Senior officials at the Pentagon are in the final stages of work on a proposal to create an Africa Command within the U.S. military, and are to present a plan to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by the end of October.

An official who works for the top U.S. military officers says a group in their policy office is working to finalize a proposal to be sent up the chain of command to Secretary Rumsfeld and, if he approves, to President Bush. The official, who requested anonymity because the issue has not been decided, says the group has a deadline of the end of October. Another official described the effort as "tracking fairly quickly," and said Africa Command is "quickly becoming a reality."

Officials say the policy team is working on what one calls a "milestone" proposal developed at Secretary Rumsfeld's request by senior officers from European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command, and delivered to the Pentagon two weeks ago. Those three commands now share responsibility for U.S. military activity in Africa. An official of European Command, which led the effort and has responsibility for most of the continent, says key African "partner nations" were consulted about the idea of establishing an Africa Command, and that they were "very supportive." The official says U.S. embassies on the continent were also consulted.

Secretary Rumsfeld expressed support for the idea of creating an Africa Command during a Town Hall meeting with Pentagon employees last Friday.

"Pete and I are for it and we've been pushing and pushing for six months and trying to get the system to come up with the details as to exactly how it would be done," said Donald Rumsfeld.

When Secretary Rumsfeld says "Pete" he is referring to his senior military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace.

General Pace also offered support for the idea of an Africa Command, saying that terrorist leaders have expressed their vision for control of much of the world and that more focus on African security should be part of the U.S. response.

"They want to reestablish a caliphate from Spain, all of Europe, Africa, across Asia, Indonesia," said General Pace. "They've said that very plainly. That challenge is there. We need to arrange ourselves in a way to address that challenge, and Africa Command, in my opinion, is a right way to confront part of that problem."

General Pace also indicated that part of the current process is to decide whether to establish a full-fledged combatant command for Africa, or whether to create a sub-command, probably under European Command. On Thursday, officials gave varying accounts of whether the process is moving toward a full Africa Command or a sub-command, indicating, one official said, that the debate on that point is continuing.

The five regional combatant commands are, by law, the fighting arms of the U.S. military, with a chain of command directly to the secretary and the president. But they also engage in a variety of other activities, including humanitarian relief and training foreign military forces. U.S. military activity in Africa mainly involves that sort of training and partnership building, and also monitoring potential moves by terrorist groups to establish bases on the continent or relationships with disaffected groups there.

One official said Thursday that "no one denies" the importance of Africa or the potential value of having an Africa Command. But other officials have said in the past that European Command can easily continue to handle Africa's relatively modest military needs. And some analysts worry that creating a new command would be expensive, and could create more bureaucracy without necessarily creating more capability to deliver aid and training on the continent.

The U.S. European Commander, General James Jones, discussed the importance of Africa at a news conference in early September.

"There's a very compelling case to be made that our competitive stance in the world is going to be affected by what we do or don't do in Africa," said General Jones. "There are certainly some overriding security issues that have to be addressed. But there's far more potential and far more reason for optimism than there is pessimism, in my view. With regard to the existence of a new unified command, my opinion is that at some point this is something that we probably should do as a nation.

General Jones says U.S. military activity in Africa provides great benefits for U.S. security and commercial relationships at little cost, and he favors further expanding those activities.