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Military's Africa Command Will Promote Security, Spur Development
The U.S. military's new Africa Command (AFRICOM) will do more than help the region confront security challenges, say officials. It also will be an essential tool to support governments across the continent as they develop African solutions to
The U.S. military's new Africa Command (AFRICOM) will do more than help the region confront security challenges, say officials. It also will be an essential tool to support governments across the continent as they develop African solutions to the continent's development challenges.

A secure and peaceful Africa is in the best geopolitical interests of the United States, and AFRICOM's chief priority will be to work with African nations toward that goal, says General William "Kip" Ward, AFRICOM's commanding officer.

"Our intent is to build mutual trust, respect and confidence with our partners in Africa and our international friends through sustained engagement by a single, unified command dedicated solely to Africa," Ward said in November 2007 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

The newest of six geographic headquarters to coordinate international military relations, AFRICOM aims to build strong military-to-military partnerships in the region. By doing so, it also will support and complement, not overshadow, aid programs offered through American embassies by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Ward was joined by Stephen Mull, acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, who said that he continues to encounter many misperceptions about AFRICOM when he meets with leaders from Africa and Europe.

First of all, AFRICOM does not represent a military takeover of U.S. foreign policy toward Africa, the officials said.

Like other military commands monitoring Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Ward said, AFRICOM will coordinate its activities with embassies in the region. But unlike other commands, AFRICOM will use an innovative new organizational structure that brings together military and civilian experts from across the U.S. government to formulate and exchange new policy ideas with their African partners.

"When coordinated and nested in this manner, AFRICOM's contributions can help African countries effectively address threats such as political instability, terrorism, human rights abuses, cross-border trafficking and international crime," Mull said.

"[AFRICOM] begins with understanding our African partners' definitions of their own environment and interests and understanding the complexities of the diverse countries and cultures across the continent," said Ward. "Appreciation of their perspective will allow us to jointly identify ways and means that address both African and American interests."

The United States spends $9 billion a year through the State Department and USAID to help Africans deliver medical care, promote trade and new business opportunities and build more effective governance structures. In contrast, he said, the United States spends only $250 million a year for security assistance programs -- half of which goes directly to supporting the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Sudan.

Another myth, the officials said, is that AFRICOM represents a move by the United States to place a large troop presence in Africa. AFRICOM is being created as an administrative headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and plans to remain in Stuttgart for the foreseeable future.

While the United States is in consultations with several African nations on possible future locations for some AFRICOM offices, no new bases will be established, said Ryan Henry, principal Defense Department under secretary for policy. Unlike other U.S. military commands, he added, AFRICOM will have a relatively small staff that is able to "reach back" to the United States for resources if needed.

A top command priority will be helping Africans add capability to the African Union Standby Force, a group of regional brigades totaling 25,000 troops that could respond quickly to conflict on the continent without waiting for the United Nations to act, said Defense Department official Theresa Whelan.

This structure, Ward said, reflects AFRICOM's mission to work with regional organizations such as the African Union and its regional economic communities, the nations of Africa and their citizens to provide the tools and training needed to solve regional security challenges before they grow into international crises. Other activities will include programs related to humanitarian assistance, humanitarian landmine removal, responding to natural disasters and security reform.

A third myth is that AFRICOM is geared exclusively to fighting terrorism and countering a rising Chinese presence at the expense of other challenges facing the region.

"The United States, China and other countries share a common interest in a stable, secure and rising Africa," Henry said. "And though we may differ on the means, we look forward to cooperating with China as a responsible international stakeholder to achieve that end."

While helping governments combat terrorists will be one mission, Ward highlighted several other ongoing activities in the region that illustrate AFRICOM;s future, including joint medical training programs that provide aid to poor communities, training African troops to serve as peacekeepers and the Africa Partnership Station -- a U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf of Guinea that serves as a "floating school" for military and law enforcement personnel from across the region.

The Bush administration is requesting $389 million for AFRICOM operations in its 2009 budget.