Officials Visit African Nations, Discuss New Command With Leaders
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2007 Defense Department officials recently met with leaders in six African countries and had “fruitful” discussions about U.S. Africa Command, the new unified combatant command the department is establishing, a senior department official told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday.
U.S. officials from several government agencies met with African leaders in various nations and discussed U.S. reasons for setting up a command with responsibility for Africa, the organization of the command, possible mission areas, and the future location of the AFRICOM headquarters, said Ryan Henry, principal undersecretary of defense for policy.
“The message that we took to those who we consulted with was that we were entering into a dialogue,” Henry said. “We found that that dialogue was generally positive, very cordial, with varying degrees of frankness, and we were able to answer questions and concerns.”
Defense Department officials joined representatives from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, and the AFRICOM transition team in their visits to Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, the African Union, Ghana and Senegal.
The Defense Department chose to have these consultation meetings before the command is established because AFRICOM will be like no other combatant command. It will be composed of members from several government agencies, and its primary function will be to support African nations and their indigenous leadership efforts, Henry said. The department plans several more trips like this to meet with other African nations and foster a continuing dialogue, he said.
“I think we have an understanding,” Henry said of the results of the meetings. “We were not aware of any specific resistance to the idea. We do have a sensitivity, though, that AFRICOM will be better by conducting consultations such as this, getting the Africans’ opinions, and (will) obviously be much more acceptable to the Africans.”
AFRICOM, which President Bush announced Feb. 6, will stand up as a sub-unified command this fall and will reach full operational capacity by about September 2008, Henry said. The ultimate goal is to base AFRICOM headquarters somewhere in Africa, but no decisions have been made about its location yet, he said. However, he said, the commander of AFRICOM, who has yet to be named, will be based in Africa, probably even before the command becomes fully operational.
This trip gave the U.S. representatives a chance to clear up a few misconceptions about AFRICOM, Henry said. One, the creation of this command will not mean additional U.S. forces on the African continent or an increase in resources from the U.S. government. Henry noted that the U.S. already invests significantly in Africa, and AFRICOM’s role will be to coordinate the Defense Department’s efforts with the rest of the U.S. government.
The U.S. officials also assured the African leaders that the decisions about AFRICOM have not been finalized, and they are seeking input from African nations about how to proceed, Henry said. He also stressed that AFRICOM is not being stood up in response to Chinese presence on the continent or to secure natural resources, but solely to enhance counterterrorism efforts. “While some of these may be part of the formula, the reason AFRICOM is being stood up is (that) 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 have a different mission set than other combatant commands, focusing heavily on security cooperation and building partner capacity of African nations, Henry said. Military exercises will be conducted on the continent, but the command’s role in kinetic operations has not been determined, he said.
“There is a mission for the military there,” he said. “Sometimes, not very often, it is in the lead; normally, it will be supporting other elements of the U.S. government.”
The exact make-up of AFRICOM headquarters has not been determined, Henry said, but more than half of the personnel will probably be from the Defense Department. He noted that creating a true interagency command will be a challenge for everyone; while other commands usually just have liaison officers from other governmental agencies, AFRICOM will have action officers from those agencies directly involved in running the command.
“This is not something we’re used to doing,” he said. “We are not used to putting our civilian forces forward as part of a unified command, so it will be a lot of learning on all parts of the U.S. government, and hopefully we’ll be able to support each other.”