U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has decided to delay a decision on the permanent location of the U.S. Africa Command headquarters until early 2012, Defense Department officials said late on October 31, 2008.
In the interim, U.S. Africa Command's headquarters will remain in Stuttgart, Germany, said Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Hibner, a Defense Department spokeswoman for policy matters.
The decision has been delayed until U.S. Africa Command, also known as AFRICOM, has more experience in working with partner-nation militaries and thus a better understanding of its long-term operational requirements. Future decisions on headquarters offices will be made in full consultation and only at the invitation of potential host governments.
Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, said several locations have been reviewed but that remaining in Stuttgart allows the newly activated command to gain greater operational experience and develop and foster relationships with both African and European partners.
"We certainly looked at a number of alternatives," Whitman said in an interview with the American Forces Press Service. "But at the end of the day, it was determined that for now, and into the foreseeable future, the best location was for it to remain in its current headquarters."
U.S. Africa Command on October 1, 2008, assumed responsibility for U.S. military relationships with 53 nations of Africa, as well as African regional organizations and the African Union. The command's staff, currently about 1,000 personnel, is expected to climb to 1,300 personnel over the next year. Slightly fewer than half the headquarters personnel will be uniformed military members. Slightly more than half the personnel are civilian employees of the Department of Defense.
The command also has several senior personnel from non-Defense Department agencies, such as the Department of State, the Agency for International Development (USAID), and the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security and Treasury. They provide expertise from their parent agencies so that Africa Command can better support U.S. foreign policy, but Africa Command does not have administrative or command authority over civilian U.S. government agencies working in or with Africa.
"Our primary focus is on military-to-military programs," Eric Elliott, a U.S. Africa Command spokesman, told the American Forces Press Service. "[It's] building partnership capacity, defense capacity, security capabilities with our African partners."
Whitman said that the decision to keep the headquarters in existing facilities at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart will not have any specific, unanticipated impact as U.S. AFRICOM continues to develop and add staff members.
"Whenever you're embarking on building an enterprise such as a new combatant command, ensuring that all the partners in the region understand the purpose and the intent and how the command is designed to develop and foster relationships with these friendly nations is important," he added.
In addition to the offices in Stuttgart, the command has inherited from the three regional commands that previously coordinated U.S. military activities in Africa a "small, but meaningful, U.S. military presence in several African nations," according to a U.S. Africa Command information sheet. This includes Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, as well as Department of Defense personnel assigned to U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions to coordinate Defense Department programs in support of U.S. foreign policy.
Locating a command headquarters outside its area of operations is not unprecedented. U.S. Central Command, which coordinates the Middle East, has its headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and the headquarters for U.S. Southern Command, which coordinates U.S. military relationships for Central and South America, is located in Miami, Florida.