Officials Discuss New U.S. Command with African Leaders
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2007 Leaders in five African nations see the U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, as a constructive approach to making the continent more stable, a senior Defense Department official told reporters at the Pentagon today. (Video)
A delegation comprising officials from the departments of Defense and State and from the U.S. Agency for International Development met with leaders in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and the African Union last week to discuss the new unified combatant command the Defense Department is establishing in Africa.
“They saw AFRICOM’s integrated approach as a more constructive way for the Department of Defense to partner with African organizations and help bring about long-term peace and security,” said Ryan Henry, principal undersecretary of defense for policy.
Currently, the Defense Department divides responsibility for Africa among three combatant commands: European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command. AFRICOM will be a three-pronged defense, diplomatic and economic command effort focused solely on the continent, Henry said.
“We’re … taking the area of responsibility for the African continent and giving that to a single commander, who will worry 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just about African issues,” Henry said.
Officials have not decided the where the new command’s headquarters will be, nor have they named a commander, he said, but Henry confirmed that the four-star commander, once appointed, will serve in theater.
AFRICOM will better enable the Defense Department and other elements of the U.S. government to work in concert with more politically stable and economically prosperous African partners, Henry said. “It will also help in setting the conditions whereby humanitarian and developmental assistance can be used more effectively,” he added.
During discussions, the African leaders identified counterterrorism as “a top security concern,” Henry said.
“They were interested in how AFRICOM would help support their counterterrorism efforts, how current programs and initiatives would be impacted,” he said. “We said that it was our intent not to make any dramatic changes as AFRICOM comes on line, but to see how we can be more effective by integrating civilian parts of the U.S. government that will be resident on AFRICOM's staff.”
Leaders are committed to the Africa Union as the continent's common security structure, Henry said, and they advised the delegation that AFRICOM should work in harmony with the established body. “We responded that we were investigating on how best to do that, as AFRICOM's goal is not to lead the security efforts on the continent, but rather to support existing African countries and organizations take the lead and be successful,” he said.
In October, AFRICOM is slated to be structured as a sub-unified command to European Command with some responsibilities. It is expected to be a fully unified command able to handle all responsibilities about a year later, Henry said.
This was Henry’s second “consultation trip” to the continent, where he led delegation members in expressing AFRICOM’s broad goals to their African counterparts. In April, a delegation met with leaders in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal.