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DOD ponders life without AFRICOM

Just five years after becoming “fully operational,” U.S. Africa Command could face elimination as part of Pentagon blueprints for a possible reorganization of its Combatant Commands, according to a recent news report.

On Sunday, Defense News reported that the Pentagon was examining whether it should eliminate AFRICOM as part of a cost-saving effort that would divide military responsibilities for Africa among the European and Central Commands. While there have been no final decisions, the Defense News report also noted several other possible changes, including placing Afghanistan under Pacific Command and the elimination of Southern Command in favor of a new “Americas Command” that would be merged with Northern Command.

That the Defense Department may be pondering a future without AFRICOM is no surprise to those who have followed the rocky history of the command, which has been a source of controversy since its inception in 2008.

It began with a backlash on the continent amid fears that establishing the command signaled a militarization of U.S. foreign policy in Africa. As part of an effort to assuage those fears, AFRICOM abandoned plans for a headquarters on the continent, in favor of staying put in Stuttgart, Germany.

But should AFRICOM be eliminated? Supporters argue that such a move would send the wrong signal to the African continent at a time when there is a host of security challenges, most notably the rise of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Critics can counter that abolishing a headquarters doesn’t mean the end of U.S. military engagement in Africa. After all, the U.S. military was in Africa long before AFRICOM, which inherited from EUCOM many longstanding missions there.

Even after AFRICOM’s launch, EUCOM hasn’t left Africa behind. For example, it was EUCOM that functioned as the de facto force provider for Operation Odyssey Dawn, the initial phase of the 2011 bombardment campaign over Libya. EUCOM also provided key command-and-control support to AFRICOM as it struggled to find its footing in that mission — the command’s first fighting campaign.

AFRICOM, formed in recognition of the growing strategic significance of the resource-rich continent, came about at a time when the Pentagon was flush with cash. If responsibility for Africa were to return to EUCOM, it’s not clear how much money would be saved. EUCOM, also headquartered in Stuttgart, would likely need to be beefed up to continue the missions now being led by its sister command.

According to Defense News, about 5,000 positions would be cut across the COCOMs and support services if DOD moves forward with its plans to reorganize all the commands.

A Defense Department official, who did not go into specifics about the planning, acknowledged that the Pentagon is looking for ways to streamline.

“The Joint Staff continually reviews a wide variety of options for the joint force, and how it can be structured more efficiently to include examining the duties and responsibilities of the combatant commanders under the unified command plan,” the defense official said.

vandiver.john@stripes.com

 

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