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No Additional US Combat Troops to Be Based in Africa

U.S. officials say they have no plans to base additional combat forces in Africa as part of the creation of a separate U.S. military command for the continent, announced on Tuesday. The officials say the command should be operational this year, although it may not reach its full strength until next year. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry provided more information on the Africa Command plan at a news conference Wednesday.

"There are no plans envisioned in this effort on the basing of forces on the continent," he said.

Henry said the Defense Department wants the headquarters for Africa Command to be on the continent, with a staff of about 1,000, including a sizable contingent of diplomats and aid officials. But he says he does not expect more U.S. combat troops to be based in Africa, beyond the 1,700 now at the Combined Joint Task Force in Djbouti, performing training, humanitarian and counter-terrorism missions.

"As currently envisioned, we do not see any increase in stationing of forces," he added. "We do see the opportunity to work more with host nations, but those would be cooperative endeavors and they would be done on a rotational basis, some measured in weeks, perhaps some measured in months. But we just don't see any increase in the stationing of forces on the continent or within the command."

Henry said the number of U.S. troops in Africa will vary as their specific missions evolve over time. He said the command will focus on providing better and more consistent training tailored to the needs of each country on the continent.

"The emphasis on the activities would be more in what we can do to help the host nations there on the continent of Africa build up their capability and their capacity so that they are able to service their own security needs, rather than rely on an outside entity," he explained.

Henry said better security and stability, and improving African armies' understanding of the role of the military in a democratic society, will facilitate development efforts by African governments, aided by civilian departments of the U.S. government. But officials say, like the five other regional commands, it will also be responsible for any necessary U.S. military operations in its area.

At the same news conference, Lieutenant General Walter Sharp, director of the senior military staff, said a 60-member team is forming at European Command headquarters in Germany to work out the details of Africa Command. General Sharp said he expects the Command to begin operations this year under a four-star officer, like the other regional commands. President Bush's order requires Africa Command to be fully operational by September of next year.

Undersecretary Henry says the Defense Department and other U.S. government agencies are now beginning to consult with the 53 countries of Africa on the details of Africa Command's future operations.