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US seeks to spread Africa command staff
By William Maclean
ALGIERS, June 11, 2007 - The United States is planning to "distribute" a new military command for Africa across several countries rather than have a single headquarters on the continent, a defense official said on Sunday.
Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told journalists on a visit to Algeria that the command would not be designed to fight wars but would rather focus on training African security forces.
"The staff ... will not be stationed at one large headquarters, rather it will be distributed across different countries across the continent and be networked together ... It will be a distributed command," he said.
"We're in the final stages of a feasibility study (about a distributed command) but if at all possible that's the way we'd like to proceed," he told a briefing at the U.S. embassy.
President George W. Bush announced in February he had given approval for the new command, Africom, which will be based initially in Stuttgart, Germany, but later move to Africa.
Analysts have said the plan could take years to realize because potential host nations may be worried about the stigma of working with the global superpower.
While there might be some prestige and economic gain to hosting the command, any U.S. establishment could become a terrorist target or the host government itself could attract unwanted political attention, commentators have said.
A U.S. official who was not authorized to speak on the record said the plan to distribute the command was devised partly in response to suggestions by African nations that basing it in one country might stir jealousies among African states.
The creation of the new headquarters reflects increasing U.S. strategic interest in Africa. Washington is concerned that African nations with weak governments offer a haven for Islamist militants and is attracted by the continent's natural resources.
Currently, the only long-term base for U.S. forces in Africa is Camp Lemonier in the East African nation of Djibouti. The U.S. military assigns responsibility for parts of the world to regional commands, such as Central Command, which handles the Middle East and Horn of Africa.
Responsibility for Africa is now split between Central Command, European Command and Pacific Command. Under the new plan, every country in Africa would fall under Africa Command except Egypt, which would remain in Central Command's area.
The new command is intended to start up by September 2008.
Henry, at the start of an African tour that will also take him to Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and Ethiopia, where the African Union (AU) has its headquarters, reiterated the command would not involve sending more American armed forces to Africa.
Henry said Washington wanted African countries to play the role in the command that they felt "comfortable" with.
Algeria , an ally in the U.S. war on terror but otherwise critical of many aspects of U.S. foreign policy, has indicated that it will play no part in hosting the U.S. African command.
Source: Reuters 2007