STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. Africa Command isn’t going anywhere, at least for now, according to the U.S. military’s top officer.
Since it became fully operational four years ago, perhaps nothing about AFRICOM has been a source of more controversy than its location. From the outset, numerous African countries pushed back against the idea of an AFRICOM headquarters on the continent while political leaders in the U.S. have steadily lobbied for the command to be relocated to their home districts.
However, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, during a town hall meeting with servicemembers and civilians at AFRICOM’s Kelley barracks headquarters Monday, said he thinks the command should stay right where it is, in Stuttgart.
“We think for operational reasons — unless there is a huge (cost) disparity — operational reasons should dominate” the debate about location, Dempsey said.
While a congressionally mandated cost analysis is still being conducted that compares the expense of doing business in Stuttgart versus the U.S., Dempsey said he believes the command will remain in Germany, where AFRICOM officials are closer to their African partners. “The answer I can give you with confidence today is, yes,” Dempsey said in response to a question from the audience on whether the command would remain.
Dempsey, whose stop in Stuttgart was part of a holiday season tour to bases stretching from Bahrain and Afghanistan to Germany, answered questions from AFRICOM staffers on a range of subjects.
Dempsey discussed the implications of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” which would force an extra $500 billion in cuts over 10 years on the Defense Department. While military manpower would be exempt from those cuts, its ability to properly train the force for operations would be hard hit, Dempsey said.
“It’s called the fiscal cliff for a reason,” Dempsey said. “The impact is severe.”
Even if politicians in the U.S. reach a deal, the Defense Department faces a new fiscal reality after a decade of war. Dempsey said military leaders are looking at ways to become more efficient, and that includes reforms to the military retirement system. However, Dempsey told troops any changes would be grandfathered, and would not impact troops already serving.
Meanwhile, manpower costs, which account for about 45 percent of the budget, could “throw the system out of balance” if they were to climb to 50 percent, he said.
Dempsey, talking about the U.S.’s deeper strategic focus on the Pacific, said he and other commanders continue to develop plans for how best to position troops around the globe.
The military hasn’t yet found the right balance between forward deployment, rotational forces and stationing troops in the U.S., Dempsey said. However, Dempsey indicated that in the future, more troops would be based in the States.
“Because it is the homeland forces that generally provide a surge capability, so that when (we get) things wrong and something happens that we didn’t expect, you can surge,” Dempsey said. “I don’t think we have it balanced yet.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to operating in hot spots in Africa such as Mali, which in the past year has become a haven for terrorist groups, the U.S. will work with partners in the region on security concerns, he said.
While there are times where threats to U.S. interests are so great that the U.S. must act on its own, “Mali is probably not one of them,” he said.