activities. And that's where the planning effort is going. The intention is not to use it for intervention in any African affairs."

But Henry says the command would be involved in emergency humanitarian relief efforts, as needed.

Africa Command is to come into existence in a limited way by October 1, and is scheduled to become fully operational a year later. But Henry indicated those timing targets might slip. President Bush has not yet nominated a commander, and Henry says there has still been no decision about where in Africa to put the command's headquarters.

Henry says consolidating U.S. military efforts in Africa under one senior commander will provide more focus and efficiency to American military and civilian aid programs. But he says the new U.S. command will work closely with existing African security structures, particularly the African Union.

"Who Africans should look for for their security needs are their own nations," added Henry. "They have a security structure that they're building with the African Union and the five regional components of the African Union. And AfriCom would look to support them in their success of building that capability. But they should not look to the United States for the solution of their security problems."

Henry says there is no plan to build U.S. bases in Africa, or to permanently station more U.S. troops there, except for the new command's headquarters staff.

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