The Pentagon is leading an interagency process to form a new military command for Africa, which will unify U.S. government efforts to improve security and stability in a continent that has "vast potential and significant challenges," according to a senior defense official.
The new command will unify under a single four-star officer virtually the entire continent that now is divided among three military commands that focus primarily on Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East-Afghanistan region.
African Command, or AFRICOM, will be unusual in that its headquarters will have a much greater interagency make-up and civilian membership than the other unified commands, with significant participation by the State Department, U.S. AID and other government organizations, said Ryan Henry, under secretary of defense for policy.
The command is being created to take advantage of the opportunity to provide greater stability and security that can foster the development of democracy and economic growth, Henry said at a recent Pentagon briefing.
Its goals will be to reduce conflict, improve security, defeat terrorists and support crisis response, mainly by working with the military and other government agencies of "partner nations" on the continent, which covers 30 percent of the world's surface and is home to more than 800 million people, he said.
Henry denied the new command was being formed because Africa was becoming more of a security threat to the United States, focusing instead on the need to "integrate all elements of our activities to help Africa."
Historically, U.S. military involvement in Africa has been infrequent -- generally involving low-profile special operations training exercises with various national armies -- with the exception of the tragic intervention in Somalia, which started as humanitarian relief effort and ended as a bloody and futile attempt to capture a major warlord.
But U.S. forces have become more involved in recent years, particularly in the Horn of Africa, in an effort to stop the spread of radical Muslim terrorist cells.
Army Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, director of the Joint Staff, said a task force is working to form the new command's staff and to draft its charter. The interim headquarters will be in Germany, but the goal is to locate the headquarters somewhere in Africa, he said. But there are no plans to seek permanent bases or to locate significant numbers of U.S. forces on the continent, Henry said.
Meanwhile, task force members and Pentagon officials are consulting with Congress, U.S. allies and African governments, he said. Henry said he expected the command to be formed and a commander nominated by President Bush by September