AFRICOM Reaches Full Operations

US Africa Command, the Department of Defense’s sixth global geographic command, assumed full operations yesterday. Headed by Army Gen. William Ward, AFRICOM began initial operations last October as a sub-unified command under US European Command. Now it is a unified command in its own right. AFRICOM has not been cast in a traditional mold—meaning it will not have a large military presence on the African continent. Instead, officials say, it is designed to take a systematic, interagency approach to promote stability, security, and democracy on the entire continent, except for Egypt which remains under US Central Command’s purview. “It is, at its heart, a different kind of command with a different orientation, one that we hope and expect will institutionalize a lasting security relationship with Africa, a vast region of growing importance,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a release. This does not equate to US militarization of the continent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Theresa Whelan said in a release Sept. 26. While Liberia has come forward publicly to host some element of the command, there are no plans to establish large, permanent military bases in Africa, said Whelan. The size of any future presence will fluctuate depending on the kind of engagement, she said. The new command is currently headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Plans are for it to grow to 1,300 personnel and develop a cadre of Africa specialists. The Air Force has reactivated 17th Air Force to serve as the air component to the command and placed its headquarters for the time being at Ramstein AB, Germany. AFRICOM will subsume the ongoing African-related initiatives formerly executed by CENTCOM, EUCOM, and US Pacific Command that include the Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti.