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Conflict Prevention Will Be Key for New Africa Command
The U.S. military activated its sixth geographic command, dedicated exclusively to the continent of Africa, on October 1. <br /> <br />The new U.S. Africa Command flag was unfurled during a formal ceremony held at the Pentagon before African
The U.S. military activated its sixth geographic command, dedicated exclusively to the continent of Africa, on October 1.

The new U.S. Africa Command flag was unfurled during a formal ceremony held at the Pentagon before African dignitaries and members of the U.S. Congress on the first day of AFRICOM as it is known as a fully independent unified command. Defense Secretary Robert Gates emphasized that AFRICOM's mission is to prevent war, not wage it. And, he said, the new command headquartered now in Stuttgart, Germany was created to enhance the security of America's African partners, not to establish a U.S. military presence on the continent.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen, who spoke at the command activation ceremony, said bringing together civilian and military assets in this way will allow the United States to engage with Africans in new ways because it now will have dedicated staff (more than 1,000) to do so.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Henrietta Fore expressed strong support for the command's vital mission of contributing to military-to-military security cooperation. "We expect AFRICOM to substantially contribute to African defense sector reform and to build African partner capabilities in peacekeeping, in coastal and border security and counterrorism," she said.

Fore said the State Department will ensure that the command's activities are coordinated through the U.S. ambassador assigned to each African nation. State and USAID will work in tandem to ensure that all development, diplomatic and defense activities are carried out in Africa in a way that maximizes resources, she said.
All three entities should take pride in their collective record of accomplishments in Africa, Fore said, "in delivering humanitarian assistance, in advancing peace and security, in promoting the rule of law and good governance, in investing in the well-being of Africa's people in times of crisis and ... peace, and [in] spurring economic growth on the continent."

State and USAID know, Fore said, that the success of diplomatic and development missions often depends on security and logistics provided by Defense. "The link between security and development is clear throughout sub-Saharan Africa," Fore said.
Improvements in security, she said, have allowed countries such as Rwanda and Liberia to begin experiencing "sound economic growth, better living conditions and improved governance following years of devastating armed conflict."


The prevailing question among Africa specialists is how will AFRICOM work? In times of natural disaster, civilian government agencies will turn to the command for logistical support. It will help them work with African governments and with private partners with personnel dispersed to African towns and villages.

"We identify the needs of vulnerable populations for humanitarian assistance. We call upon our military to help provide [air]lift capacity and support to reach the people," Fore said.

USAID will continue to coordinate activities of nongovernmental organizations, host nation partners, other government agencies and the military. Fore said this proved an effective operations model during the 2000 and 2007 floods in Mozambique and Kenya, respectively.

Additionally, the administrator said development, diplomatic and defense experts are also concerned about a future avian flu pandemic. In response, she said, AFRICOM personnel are preparing for that possibility.

The command also has a conflict prevention role. Preventing conflict serves to protect precious resources. Fore quoted an Oxford University statistic that one war occurring in a low-income nation costs an estimated $64 billion. She said there have been 21 African countries in the past 25 years that have experienced military conflict.
Typically, Fore said, an average conflict goes on for nearly seven years. Then, she said, it takes a conflict-ravaged nation about 17 years to return to its pre-conflict gross domestic product growth rate.

"Conflict is an impediment to development and nations building their futures," she said. As an example, she pointed to daily USAID activities in Darfur to feed 3 million people who were displaced by conflict.

Gates pointed out that economic turmoil, ethnic fissures, natural disasters, disease, crime and terrorism "can be just as destabilizing as traditional military threats," and it is in some of these nontraditional areas that AFRICOM can help out.

Army General William "Kip" Ward, who is in charge of the new command, said it is "rare...indeed" to be able to build a new organization from the ground up. He will focus on a range of programs, including counternarcotics and counterterrorism, maritime training through the Africa Partnership Station program, and mentoring peacekeepers through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program.
Gates said the command will solidify the processes of "building lasting ties with our African friends and partners and helping them secure and develop their own nations."
He summarized his vision of AFRICOM this way: "It is, at its heart, a different kind of command with a different orientation, one that we hope and expect will institutionalize a lasting security relationship with Africa."