ARLINGTON, Va. — About a dozen servicemembers are expected to go to Liberia this year to help train that country’s military, said Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant defense secretary for African affairs.

The troops, likely to come from U.S. European Command, will help the Liberians with “small-unit” training, as part of the U.S. government’s ongoing efforts since 2003 to help Liberia demobilize its old army and raise a new one of 2,000 troops, Whelan said in a Thursday interview with Stars and Stripes.

The mission is typical of what U.S. servicemembers can expect to perform once U.S. Africa Command becomes fully operational by 2008, she said.

“The model of the U.S. in a supporting role using a few people to support the Africans in addressing their security needs — which in turn, will help address ours — that’s essentially the model that we’re looking at,” she said.

On Feb. 6, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the creation of AFRICOM, which will ultimately be responsible for all of Africa except Egypt, which has existing military ties with U.S. Central Command.

Right now, most of the continent falls under EUCOM’s purview, with CENTCOM responsible for seven nations in northeast Africa and U.S. Pacific Command responsible for Madagascar and other islands off the continent’s east coast.

AFRICOM’s purpose is to make Africa the primary concern of one combatant command instead of a “secondary or tertiary” concern for three other commands, Whelan said.

Still some people have a misconception about AFRICOM as a “massive concentration” of U.S. troops on the African continent, she said.

“AFRICOM isn’t a force, I guess, is the main point,” she said. “Some people don’t quite understand that. They seem to think some kind of U.S. military division is going to roll across the Sahel (northern Africa) or something.”

The overall U.S. troop presence on the African continent, now about 1,800, is not expected to change much once AFRICOM becomes fully operational, Whelan said.

“We will have small training teams, just like we do now right now in the Sahel,” Whelan said. “We still have our troops at Camp Lemonier (Djibouti). We still have the U.S. Navy making ship visits and port calls up and down the coasts and U.S. Navy personnel conducting training missions.”

The command’s goal will also be to help Africans improve their own security, Whelan said.

“It’s not the United States doing it for everybody, it’s the United States being there with them and being supportive,” she said.

As such, missions U.S. troops can expect to perform in Africa include helping train African forces to conduct peacekeeping operations and secure their border, Whelan said.

The command also plans to re-focus efforts to help African navies and coastal forces cut down on illegal fishing, especially in the Gulf of Guinea and southwest Indian Ocean, she said.

As for responding to crises that arise on the African continent, any missions that AFRICOM would undertake would be part of the overall response from the U.S. government, Whelan said.

“It won’t just be an AFRICOM decision about what it would do or would not do in a particular crisis,” she said. “It would be a broader U.S. policy decision and AFRICOM would be a component of the overall response, if it was determined that a crisis required some kind of military response.”

Asked how AFRICOM would deal with the volatile Horn of Africa, where Islamic insurgents are fighting government forces and African peacekeepers in Somalia, Whelan reiterated that AFRICOM would be part of overall U.S. policy, not a policy-maker in its own right.

“AFRICOM will not be responsible for solving the problems of the Horn of Africa,” she said.

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