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Bush Nominates First Military Commander for Africa

President Bush has nominated the highest-ranking African-American officer in the U.S. military as the first head of a new military command for Africa, which will begin operations October 1. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The Pentagon says President Bush has nominated General William Ward to be the first head of Africa Command. General Ward is now the deputy commander of European Command, which has responsibility for most of Africa, as well as all of Europe and part of the Middle East.

General Ward has been in the army for 36 years, and has served around the world, including an assignment during the U.S. involvement in Somalia in 1993. He was also U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2005. Last year, he became the fifth African-American in history to attain the rank of full, four-star general in the U.S. military.

In a brief statement issued by European Command, General Ward said he is "honored" by the nomination. The president's decision will have to be reviewed by the Senate, and in keeping with usual practice, the general is not making any further public comments until his confirmation hearings.

In an article for a recent issue of Joint Force Quarterly, a military publication, General Ward called for a new focus on the victims of conflict. In an article focusing on post-conflict operations, he wrote that only by addressing victims' needs can military organizations provide what he called a "horizon of hope" that can lead to long-term stability.

U.S. officials have said Africa Command will take an inter-agency approach to helping African nations deal with the continent's problems. They say unlike other U.S. regional military commands, Africa Command will not have its own complement of operational forces.

Rather, they say it will be a headquarters unit, with strong civilian representation, and will use U.S. troops from elsewhere for short-term training and humanitarian missions. They also say it will work closely with existing African institutions, particularly the African Union.

The officials say the command's goals will include helping to prevent terrorists from establishing bases in Africa, and helping Africans avoid local conflicts before they start.

Africa Command is scheduled to come into existence as a unit of European Command in Germany on October 1. A year later, it will become an independent regional command, with General Ward answering directly to the secretary of defense and the president, as other regional commanders do. Officials say they hope the Africa Command headquarters will move to the continent, but they cannot say exactly when that might happen or where the headquarters might be located.