WASHINGTON – A U.S. delegation to Africa apparently had to calm a
whole list of fears – and dash a hope or two – when it explained its plan
for establishing a new military command there.
“With every group we met with, there were a number of misconceptions,
and I think the discussion changed quite a bit as we were able to correct
some of those misconceptions,” Ryan Henry, the Defense Department’s deputy
undersecretary for policy, said Monday.
Questions included why the U.S. was setting up the new Africa Command, how
many troops would come, how much aid it would bring and so on.
A weeklong trip by representatives from the Defense and State departments
and the U.S. Agency for International Development ended Saturday after visits
to Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal.
The group was holding consultations on the Bush administration plan to create
the new command, an administrative structure to coordinate activities on the
“We hopefully cleared up the misunderstanding that AFRICOM was not being
stood up in response to Chinese presence on the continent, it was not being
stood up solely for the effort of enhanced counterterrorism and it was not
being stood up in order to secure resources – a particular sensitivity to
the oil resources,” Henry said.
“While some of these may be part of the formula, the reasons that AFRICOM
is being stood up is Africa … is emerging on the world scene as a strategic
player and we need to deal with it as a continent,” he told a Pentagon
The U.S. military has a system of regional headquarters such as the Pacific
Command, Central Command and so on. Africa is now split among three commands,
which have been increasing activities on the continent greatly in recent years.
Central Command, which controls the Horn of Africa, set up a task force there
to try to catch al-Qaida terrorists escaping from Afghanistan after the war
started in late 2001. It since has expanded to humanitarian and other missions.
The European Command has sent forces to do training exercises in North African
countries as well as humanitarian projects and other missions such as harbor
maintenance in oil-producing nations in the Gulf of Guinea.
The operations are aimed at building partnerships and strengthening the ability
of African governments and militaries to do their jobs, officials have said.
They also hope the activities will make nations there less vulnerable to the
recruiting efforts of terrorists and help catch terrorists already using it
as a safe haven.
Officials also have said that Africa is strategically more important because
of its oil production and increased efforts by China to gain influence on
U.S. officials are still working out such details as the size and location
of the new command, and they promised during their trip to continue consulting
Africans as they work on it, Henry said.
“AFRICOM does not mean there would be additional U.S. forces put on the
continent … does not mean a dramatic increase in resources” from the
Pentagon or U.S. government to Africa, he said.
“This administration has made significant investment into the improvement
of the quality of life on the African continent, increasing it over threefold”
and the new headquarters would be there to coordinate those investment efforts,