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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department will not be in charge of all aid efforts in Africa once U.S. Africa Command is up and running, a top Pentagon official reassured lawmakers on Thursday.

Expected to be fully operational by December 2008, AFRICOM will be tasked with carrying out U.S. government programs to provide military and humanitarian assistance to all countries on the continent except Egypt, which will remain under the purview of U.S. Central Command.

Unlike other commands, it is expected to be staffed by a mix of military, Defense and State Department officials as well as representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development and possibly liaisons from nongovernmental organizations.

During a congressional hearing Thursday, U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., told government officials involved with AFRICOM that it appeared the new command would lead to “a militarization of foreign assistance” to Africa.

Payne said African officials have told him they are skeptical of the notion of AFRICOM, saying they believe USAID will fall under the Defense Department, meaning aid workers will have to be saluted.

But fears that AFRICOM will become the U.S. government’s lead liaison with Africa are unfounded, said Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant Defense secretary for African Affairs.

“AFRICOM will support, not shape, U.S. foreign policy on the continent,” Whelan said.

The Defense Department has no plans to take over missions now being conducted by the other government agencies, she said.

“We intend to stay in our lane; however, we hope to do so in a more coordinated fashion,” Whelan said.

The creation of a single combatant command for Africa will allow the Defense Department to work better with the State Department, Whelan said.

“The intent is not for DOD generally, or for AFRICOM at the operational level, to assume the lead in areas where State and/or USAID have clear lines of authority as well as the comparative advantages to lead,” she said.

On Feb. 6, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the creation of AFRICOM. It is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, but officials hope it eventually will have a headquarters on the continent.

Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward has been nominated to be AFRICOM’s first commander. He must be confirmed by the Senate.

Ward is deputy commander at U.S. European Command and the only black four-star general in the Army.

Officials have said the new command will not bring more U.S. troops or U.S. military bases to the continent.

Ryan Henry, undersecretary of Defense for policy, told reporters in April not to expect an increase in “security cooperation activities” in Africa as long as the U.S. military is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There might be a marginally increased opportunity to be doing activities cooperatively in that region, but I don’t see a significant change for the average soldier, sailor or airman,” Henry said.

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