December 20, 2006

‘U.S. Africa Command’ close to becoming a reality

By Gordon Lubold
Staff writer
At a Dec. 13 awards ceremony for Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said a new command would be created within “one to two months.” In accepting her award, Whelan quietly noted to Rumsfeld that the proposal is on President Bush’s desk awaiting his signature.

“Africa Command” is finally taking shape.

After months of speculation, the Pentagon appears poised to establish a combatant command for all of Africa, in answer to rising concerns about the continent’s humanitarian, economic and political challenges as well as increased awareness of terrorism networks operating there. Talk about the idea has gone on for years but intensified in recent months, and it now looks like a done deal.

Rumsfeld has pushed for the command, which requires a change to what is known as the Unified Command Plan, to allow the Defense Department to commit more resources and focus to the continent and the security issues the U.S. sees there. Currently, responsibility for the continent is split among three U.S. commands — European Command, Central Command and even Pacific Command all own some piece of it. The idea is that a new command, with a four-star to lead it, will help focus U.S. operations and resources in the region.

There had been talk of creating a sub-unified command under EurCom or another command, but that was ultimately shelved in favor of a new full-blown organization.

Resources may be an issue. If Bush agrees to the plan, as it appears he will, that would mean carving up the budgets of three combatant commands to reallocate resources appropriately to fund the new command. EurCom “owns” most of Africa, while Central Command is responsible for countries like Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya in the East. Madagascar, off the coast of Mozambique on the continent’s southwestern side, now belongs to Pacific Command.

Who will lead the new outfit? No one knows just yet, but Gen. William “Kip” Ward, who was recently installed as deputy commander of EurCom — and therefore focuses on Africa issues — likely will be considered for the job.

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