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American Forces Press Service

AFRICOM Won't Change Defense Department Security Policy in Africa

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2007 – The new U.S. unified command being established for Africa will consolidate Defense Department efforts on the continent, but will not change the department’s long-standing policy of partnership with African nations, the department official in charge of African affairs said today.

AFRICOM, which became operational Oct. 1, eventually will take over responsibility for Defense Department activity in all of Africa. For now, AFRICOM is operating under U.S. European Command, which has responsibility for the bulk of U.S.-African military relations. U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command also share responsibility for Africa.

AFRICOM’s purpose is to consolidate the efforts of the three combatant commands into one unified command that includes representatives from other government agencies, Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said in a conference call. However, the focus of the Defense Department in Africa will remain on security cooperation and capacity building with African nations, she said.

“Our security policy -- the things that (the Defense Department) is doing in Africa -- don’t change,” Whelan said. “The what remains the same. What AFRICOM represents is changing how we do business, not what we do. Our focus is on civilian control of the military and defense reform, military professionalization, and capacity building. That has been the focus of our activities in Africa for the past seven or eight years.”

The Defense Department also does not intend to put any operational forces on the African continent, beyond troops that already are stationed in Djibouti, Whelan said. The department will have a presence on the continent to facilitate its mission, but it will be a staff presence, not forces, she said. She noted that the State Department is still in charge of foreign policy, and the Defense Department is in a supporting role.

The Defense Department will work with African nations on developing professional military forces that can provide security, which will help the rule of law and democracy flourish, Whelan said. A number of countries in Africa have made great strides with their militaries, she noted, and the U.S. wants to help that success spread by helping local militaries learn to train themselves.

“It doesn’t mean that we think that we are going to solve the security problems on the continent,” Whelan said. “What we see as our role is being enablers, facilitators, supporters, the helping hand. The Africans have to solve the problem themselves. If they don’t solve the problem, if they’re not invested in the solution, then we’ll never have a solution. We cannot give them a solution, but we can give them a helping hand towards a solution.”

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