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New U.S. Military Command Responds to African Requests
The head of the new U.S. Africa Command already has traveled to 30 African nations to hear requests from national leaders on how the United States can best support their efforts to achieve stability and prosperity. And African leaders have
The head of the new U.S. Africa Command already has traveled to 30 African nations to hear requests from national leaders on how the United States can best support their efforts to achieve stability and prosperity. And African leaders have typically asked for U.S. assistance to establish systems to monitor coastal areas, improve maritime safety and security, and promote better maintenance and logistics. What AFRICOM is not about is in any way militarizing the continent or its island nations, says its commander, General William "Kip" Ward. "It's not the case," Ward emphasized during a recent presentation at the Royal United Services Institute in London. The command -- similar to ones that already exist for Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, the Pacific and the Americas -- has been created to work with sovereign African nations in support of mutual objectives. "AFRICOM recognizes the essential interrelationship between security, stability, economic development, political advancement -- things that address the basic needs of the peoples of a region," Ward said, and works in a collaborative way that does not interfere with existing efforts in pursuit of those objectives. What makes this command different is its organizational structure. One of Ward's deputies is a senior Foreign Service officer -- Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, who has served as the U.S. ambassador to both Burundi and Ghana. Yates' portfolio is civil-military activities. She says this is a logical time for a command focused exclusively on Africa, not in response to a series of crises on the continent, but because there is a mutual need for sustained U.S.-African engagement. Yates and Ward have been traveling to countries in the region listening to a growing list of African priorities. Back at their headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, they can then sort requests with representatives of the U.S. departments of Treasury, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security and Energy, as well the U.S. Agency for International Development, to assess what is doable in terms of resources and time. The uniqueness of this command is its effort to integrate and better coordinate interagency and nongovernmental involvement to meet security assistance and civil society needs. Officials also have been visiting institutions such as the Economic Community of Central African States, the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union. It sets the stage for lending assistance to regional organizations identified as important by Africans. Ward says the point of all the travel is seeking understanding about what is going on in Africa "from others' perspectives, not just ours." Command activities promote what he calls "active security" that can cover a range of missions, including bilateral military exercises and efforts to build greater African military capacity so that individual countries can conduct independent missions more easily. CONFLICT PREVENTION IS KEY TO DEVELOPMENT Ward says it is important to help establish conditions in Africa that will aid in preventing conflict. It is all about creating partnerships leading to better security and long-term economic development, he says. The United States, through this command, is listening, learning and adapting in response to solicitations, according to Ward. U.S. civilian and military leaders will work with their African counterparts in an open and transparent manner, he says, thereby developing trust and demonstrating America's reliability as a partner. This is not about any kind of American invasion, Ward says: "We have not asked any African nation to host any part of this command." The focus always will be on delivering programs, the commander says. In the future there may be a requirement for having a modest staff presence or a logistics hub in Africa to better facilitate program delivery, but Ward says, "It's not [about] combat forces running around, it's not [about] air wings being established." Ward recently visited the USS Fort McHenry, which is traveling to Central and West African ports with a crew from Europe, Africa and the United States. The ship's visit is the heart of the Africa Partnership Station initiative, which provides maritime training while completing humanitarian projects. He says the visiting vessel offers the opportunity to answer questions posed frequently in that part of Africa:
Can you help train sailors in basic lifesaving skills so that if they get hurt their buddies can deliver a higher degree of aid?
Can you help naval engineers better maintain small-boat motors?
Can some veterinarians tackle problems faced by herd animals?
Can your medics go ashore to address local health issues?

Ward's deputy for military operations, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, says one of the early challenges for AFRICOM will be helping African partners deal with diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.