The Defense Department is creating a new U.S. Africa Command headquarters, to be known as AFRICOM, to coordinate all U.S. military and security interests throughout the continent, the Bush administration announced February 6.
“This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa,” President Bush said in a White House statement. “Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.”
Until now, U.S. military involvement in Africa has been shared among the U.S. European Command, the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Pacific Command. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called this divided responsibility “an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War.”
Creating AFRICOM “will enable us to have a more effective and integrated approach than the current arrangement of dividing Africa between [different regional commands],” Gates said February 6 before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Bush has ordered that AFRICOM be created by September 30, 2008. At that time, the command will be headed by a top-ranking, four-star military officer who will serve on equal footing with other regional U.S. commanders around the globe. In his White House statement, Bush said the United States plans to consult with African leaders “to seek their thoughts on how Africa Command can respond to security challenges.” He also said the United States “will work closely with our African partners to determine an appropriate location for the new command in Africa.”
The transition team for the new command temporarily is operating in Stuttgart, Germany, which is also home to the headquarters of U.S. European Command. The Defense Department would like, however, eventually to locate the command headquarters in an African nation.
Officials are beginning to discuss possible permanent headquarters locations and are determining what kinds of military forces, if any, would be assigned permanently to AFRICOM, said Navy Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, of U.S. Central Command, who is director of the AFRICOM transition team.
The Defense Department uses its unified regional commands to coordinate military interests worldwide. Senior U.S. officers serve as diplomats and, if necessary, regional combat commanders. Currently, the U.S. Central Command coordinates military efforts in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia; the U.S. European Command coordinates much of sub-Saharan Africa and Europe; U.S. Northern Command coordinates North America; U.S. Southern Command coordinates South America, Central America and the Caribbean; and U.S. Pacific Command coordinates East Asia and South Asia, as well as the Indian Ocean islands off the coast of southeast Africa.
The new AFRICOM eventually will encompass the entire continent of Africa except for Egypt, which falls under U.S. Central Command. AFRICOM also will include the islands belonging to Equatorial Guinea, as well as the islands of Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe, and the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
By creating AFRICOM, the Defense Department will be able to coordinate better its own activities in Africa as well as help coordinate the work of other U.S. government agencies, particularly the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Moeller, the AFRICOM transition team director.
U.S. government officials also will be able to “work much more closely with our African partners across the continent,” Moeller said, adding that nations in the region long have requested a separate U.S. command focused on African issues.
Ambassador Robert Loftis, a senior basing negotiator for the State Department, said U.S. military commands and other government agencies already perform a wide variety of work with African nations. By creating AFRICOM, Loftis said, “what we’re really talking about is taking all of those activities that are already being done and consolidating them all under one command.