STUTTGART, Germany — After a review of numerous potential locations for the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command headquarters, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has elected to keep the new command in Stuttgart, at least for now, Pentagon officials said.

"Secretary of Defense Gates decided to delay a decision on the permanent location of U.S. Africa Command headquarters until early 2012," said Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Hibner.

Until then, AFRICOM’s headquarters will remain in Stuttgart, Hibner wrote Friday in an e-mailed response to questions.

"The decision has been delayed until U.S. Africa Command has more experience in working with partner nation militaries and thus a better understanding of its long-term operational requirements," Hibner wrote.

Officials stopped short of saying that AFRICOM would be at Stuttgart’s Kelley Barracks on a permanent basis.

"We certainly looked at a number of alternatives," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a news release. "But at the end of the day, it was determined that for now, and into the foreseeable future, the best location was for it to remain in its current headquarters."

In Stuttgart, AFRICOM officials said the focus now is on building up the new command.

Though it was officially activated on Oct. 1, there has been a steady stream of speculation worldwide about where AFRICOM would eventually set up its headquarters. Supposed potential sites have ranged from Charleston, S.C., to Morocco, to other locations in Europe such at Rota, Spain.

"It’s become a phenomenon that the discussion of AFRICOM always hinges on where it’s going. Where we’re going is here (Stuttgart). What’s important for us is to build the command," said Vince Crawley, AFRICOM spokesman. "Looking for office space stateside is something that is well-intended, but something way down the road."

Whether the Pentagon’s latest statement on AFRICOM will quell the speculation remains to be seen. For instance, despite repeated statements that the initial plan to place AFRICOM headquarters in Africa was shelved, reports routinely crop up asserting otherwise. The most recent case occurred a couple weeks ago with Moroccan media outlets reporting that a deal was struck for AFRICOM to locate its headquarters in the port city of Tantan. The story was quickly refuted by AFRICOM.

This week, government officials from South Carolina and Georgia went public with their hopes of winning AFRICOM, declaring that bases in their states were front-runners in the search for a host.

The Pentagon did not respond to a Stars and Stripes inquiry about whether those locations were among the "numerous alternatives" being considered.

In the news release, Whitman said keeping the new command in Stuttgart will allow it to gain greater operational experience and foster relationships with both African and European partners.

The same release also noted that locating a command headquarters outside its area of operations is not unprecedented. U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East, has its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and the headquarters for U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Central and South America, is in Miami.

Chris Jackson, a spokesman for one of the Georgia politicians leading the push for AFRICOM, said they were not expecting the command to be relocated in the immediate future and that such a move would be a few years down the road.

"We know they’re investing in Stuttgart. Our deal is that we want to make sure as they (the Pentagon) are looking — and there’s no question they’re looking at spots — that they know what a great spot we have here," said Jackson. "But I think they said this is getting a little too much attention for now.

"But we’re not looking at it any differently. We also want what’s best for the country and the command."

The hope, Jackson said, is that what’s best is eventually determined to be Georgia.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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