U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced that the U.S. military will create a new command for Africa. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon officials say the command is to be established by September of next year.
Secretary Gates made the announcement at a Senate committee hearing.
"The president has decided to stand up a new unified combatant command, Africa Command, to oversee security cooperation, building partnership capability, defense support to non-military missions, and, if directed, military operations on the African Continent," he said.
Officials say the new command's primary responsibility will be to work with African governments and militaries to try to avoid the need for U.S. military missions on the continent. They say it will have a larger diplomatic and aid component than other U.S. regional commands around the world. In addition, there will be an emphasis on training African militaries to enable them to better control their territory and keep terrorists out, and to improve their understanding of human rights issues and the need to respect civilian authority.
Currently, responsibility for operations in Africa is divided mainly between two commands whose primary duties lie elsewhere, with the Indian Ocean islands coming under a third unit, U.S. Pacific Command. Under the new structure, Egypt will be the only country in Africa not working directly with the new command. It will remain part of the responsibility of Central Command, which also covers the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia.
"This command will enable us to have a more effective and integrated approach than the current arrangement of dividing Africa between Central Command and European Command, an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War," he added. "This department will consult closely with the congress and work with our European and African allies to implement this effort."
Officials say a transition team will soon begin work near U.S. European Command headquarters in Germany to work out the details of Africa Command and to begin bringing together the personnel, equipment and military units it will need. Once the command becomes operational next year, officials hope it will be headquartered in Africa.
Analysts have largely welcomed the long-anticipated announcement, but they caution that the administration must make a major effort to ensure that the creation of Africa Command is not misperceived as a threat on the continent. Defense Department officials say they plan to do that.