ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Department officials are giving “increased consideration” to creating a combat command specifically for Africa, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

Time magazine first reported that the Defense Department was considering adding an “African Command” to the Unified Command Plan, which establishes each combatant commander’s mission and geographical boundaries.

“Pentagon sources say that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is close to approving plans for an African Command, which would establish a military organization to single-handedly deal with the entire continent of Africa,” according to the story on Time magazine’s Web site,

While Rumsfeld is considering creating a separate African Command as part of the department’s transformation process, he has yet to make a formal recommendation to President Bush, said Defense Department spokesman Eric Ruff.

Because the proposed African Command has yet to be approved, details of where the command would be headquartered or whether troops would be stationed there permanently have yet to be determined, but the bulk of troops making up the command could come from U.S. European Command, Ruff said.

Under the current Unified Command Plan, most of Africa falls under the purview of U.S. European Command, while the swath of nations along the Horn of Africa is the responsibility of U.S. Central Command. Pacific Command has responsibility for Madagascar and other African islands off the continent’s east coast.

So far, the Unified Command Plan has not been changed, said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, also a Defense Department spokesman.

The plan is reviewed every two years, Carpenter said.

He said that officials recognize the strategic importance Africa plays in the post-Sept. 11 world, given its natural resources and its impoverished populations that are susceptible to influence by extremists.

There are relatively few American troops stationed in Africa today, but servicemembers based in Europe and elsewhere make frequent visits to the continent.

U.S. Marines and soldiers recently took part in Exercise Natural Fire 2006, a 10-day multilateral exercise involving approximately 1,000 military personnel from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe units also regularly fly in to provide treatment during medical exercises. One is currently going on in Ghana. U.S. naval forces have spent time recently helping flood victims in Ethiopia. Special forces and special operations troops conduct training with selected militaries.

U.S. forces have been involved in other operations in recent years, including a peacekeeping force in Liberia that was led by the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force (Airborne).

The U.S. military has few semi-permanent facilities in Africa. The most prominent is Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, which is the headquarters for Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. In July, the U.S. acknowledged it had reached agreement with the host country to expand the camp to 500 acres and had signed a five-year lease. Other details weren’t released.

American bases have been located on the continent in the past. One of the largest was Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli in Libya. The U.S. first started stationing bombers there after World War II and signed an agreement to move in in 1951.

The base, built by Italy in the 1920s, was used until 1970. Moammar Gadhafi seized power in 1969 and ordered foreign countries out. As many as 4,600 airmen were stationed there at one time, making it about the size that Aviano Air Base is today.

Stars and Stripes reporter Kent Harris contributed to this report.

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