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ARLINGTON, Va. — A new combatant command will focus solely on operations in Africa, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Gates said the new command would focus on security cooperation, building partnerships, supporting nonmilitary missions, and, “if directed, military operations on the African continent.”

Later in the day, the White House released a statement, saying the U.S. government would be “consulting with African leaders to seek their thoughts on how Africa Command can respond to security challenges and opportunities in Africa.”

Currently, most of Africa falls under U.S. European Command, while seven nations in northeast Africa fall under U.S. Central Command, and Madagascar and other African Islands off the continent’s east coast come under U.S. Pacific Command.

“The command will enable us to have a more effective and integrated approach than the current arrangement of dividing Africa between Central Command and European Command — an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War,” Gates said.

AFRICOM will be established no later than Sept. 30, 2008, and it will be responsible for the entire continent except Egypt, which will remain under the purview of CENTCOM to maintain existing military ties, a Pentagon official said.

Details of how the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa will transfer to AFRICOM have yet to be finalized, the official said.

AFRICOM will initially be headquartered at existing facilities at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, but the Defense Department hopes to eventually establish a headquarters for the command on the African continent, the official said.

Beyond the eventual headquarters and the existing U.S. facility Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the Defense Department has no plans for additional bases in Africa, the official said.

The new command will focus on preventing crises rather than warfighting, with troops specializing in missions such as construction and medical care going to the continent on a rotational basis, the official said.

To carry out missions in Africa, the U.S. government will rely on existing agreements with partner nations in Africa on how and where U.S. troops can enter their countries, the official said.

Navy Rear Adm. Robert Moeller will lead the transition team tasked with getting AFRICOM started, the official said.

Moeller has served as “Special Assistant” to the CENTCOM commander since July 2006, according to the Navy.

Prior to that, he served as director, strategy, plans and policy for CENTCOM from August 2005 to July 2006.

Since November, Moeller has also served as executive director of an “Implementation Planning Team” that looked into proposals on how the DOD could improve how it deals with Africa, such as creating a command focusing solely on the continent, the official said.

The team was created last summer after former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tasked the Defense Department with looking into how it could improve how it deals with Africa, the official said.

Then in the first week of December, Rumsfeld recommended to the president that a command dedicated to Africa be created, the official said.

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