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AFRICOM Will Promote Security, Spur Development

New Africa Command Will Promote Security, Spur Development

Helping Africans confront security challenges in their region long has been a priority of the United States, say senior U.S. officials. But the military's new Africa Command (AFRICOM) also will prove an essential tool in continuing an equally long-standing commitment to helping communities across the continent strengthen governance, improve health care and meet economic development goals.

In November 14 congressional testimony, however, Stephen Mull, acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said that in meetings with leaders from Africa and Europe, he continues to encounter many misperceptions about AFRICOM, established by the Defense Department in February as the newest of its six geographic divisions to monitor security threats. (See related article.)

Mull was joined by Ryan Henry, principal deputy under secretary for policy at the Defense Department, and the AFRICOM commander, Army General William "Kip" Ward, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, to dispel the prevailing myths about the new command, such as the notion that AFRICOM represents a "military takeover" of U.S. foreign policy toward Africa.

AFRICOM's purpose, said Mull, is to build strong military-to-military partnerships in the region. By doing so, it 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).

Henry said 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.

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 in doing so, the new command also 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.

Another myth, the officials said, is that AFRICOM represents a move by the United States to place a large troop presence in Africa.

While the United States is in discussions with several African nations on a possible headquarters for the command, no new bases will be established, said Henry. 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.

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.

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 recently established 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.

"It 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."


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