The commander of U.S. military forces in Africa says any effort to move his headquarters onto the continent would create more problems than it would solve. At a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington, General William Ward defended the decision to keep his headquarters in Germany for at least the next several years, saying a move would create misperceptions and other negative consequences that would disrupt the command's work.
General Ward faced questions from senators who expressed concern that his headquarters is still in Germany, where it began its organizational work in October of 2007 and became a full operational command a year later. But the general said the location of his planning and budgeting operations, and other command functions, is not as important as the work his troops are doing throughout Africa.
"If our work is to be about increasing the capacity of African nations, it's our programs, our activities that we do in about 38 different countries right now that's the important part. And the effort to find a location, with all the other associated issues, would be distracting to the real work of the command, that is, through our programs," he said.
General Ward said U.S. Africa Command focuses on training African armies and government civilians to establish security and stability in their countries, in an effort to prevent criminals and terrorists from establishing themselves. In addition, he noted naval training programs that help fight piracy, smuggling and other maritime crimes.
In an exchange with Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, General Ward said any move to establish an American military headquarters of more than 1,000 people somewhere in Africa could disrupt all that.
"It is my estimation that any great efforts to locate an American-size headquarters of that nature would probably be more counter-productive than productive.
Ward: "…because of perceptions, because of the reaction to neighbors, to parts of the continent where the headquarters might not be located. Many unintended consequences, I think, would fall out from that type of a move."
When Africa Command was first established, it encountered a lot of resistance among Africans, who were concerned it would militarize U.S. policy toward the continent and make American military intervention more likely. General Ward and his staff have worked hard to ease those concerns, and he indicated that moving the headquarters could renew them.
In addition to commanding all U.S. military activity on the continent, Africa Command also helps coordinate some U.S. government civilian assistance. Africom, as it is known, is the only U.S. regional military command with a civilian deputy commander and a large civilian staff.