In a move to free up the U.S. Marine Corps for missions elsewhere, the U.S. Navy will take control of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in the coming year.

“Basically, we’re looking for an opportunity for the Navy to contribute to the mission that would free up Marine resources, both for training and other missions,” said a task force spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ron Waltrous.

Roughly 25,000 of the Corps’ combined active and reserve strength of 226,000 currently are deployed in combat missions, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.

The Horn of Africa task force is made up of about 800 military members from all branches of service, primarily Marines.

“The effort to further augment ground forces is something that the Navy is doing to assist its joint servicemen and women to win the global war on terror,” said Lt. Trey Brown, a Navy spokesman. “The Navy has been involved in the Horn of Africa Task Force since its inception (in 2002) and, by converting to a core staff of Navy personnel, we are freeing Marines for other missions.”

A change in the task force’s command structure won’t alter the mission, said Cmdr. Jeff Breslau, a spokesman for Navy Central Command.

“The mission will remain the same,” Breslau said. “The only difference is that there will be an admiral in charge instead of a general.”

That admiral is yet to be named, officials said.

Unlike current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military’s mission in the Horn of Africa is not classified as a combat operation. U.S. forces are there to provide development and stability in the East African nations so that those militaries, in turn, can provide “for their own defense, border security and internal defense against transnational terrorist organizations,” Waltrous said.

U.S. forces have been working with militaries in Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Comoros, Marine Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley, the task force commander, said in a statement.

“Poverty itself doesn’t bring about terrorism,” he said Wednesday at a Pentagon press briefing. “Destitution with no way ahead [makes people] turn to a more radical approach. We’re trying to show them a way to prosperity, to a better life.

Since 2002, U.S. forces have dug 14 wells, built 23 clinics and 61 schools, started 11 medical/veterinarian civic action programs, and done 30 renovation or repair projects to existing schools, community centers and roads.

Additionally, U.S. officials are negotiating with the Djibouti government on the lease agreement for the headquarters at Camp Lemonier, Waltrous said.

Staff writer Lisa Burgess contributed to this report from the Pentagon.

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