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New Pentagon Organization Plan Has No 'Africa Command' - 2002-04-18

The newly-revised U.S. global military organization plan unveiled this past week still leaves one major world geographic area uncovered by its own unique and dedicated American military command.

The highlight of the new U.S. command plan is the creation of Northern Command, called NorthCom. It will, for the first time, coordinate military responsibilities in North America, including the defense of U.S. territory.

It joins the other existing so-called, unified military commands with geographic responsibilities, SouthCom, covering Central and South America; EuCom, or the European Command covering East and West Europe including Russia; PaCom, responsible for the Asia-Pacific region; and CentCom, or Central Command, covering the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

But there is no Africa Command. The responsibility for coordinating military-to-military matters with officials on the African continent is still split between the U.S. European Command and the Central Command.

It reflects what the Pentagon's top Africa official concedes is the continent's low-priority status at the Department of Defense.

But Michael Westphal insists Africa is important and events there are followed closely by the Pentagon. "Africa is not always a topic, which is high on the agenda list here in the Pentagon. But I am here to tell you that it is actually something, which does matter, and we do follow it very closely," Mr. Westphal said.

One reason Mr. Westphal said Africa is important, and stands to grow in importance, is its oil production. "Fifteen percent of the United States' imported oil supply comes from sub-Saharan Africa. This is also a number that has a potential for increasing significantly in the next decade," he said.

Mr. Westphal said that Defense officials are, in his words, "working to identify an African as well as U.S. awareness in the importance of African energy reserves." He does not explain how nor did he respond to a VOA request for elaboration.

But the energy card has clearly not played well, at least among military planners.

Senior officials effectively say Africa does not merit its own dedicated U.S. military command because, while there are U.S. interests on the continent, they do not consider them "vital" interests.

Mr. Westphal concedes Africa gets short-shrift when it comes to military budget resources. "Because overall resources for military-to-military activities in sub-Saharan Africa are limited, and we do not have U.S. military infrastructure on the continent, we wound up doing a lot more with a lot less," he said.

The list of current Defense Department projects in Africa is relatively short. There is the recent munitions removal project in Nigeria; conducted jointly with Nigerian and British forces to clear up unexploded ordnance from a tragic January accident in Lagos.

There is a military health initiative involving HIV/Aids prevention among soldiers in select African countries.

There is a small U.S. role in the Nuba Mountains Joint Military Commission, designed to monitor a cease-fire between Sudanese government troops and rebels.

And there are also training programs, including the Africa Crisis Response Initiative helping African nations respond to peacekeeping missions and humanitarian crises.

That program is currently being re-designed, the Pentagon said, leaving only the Africa Center for Strategic Studies actively involved in training. The Center offers courses for civilian and military leaders from Africa in civil-military relations, national security strategy, and defense economics.

All in all, it is not much. But the mere fact that Pentagon Africa chief Westphal recently appeared before reporters to discuss the programs was unprecedented.

As one African magazine reporter who attended the briefing said, when he first heard it was taking place, he did not believe it.