The U.S. Defense Department says it is committed to launching its new Africa Command on time in October, and with the same capabilities as other major U.S. military commands. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Theresa Whelan made the comment in a VOA interview. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The Defense Department's top Africa official says Africa Command, which has been operating in a preparation phase for eight months, will be ready to take responsibility for all U.S. military engagement with the continent on schedule.
"We are confident that by 1 October AFRICOM will be enabled, and will be able to carry out the existing missions of the current combatant commands that are responsible for Africa. And the leadership here in the Pentagon is very committed to doing whatever it takes to make that a reality," she said.
Some military officers outside the Africa Command team have expressed concern about whether the new organization will have the structure and staff necessary to supervise the full spectrum of activities that usually fall under U.S. military regional commands. Those range from training foreign militaries to humanitarian operations to combat. But in an interview for VOA's Press Conference USA, to be broadcast this weekend, Secretary Whelan said Africa Command will be ready.
"As far as the kinetics, yes, because that area of the world will fall under Africa Command, to the extent that we find ourselves in a position of having to do things like that it will certainly be the Africa Command commander who will be responsible and will make the recommendations to the secretary of defense," she said.
Africa Command is to handle all of the continent, except for Egypt, taking over areas now covered by the U.S. commands for Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
But officials have said AFRICOM will not have any combat forces permanently assigned, and does not plan to station troops on the continent, beyond the contingent already in Djibouti. One concern is related to U.S. and coalition naval operations off the east coast of Africa, and a senior officer tells VOA decisions about that have not yet been made.
A decision that has been made is related to the controversial issue of where Africa Command's headquarters will be. U.S. officials had wanted it on the continent by October, but that has been delayed. Theresa Whelan says the headquarters will remain in Germany for now, but she hopes AFRICOM will be able to have offices in several places on the continent before long.
"If we are to be able to engage in partnership with African nations we obviously have to be present there. We can't phone it in. Partnership requires being able to look people in the eye and being able to work with them side by side. So, there are certain things that will require, in order for us to be effective, we will have to be present there for sustained periods of time," she said.
She says in addition to the public offer by Liberia to host an AFRICOM site, seven other countries have privately said they would be willing to do so.
AFRICOM is being structured differently than other U.S. combat commands. It has a senior State Department official as one of its deputy commanders, and a sizable contingent of diplomats and aid officials on its staff. Officials say the command's focus will be on development and security assistance, and on helping African countries keep terrorists out.
But Secretary Whelan acknowledges the command will have to demonstrate that to African leaders and their people, many of whom are concerned that the creation of AFRICOM will result in a more militarized U.S. policy toward the continent.
"I think we also recognize that words only go so far and ultimately it's what you do that counts. And so we're fully prepared that the Africans will take a wait-and-see attitude and it'll be up to AFRICOM after 1 October to prove itself to them," she said
Secretary Whelan says Africa Command should have the resources to make its mission clear. She expects it to be provided more money for engagement with the continent than has been possible under the current system, but she could not say exactly how much more money.