The chief of the new U.S. military command for Africa says he will
invite African military officers to serve at his headquarters, once the
operation gets up and running. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin
interviewed the commander, General William Ward.
says he wants African officers as advisers to improve communications
and help his staff understand the implications of things they are
planning to do.
"I clearly would envision, down the road, at
some point in time, a capacity to receive liaison officers so that we
can have a closer connection to those with whom we're partnering," he
That kind of connection and understanding were missing
last year when Africa Command was announced. Many African leaders,
editorial writers and ordinary citizens expressed concerns about what
they thought was a plan to station more U.S. forces in Africa, and to
militarize U.S. policy toward the continent.
General Ward and
other U.S. officials have spent a lot of time explaining that the
command is just a reorganization of what the U.S. military is doing now
on the continent, with the hope it will be able to do more with a whole
organization focused on the effort. The controversy derailed plans to
establish AFRICOM's headquarters in Africa this year.
debate about a presence elsewhere was a debate that, quite frankly,
wasn't helping us get on with that initial requirement of standing up
and building the command," he added.
General Ward says his
headquarters will remain in Germany for now, near the U.S. European
Command headquarters, which has been the main U.S. command for Africa.
On October 1, General Ward and his growing staff will take full
responsibility for U.S. military engagement with Africa - mainly
training, counter-terrorism and humanitarian activities, and support
for African Union military operations. He says they can manage that
activity from Germany, at least for a while. And he notes that the
United States already has a large facility in Djibouti and small
offices throughout the continent that will come under his command.
will inherit a substantial presence that already exists on the
continent," he noted. "So it's not as if there's no presence on the
continent, in the form of our security assistance offices, some of
which have already put on the U.S. Africa Command patch."
officials say any expansion of the U.S. military presence in Africa
will be in the form of offices, not military bases. Indeed, AFRICOM
will not have any operational troops permanently assigned, other than
those in Djibouti. In addition, one of General Ward's two deputies is
a State Department diplomat, and 50 members of the staff of about 1,300
will be civilians from several U.S. government agencies. The idea is
to take an inter-agency approach to helping solve Africa's problems.
has led to some concern about whether the command will be able to
conduct any combat operations that may be necessary, as other U.S.
regional commands do. General Ward is not among those who are
"We will have a staff that will be capable of doing
that work," he explained. "And where there are requirements we may
have that are not resident in the command, then through the standard
request for forces process, that's how we'll do it. I'm not at all
concerned about that. Our components come on line at different states,
but there are strategies in place to account for that."
Ward's command will be responsible for all U.S. military activity in
Africa, except for Egypt, which will continue to be part of Central
The general says he is still in
discussions with Central Command about exactly where to put the
borderline between the two commands' responsibilities in the Indian
Ocean. Central Command's naval forces have been involved in
anti-piracy and counter-terrorism operations off the coast of Somalia,
and the general says it has not yet been determined which command will
handle those operations after October 1.
"We have enough, I think, agility in our system to, however that's determined, we'll make it work," he said.
Command is slowly taking on responsibilities as it builds its staff in
Germany. Officials say it will take on its full responsibilities on
schedule October 1. But General Ward says he has not decided whether
to hold a big military ceremony to mark the occasion. He says he
doesn't want to create another opportunity for misunderstanding among
the people the command was created to work with.