The U.S. Defense Department established a working group Monday to develop a detailed plan by early next year for a possible new Africa Command in the U.S. military structure. But an official familiar with the process says such a command could look very different from the five existing U.S. regional commands.
The Pentagon has established an Implementation Planning Team, and it takes the effort to create an Africa Command to a new level of intensity. The issue has been under discussion by the staff of the top U.S. military commanders for about two months. Now, according to a Pentagon official who requested anonymity, the effort is being expanded to involve a couple of dozen people working full time.
According to Lieutenant Commander Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, the Planning Team includes military and civilian defense officials, as well as representatives of other U.S. government agencies. Carpenter says the Team is charged with developing "innovative options that might be used to create a future" Africa Command, designed "to facilitate security cooperation programs" on the continent.
The spokesman says the Pentagon is seeking more effective ways to improve counter-terrorism cooperation, prevent and respond to humanitarian crises, and promote stability in Africa. He says the U.S. government is consulting what he calls "key foreign security partners" as the Africa Command plan is being developed.
But Carpenter also stressed that no decision has been made to create such a command. That would require a presidential directive, based on advice from the Defense Department, including a detailed plan, which is what the Planning Team is working to develop.
The official who spoke anonymously Monday, due to the sensitivity of the issue, says no decision has been made on whether Africa Command would be a full Unified Combatant Command, like the other U.S. regional commands, or whether it would be a sub-command, or some other entity. The official says that is part of the Planning Team's work, as is the question of where such a command would be headquartered.
This official says, if Africa Command is created, it could look quite different from the other U.S. regional commands. Those commands are organized first and foremost to fight wars, although they are also involved in a variety of non-combat operations, such as humanitarian relief and training. The official says the planning group is considering flipping that model for Africa Command, organizing it primarily, or perhaps even exclusively, for non-combat operations designed to prevent wars.
The official also says the team working on the Africa Command issue recognizes that the continent's problems are not primarily military. He says that is why representatives of other U.S. government agencies have been brought into the process, and may also have more substantial representation in the structure of the command itself than they do in other U.S. regional commands.
The impetus to look again at the Africa Command issue came several months ago from outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and has been supported by the three combatant commanders who now share responsibility for the continent. Many top civilian and military officials have cited Africa's growing strategic importance, particularly as terrorist groups seek ungoverned spaces where they can base their operations.
The Planning Team has been told to have its recommendations ready by early next year, which will likely mean that Rumsfeld's nominated successor, Robert Gates, will have the job of deciding whether to ask President Bush to create an Africa Command.