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Africom Headquarters to Stay in Germany

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer

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DAKAR, Senegal — 

The headquarters for the U.S. military's Africom regional command will remain in Germany rather than move to Africa, because of reservations among Africans over its creation, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Vince Crawley, a spokesman for the Stuttgart, Germany-based command known as Africom, told The Associated Press that "the discussion of where we will place the headquarters has been so animated and apprehensive that it is getting in the way of our programs."

The Defense Department created Africa Command last October to consolidate operations that had been split among three other regional commands, none of which had Africa as a primary focus.

Several African countries, including Libya, Nigeria and South Africa, have expressed deep reservations about the command, claiming it could signal an unwanted expansion of American military influence or turn Africa into another battleground in the global war on terror groups.

"We want to build the command and show people what it is and what it is not," Crawley said. "When we are up and running fully, people will understand what it is and we can have discussions with sovereign governments whether it makes sense to do that in locations on the continent."

Africom officials say the command's goals have been misunderstood and emphasize there are no plans to build new U.S. military bases in Africa.

Although American interests will take priority, the increased focus on Africa will benefit both sides and pave the way for closer collaboration with African leaders, U.S. officials say.

America's focus in Africa in recent years has been on improving security and helping prepare security forces to avoid future conflicts, preventing terrorist groups from gaining footholds and dealing with humanitarian disasters. U.S. forces have conducted training exercises with African armies for years, and most African nations have enthusiastically welcomed such aid.

African nations supply the U.S. with more than 24 percent of its oil _ more than the Persian Gulf, at 20 percent, the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration says. Much of that crude comes from or through the Gulf of Guinea.

Unlike America's other global combat commands, Africom will also have a civilian deputy responsible for coordinating with other U.S. government agencies on humanitarian operations.

"Now you have governments or members of governments making decisions on whether or not to work with Africa Command without necessarily understanding what it is we do," Crawley said. "From Stuttgart, we can show people what we do and let it evolve from there."

Africom was officially launched in October, but its field programs are still run mostly by the European Command, known as Eucom, as they have been for decades. Eucom is also based in Stuttgart. Africom is expected to fully take over operations later this year.

During a visit to Egypt on Sunday, the Africom chief, Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward, said Washington had not yet asked any countries on the continent to host the headquarters. Liberia is the only country that has publicly offered to do so.

Africom officials have previously weighed the possibility of creating five smaller offices across Africa instead of having one central headquarters.

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