STUTTGART, Germany – If Africa Command gets it right, it would help stabilize teetering nations, strengthen others’ abilities to fight terrorism, lessen the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and smooth the road for humanitarians.

But Africa is a big continent — three and a half times the size of the U.S. — and the military’s new command has only about 50 people working for it, housed inside one bare-boned, three-story building.

So there’s a lot of work to do to organize it, staff it and bring it online, according to Rear Adm. Robert T. Moeller, executive director of the AFRICOM Transition Team.

The command eventually will coordinate all the U.S. military’s activities on the continent. Initial capability is scheduled for October, full capability for October 2008.

“We obviously have an upper limit on the total number of folks who are available,” Moeller said. “We’ve got a lot of things going on.

“Can we resource this? Yes. But the reality is, no one is just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.”

In the coming months, AFRICOM has to fine-tune its mission and essentially create itself. To put it another way, the staff has to build its own boat, then set sail in it.

The work performed in Washington last fall wasn’t to see if the command was feasible; AFRICOM was going to happen.

“We didn’t need to necessarily prove that this was a worthwhile endeavor,” Moeller said. “What we needed to do was demonstrate what it would take.

“Given the strategic, the economic and growing military importance of all things across the continent, the time was right for Defense to do this.”

AFRICOM, located at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, is going to grow steadily in people and resources, even though it might be located at Kelley for just a few years. The military hopes to establish a permanent headquarters on the African continent.

Moeller declined to say if the military had specific sites in mind. He said the U.S. would need to be invited by a nation to establish a headquarters there.

“We haven’t approached it from the standpoint of looking at specific countries,” Moeller said. “Right now, the work we’re focused on is the criteria we need to consider and use to evaluate potential offers to bring a headquarters to a particular country.”

Criteria, he said, is being developed. It could include force-protection qualities as well as existing infrastructure such as buildings, transportation assets and utilities.

The military has stressed that much of the command’s activities will be non-militaristic. In recent years, for example, U.S. troops have increasingly been performing medical, dental and other humanitarian efforts in Africa, in addition to working one-on-one with African troops to sharpen their military skills.

Three separate U.S. combatant commands — European, Central and Pacific — currently share military duties on the continent.

AFRICOM strives to help prevent or lessen calamities such as wars, coups, famine and disease rather than react to them, Moeller said.

“[Consultation] is absolutely vital,” Moeller said, “and persistent consultations with our African partners and, quite frankly, other nations who have clear interests in what goes on in Africa.”

While the command is being touted as humanitarian in spirit, it would still need to coordinate war efforts on the continent should they arise.

Moeller said that it has not been decided which combat forces would be available to AFRICOM, or where they would be based, other than they would not be based in Africa.

“We can’t divest ourselves of all the other responsibilities that any other geographic command has,” Moeller said

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