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Africom, a military command with civilian leaders, is George Bush's blueprint for the continent, writes Ryan Henry

By unknown | Apr 19, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

As Africa rightfully assumes a more important strategic, diplomatic and economic role on the world stage, the US hopes to continue to strengthen its partnerships throughout the continent.

As Africa rightfully assumes a more important strategic, diplomatic and economic role on the world stage, the US hopes to continue to strengthen its partnerships throughout the continent.

To that end President George Bush recently announced the creation of an Africa Command to better enable the US to engage with nations in Africa to create a more stable environment for economic and political development.

I visited South Africa this week as part of a six-nation tour to consult with African leaders about this important initiative.

US military and humanitarian engagement on the African continent is not new.

For many years African nations, including South Africa, have worked with US government agencies coordinating humanitarian assistance, medical care and disaster relief.

We have also undertaken joint military exercises and training programmes to help partner nations in the professional development of their military forces.

This will remain the focus of the new Africa command, Africom.

What is new is that the US is beginning to look at Africa the way Africans themselves view Africa: as one continent.

Previously, responsibility for engagement with our partner countries in Africa was divided among three combatant geographical commands: US European Command, US Central Command and US Pacific Command.

Africom will eventually assume responsibility for the entire continent of Africa and the surrounding islands, except Egypt.

By having one command solely dedicated to the entire continent, we believe that we can deal with issues and challenges more coherently.

What is also new is that Africom will have senior civilian leaders in positions of authority within Africom.

This is a first for a US military command, and is a visible sign of the unique nature of the challenges the command faces, and the unique way the US intends to face them.

Ultimately, we hope through Africom to marry the logistical and organisational skills of a military command with the personal and political understanding of on-the-ground issues resident in our embassies.

We see this as a possible model for how the US will do business in the future, and are proud to unveil the concept in Africa.

A transition team of both civilian and military personnel are working to lay out the plans for building the command from the ground up.

Africom is in the very early planning stages and there are many decisions yet to be made about how the command will be structured, staffed or permanently headquartered.

But the goal is to have the command fully operational by the end of 2008.

What does this mean for Africa? It means the US is committed to improving its ability to help prevent and respond to conflict and humanitarian crises wherever they occur.

It means a reinvigorated effort to advance the goals of growth, prosperity and stability.

Ultimately, the US envisions Africom as playing a supporting role in helping Africans, working to build capability among our African partners, so that they can continue to lead the way in tackling the continent's security challenges.

During my visit to South Africa, I listened very closely to what my friends and colleagues have to say about how Africom can enhance our already strong partnership.

We will continue to consult with our African partners throughout the establishment of this new command.

lRyan Henry is the US' principal deputy under-secretary of defence for policy


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