AFRICOM halts HQ plan; will phase in staff
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. Africa Command has shelved plans to build a new headquarters on the African continent in favor of placing staff there as needs arise.
The new command already uses 13 Offices of Defense Cooperation at U.S. embassies in African capitals. It plans to open 11 more over the next four years.
The offices are typically staffed by two to four people who act as liaisons between U.S. and host-nation militaries. The offices’ names will be changed to Offices of Security Cooperation.
The command will also take over the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, a 2,000-person base in Djibouti on Africa’s east coast.
AFRICOM had planned to select a site on the continent for a headquarters by Oct. 1, when it is to assume control of ongoing U.S. military missions there. The command last summer also favored building about six regional offices throughout the vast, 53-nation continent.
But public and private push-back from Africans led the command to back off from its original plan and instead focus on organizing and building its 1,300-person command in Stuttgart.
“The African nations have told us, ‘Go slow, take your time, go ahead and do your work, provide value (to us) the way that you said, and it will work itself out,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, AFRICOM’s chief of staff. “And we’re taking their advice. It’s their nations that we’re talking about.
“When the time is right, we will establish a presence on the continent in a headquarters fashion more than what we are seeing today from our ODCs, [the base in Djibouti] and the embassies.”
Since 2006, the command has been planned as a way to bring U.S. military missions there under one organization.
Missions on the continent had previously been divided between three U.S. geographic commands — the Stuttgart-based European Command, Tampa, Fla.-based Central Command and Honolulu-based Pacific Command.
About 24 of the military’s 182 ongoing missions have so far been transferred to AFRICOM. Those were the easiest to transfer, Snodgrass said, since they already had people and money.
The remainder will be taken over when the new command is ready to do so, Snodgrass said. Most are military-to-military training efforts or humanitarian missions, such as supporting mass medical events or construction projects.
“All these things need to come our way with no interruption and no disruption (to the Africans),” said Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, the command’s deputy for military operations.
Moeller said a sole command overseeing missions could improve continuity of relationships with African forces and officials.
“Before, we would go do something and not return for a very long time,” he said. “We need to be engaged with them on a long-term basis.”
Moeller was speaking Wednesday at a business exposition in Stuttgart where contractors came to learn about the command and how to bid on the projects it will be doling out.
The command is headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart. Much of its personnel and duties are being inherited from the U.S. European Command, headquartered 10 miles to the east at Patch Barracks.
Since President Bush formally announced the command in February 2007, 550 of the 1,300 people authorized have been brought on board.
AFRICOM has a litany of issues it wants to tackle and efforts it wants to support, all of which it says can affect U.S. and international security.
Africa has huge expanses of ungoverned space, both on land and in the sky. Medical problems, food and water shortages, human rights problems and ineffective governments plague many areas.
Offshore, U.S. concerns include port security, illegal fishing, pollution and piracy. Also, the Gulf of Guinea is home to some promising oil reserves.
While AFRICOM is champing at the bit to get moving, it is also trying to bridle itself.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time, we’re going to listen to the Africans and take their advice,” Snodgrass said.
“At an appropriate time, we will be invited by countries to come to Africa to bring our presence, which then means (there) will be an increase in activity and an increase in effectiveness in our programs.”
Gen. William E. Ward, the AFRICOM commander, told the business expo that the command would move full speed ahead while minding the yellow and red flags it is sure to encounter.
The upcoming U.S. elections are “not going to make much of a difference” to the command’s activities, Ward said. He added that he had spoken in recent months with numerous Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress.
“It’s very clear to me that there is a national commitment to what we want to do,” he said.