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U.S. Africa Command Will Enhance Local Skills, Problem Solving

28 September 2007

U.S. presence will not require permanent bases, AFRICOM nominee says

Washington -- The new U.S. regional military command for Africa (AFRICOM) will have a distinctly different mission from its sister commands: it will focus on helping African militaries handle conflict and implement African solutions through military expertise and knowledge shared on the continent.

"The primary objective [of AFRICOM] is not to fight and win wars on the continent," says Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, “but rather to build [sufficient] military capacity in Africa so that Africans can manage their own security challenges and not essentially be importers of security from the international community."

A secure and peaceful Africa is in the best geopolitical interests of the United States, and AFRICOM's chief priority will be to work with African nations toward that goal, she said.

Whelan, who recently spoke at a seminar on AFRICOM sponsored by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said, "What we hope is that African nations will be able to manage security in their own territorial waters, in their own land territories, in their own regions and across the continent."

While Africans "will continue to dictate the course of security priorities on the continent," she said, the intent of AFRICOM is "not to impose American solutions" on Africa's problems, "but rather to take what the Africans have already built," such as peacekeeping within the African Union (AU), and help to make it more effective.

Army General William Ward, who has been nominated to lead AFRICOM, told his Senate confirmation hearing that the effectiveness of the command will be measured “in terms of how it directly contributes to the stability, security, health and welfare of the regional institutions, nations and people of Africa.”  It will focus on tasks that include peacekeeping, enhancing maritime and border security, and counterterrorism efforts, he said.

AFRICOM also will help countries interested in improving government accountability, Ward said at the September 27 hearing.  Other activities will include programs related to humanitarian assistance, humanitarian land mine removal, natural disaster response and security reform.

Since 1983, U.S. military involvement on the continent has been divided among the European Command (EUCOM), headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, which is responsible for most of sub-Saharan Africa; the Central Command (CENTCOM), located in Florida, covering the Horn of Africa region; and Pacific Command (PACOM), headquartered in Hawaii, responsible for activities in the Asia-Pacific region and a number of large island nations in the western Indian Ocean, including Mauritius.

Initial operations for AFRICOM will begin in October. It will take about a year for the command to become fully operational.  Ultimately responsible for all of Africa, except Egypt, command headquarters will be in located in Stuttgart as the transition between commands is implemented.

Whelan made it clear there would be no new U.S. military bases destined for Africa.  The U.S. presence there will be small, with no more than 20 percent of the entire command stationed in Africa, the official said.

A top command priority will be helping Africans establish a standby force of up to 25,000 troops that will be associated with the African Union (AU). Such a unit could respond quickly to conflict on the continent without waiting for the United Nations to act, Whelan said.

The State and Defense departments already operate military partnership programs with African nations worth $250 million a year and "that will not change," she told the AEI audience, which included the Liberian defense minister, as well as a number of other military and civilian representatives from African embassies in Washington.

Ward, who has been serving as EUCOM’s deputy, said security cooperation programs remain the cornerstone of U.S. strategy “to promote common security” in Africa.

Whelan said the lesson of operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq is “that you cannot promote security and stability successfully in a vacuum.  They are interlinked with other elements like good governance and the rule of law, economic opportunity, et cetera.”

While such concerns normally are not part of the Defense Department’s mission, she said if it "is to be successful in carrying out its [security] mission, it needs to be able to work in an integrated, cooperative fashion with those agencies that have those missions," such as the departments of State and Commerce, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ultimately, Whelan said, "this more holistic, unified" approach by AFRICOM "will make us a more effective supporting player" in the African security system, strengthening U.S. relations with the continent.  Ward said solidifying U.S.-African relations will help achieve the mutual goal of “a bright future full of promise and opportunity for Africans everywhere.”

The full text of a document with questions from the committee and answers by Ward is available on the Senate Armed Services Committee Web site.

For more information, see AFRICOM.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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