By Vince Crawley, USINFO Staff Writer
Washington - The U.S. military's new command center for Africa, Africa Command (AFRICOM), will not include large numbers of troops, but will promote regional security and stability while coordinating U.S. support for African leaders, senior Pentagon officials say.
"The goal is for AFRICOM not to be a U.S. leadership role on the continent," but rather to support African leadership efforts, Pentagon policy chief Ryan Henry told reporters April 23. "We would be looking to complement rather than compete with any leadership efforts currently going on."
President Bush in February announced that the Defense Department is creating a new Africa Command to coordinate U.S. government interests on the continent. Similar commands exist for other areas of the globe. AFRICOM would include all countries on the African continent except Egypt, which would remain associated with the U.S. Central Command. (See related article.)
From April 15-21, Henry and a group of State Department and military officials visited six countries plus the African Union headquarters to discuss the new command with regional leaders. They also addressed misconceptions about the new command. The officials visited: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, as well as the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Henry, who is principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, briefed Pentagon reporters after returning from the trip.
The United States plans to station the command's headquarters in Africa, but Henry stressed that his team is still in the "fact-finding" stage, and that AFRICOM would not necessarily be placed in one of the six countries visited. The headquarters staff, numbering well under 1,000 people, might be divided among several countries and might not all be based in Africa, he said.
"There has not been any process of elimination going on right now, and it's not safe to say that it will be in any single country," Henry said. "There are a number of different models that are being looked at, and so pretty much all the options are on the table right now."
The AFRICOM headquarters and staff would be "small and as unobtrusive as possible," he said. Instead of focusing on purely military tasks, the command will emphasize humanitarian missions, civil affairs and helping nations improve regional border and maritime security.
The Bush administration hopes to nominate a four-star military officer to lead the command by the end of the fiscal year, September 30. The U.S. Senate must approve the commander. "The only decision that's been made is that the commander of AFRICOM will be stationed ... on the continent," Henry said.
The command is expected to be fully operational by the end of September 2008, and Henry said he would like the new AFRICOM chief to be serving in Africa before then.
The deputy commander for AFRICOM would be a civilian employee of the U.S. State Department, a unique arrangement that stresses the nonmilitary focus of the command. Later, deputy commanders might be drawn from other U.S. federal agencies, he said.
In his meetings with African officials, Henry said he was able to address several misconceptions about the new command. He said he told the leaders that:
- AFRICOM will not result in a large-scale deployment of U.S. forces on the continent. Currently, several thousand U.S. troops visit each year as part of regular exercises and training programs. This likely would continue with little change.
- AFRICOM will not result in a dramatic increase in financial resources devoted to Africa from the Defense Department or other U.S. government agencies. Henry said U.S. investment in Africa has tripled under the Bush administration, and a main reason for creating AFRICOM is to coordinate current U.S. government resources.
- AFRICOM is still in the early planning stages.
- AFRICOM is not being created in response to a specific threat or strategic concern. AFRICOM is "not being stood up in response to Chinese presence on the continent. It [is] not being stood up solely for the effort of enhanced counterterrorism. And it [is] not being stood up in order to secure resources" such as oil, Henry said.
"While some of these may be part of the formula, the reason that AFRICOM is being stood up is, Africa ... is emerging on the world scene as a strategic 'player,' and we need to deal with it as a continent," he said.
- AFRICOM will not press for U.S. solutions to African problems. AFRICOM's goal is "to work with the nations and the multinational organizations there to support African solutions for the continent, both in the area of security and stability."