The head of the new U.S. military command for Africa says the United States has no plans to move its headquarters to an African location once it becomes a full-fledged command in October. U.S. Army General William Ward made the comment at the end of a three-day visit to Uganda to review U.S.-supported assistance to the Ugandan-led African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Speaking to VOA from the Ugandan capital Kampala, General Ward said the new command, known as AFRICOM, is not seeking to establish a major operational base in Africa any time soon. "That is something that may develop over time. But there has been no overtures made. We have not asked any nation," he said.
Late last month, a Pentagon report said that the general wanted to maintain AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany for the foreseeable future. Stuttgart is home to the U.S. military's European Command, which for decades has had responsibility for much of the African continent.
Recent media reports suggest that informal discussions with a number of African countries about their interest in hosting AFRICOM have produced mixed results. U.S. officials say eight African nations, led by Liberia, have responded positively. But many other countries, including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and South Africa, are said to be hostile to the idea of basing a major American military command center on African soil.
General Ward says he is sensitive to the doubts and suspicions many Africans have about AFRICOM's role and what it represents.
According to the Pentagon, AFRICOM has been created in recognition of Africa's global importance and is intended to allow the United States to bolster African security, enhance strategic cooperation, build partnerships, and support humanitarian missions.
But African newspaper editorials have openly questioned whether AFRICOM is merely a smokescreen for U.S. efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Africa to combat terrorism. Others have suggested that the United States is trying to use its military to secure access to African oil and counter China's growing political and economic influence on the continent.
General Ward says AFRICOM's goal is more modest, describing it as a restructuring of the U.S. military's approach to Africa. He says the new command will allow the Pentagon to combine the African activities currently being executed by two other military commands - the European Command and U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East and Horn of Africa - and put them under one roof.
"Our military-to-military exercises, our training assistance programs, our logistical assistance programs, our humanitarian activities - those roles continue as they have been. But how we go about organizing ourselves to deliver those programs is what the command represents. So, it is a restructuring of how we do our work as opposed to the notion that the command brings huge numbers of additional forces, with presence on the continent, which is not the case at all," he said.
President Bush announced the formation of AFRICOM in February, 2007. It was officially established eight months later.