US seeks to spread Africa command staff

William Maclean, the namibian, June 12, 2007

ALGIERS - The United States is planning to 'distribute' a new military command for Africa across several countries rather than have a single headquarters on the continent, a defence official said on Sunday.

Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, told journalists on a visit to Algeria that the command would not be designed to fight wars but would rather focus on training African security forces.

"The staff ...will not be stationed at one large headquarters, rather it will be distributed across different countries across the continent and be networked together ...It will be a distributed command," he said.

"We're in the final stages of a feasibility study (about a distributed command) but if at all possible that's the way we'd like to proceed," he told a briefing at the US embassy.

President George W Bush announced in February he had given approval for the new command, Africom, which will be based initially in Stuttgart, Germany, but later move to Africa.

Analysts have said the plan could take years to realise because potential host nations may be worried about the stigma of working with the global superpower.

While there might be some prestige and economic gain to hosting the command, any US establishment could become a terrorist target or the host government itself could attract unwanted political attention, commentators have said.

A US official who was not authorised to speak on the record said the plan to distribute the command was devised partly in response to suggestions by African nations that basing it in one country might stir jealousies among African states.

The creation of the new headquarters reflects increasing US strategic interest in Africa.

Washington is concerned that African nations with weak governments offer a haven for Islamist militants and is attracted by the continent's natural resources.

Currently, the only long-term base for US forces in Africa is Camp Lemonier in the East African nation of Djibouti.

The US military assigns responsibility for parts of the world to regional commands, such as Central Command, which handles the Middle East and Horn of Africa.

Responsibility for Africa is now split between Central Command, European Command and Pacific Command.

Under the new plan, every country in Africa would fall under Africa Command except Egypt, which would remain in Central Command's area.

The new command is intended to start up by September 2008.

Henry, at the start of an African tour that will also take him to Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and Ethiopia, where the African Union (AU) has its headquarters, reiterated the command would not involve sending more American armed forces to Africa.


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