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US Africa Command Will Not Handle Piracy Area

The Pentagon said the new U.S. military command for Africa will not have responsibility for security in the Gulf of Aden, where pirates have been menacing merchant ships. Three months after fully establishing Africa Command, the U.S. Defense Department published its first map outlining the borders of the command's responsibilities.

As expected, the official map shows Africa Command has responsibility for U.S. military activity throughout the continent except for Egypt, which remains part of Central Command's area.

But for the first time, this map indicates that Africa Command will not have responsibility for any of the waters off the continent's north shore on the Mediterranean, its northwestern shore on the Atlantic, and its northeastern shorelines on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is that last area where pirates have attacked dozens of ships, and still hold hundreds of hostages.

The U.S. Navy and allied forces have been working to track and deter pirates in the area, with direction from Central Command's Naval headquarters in Bahrain, and that will continue. Africa Command's maritime responsibility will be only for the southern part of the continent, south from the Kenya-Somalia border in the east and from Mauritania-Western Sahara border in the west.

Much of that naval activity will involve training and mentoring for local navies, and humanitarian relief and military training in coastal countries. Africa Command does not have its own naval forces or naval base, but officials said U.S. Navy Ships based in other parts of the world will continue to make extended visits to the waters off the coasts of Africa, as they have in recent years.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said the updated Unified Command Plan also orders the seven top regional U.S. commanders, including the head of Africa Command, to increase their capabilities designed to promote stability and avoid conflicts.

"It also assigns all combatant commanders the responsibility for planning and conducting military support to stability, security, transition and reconstruction operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," he said.

That order fits with recent directives ordering the U.S. military services to increase their ability to conduct stability operations and to build skills in a broad range of combat activities, from training and low-level conflict to major campaigns involving heavy weapons.

The new plan also puts U.S. Strategic Command, which handles nuclear missiles and long-range bombers, in charge of coordinating U.S. military efforts related to missile defense, weapons of mass destruction and protection of the nation's computer networks. The document formalizes the lead roles of Special Operations Command in fighting terrorism, and of U.S. Northern Command for preparing to respond to a global influenza pandemic.

There are also small changes in the boundaries of some of the commands' areas of responsibilities. In the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos go into Northern Command's area, and out of the responsibility of Southern Command, which handles the rest of the Caribbean and all of Central and South America and the waters around them.

Whitman said Egypt was kept in Central Command because it is political and culturally linked more to the rest of the command's area in the Middle East. But Israel and the Palestinian Territories will remain part of European Command's responsibility.