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New Africa Command To Have Unique Structure, Mission

22 June 2007

United States seeks input from Africans, other partners

Washington – The new Defense Department command in Africa, AFRICOM, will be unique in its mission and command structure, according to a senior Defense Department official.

Ryan Henry, principal Defense Department under secretary for policy, told reporters June 21 and June 22 that the United States is consulting extensively with African nations and other allies as planning for the new command, which is expected to become operational in the fall of 2008, continues.

Henry, who recently returned from his second round of consultations on AFRICOM, said he met with senior defense and foreign ministry officials from Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and the African Union on his latest trip.  French officials also discussed AFRICOM with him during a stopover in Paris, where he also met with military attaches from 40 countries.

"We explained the broad outlines and goals of AFRICOM and then sought their viewpoints ... as their inputs are valuable to us as we start to make the decisions about the way ahead," Henry said.

The administration in February announced its intention to create AFRICOM.  Until now, U.S. military involvement in Africa has been shared among the U.S. European Command, the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Pacific Command.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates called this divided responsibility “an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War.”  (See related article.)

Henry told reporters the purpose of AFRICOM is not waging war, but "to work in concert with our African partners for a more stable environment in which political and economic growth can take place."

This means "establishing the conditions" for a more effective use of humanitarian and development assistance as well as helping Africans defeat terrorism, he added.

Henry said another formal round of talks on AFRICOM would take place with representatives from the United Kingdom, France and other European countries sometime in the fall.

UNIQUE ASPECTS OF AFRICOM

Unlike other U.S. geographic commands, Henry said, AFRICOM would not have a headquarters in one African country.  Instead, its staff will be "distributed in different nodes [working locations]" throughout the continent.

Another unique feature of the new command will be the naming of a senior State Department official to serve as a deputy to the AFRICOM military commander.  The civilian would be more than a political adviser as in other geographic commands, but "would also be in the command structure," Henry added.

And he reiterated that unlike other U.S. geographic commands, "AFRICOM is not meant to fight wars."  No new U.S. troops or bases will be established on the continent when the command becomes fully operational in the later part of 2008.

Rather, its purpose is to work in partnership with African nations and other international partners to help find solutions to the nettlesome problems that jeopardize security on the continent, he said.

Henry said AFRICOM will emphasize humanitarian assistance, civic action, military professionalism, border and maritime security assistance, and response to natural disasters.

But, this "does not mean AFRICOM will take a leadership role in diplomacy" or in economic development, he added.  "That will still be done by the [U.S.] ambassadors in the field … and the [U.S.] Agency for International Development."

Henry sought to dispel several "myths" about U.S. motivation behind AFRICOM, including:  that it was all about terrorism and "our interest in having a counterterrorism camp on the continent"; and concern about China's economic influence in Africa and U.S. interest in controlling Africa's oil resources.

Terrorism is a problem in Africa and it is something African nations are very concerned about, he said.  But "it is clearly not the primary focus" of AFRICOM, which has no intention of committing troops or bases to the continent to pursue terrorists.

Acknowledging China's economic clout on the continent, Henry said, "We look forward to the rise of China … and we are willing to work with them any place on the globe.  If it [China] succeeds, the rest of the world succeeds.  But we would expect China, as it rises, to be a responsible international [partner] and act accordingly."

Africa is rich in many natural resources, including oil, Henry said.  "We think it's important for the world and for Africans that they are able to get their products into world markets" to gain the economic benefits from trade.

"We think the solution and guarantor of that is the Africans, not Americans," Henry told journalists.  Working with African countries to help them get the “indigenous capability to provide the security environment" for securing and transporting oil supplies is a prime aim of AFRICOM, he said.

A transcript of Henry’s remarks to reporters June 21 is available on the Defense Department Web site.  A transcript of his remarks at the Foreign Press Center on June 22 is available on the State Department Web site.

(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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