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WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he supports the idea of a separate combat command for Africa, and expects to receive a recommendation from top military officials on the issue in the next few weeks.

The comments came in response to a question at a town hall meeting with Pentagon employees on Friday. Rumsfeld said he has been discussing the idea behind the scenes for the last six months, and sees merits in giving the extra attention to Africa because of its strategic importance.

Under the current Unified Command Plan, most of Africa currently falls under U.S. European Command. Countries along the Horn of Africa fall under the responsibility of U.S. Central Command, while the islands off the continent’s east coast fall under U.S. Pacific Command.

Rumsfeld said European Commander Gen. James Jones is heading up work on the issue. Jones discussed the topic with Pentagon reporters on Sept. 7, noting that he was in favor of the idea, but declined to give details on how it would be structured.

Gen. Pete Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said officials are discussing three options: leaving military planning in Africa under the current system; setting up a new free-standing command; or establishing a sub-unified command, similar to the arrangement currently in South Korea.

The advantage of the last option, he said, would be to provide the first in a “two-step process” in establishing a free-standing command for the continent. No details about where the command might be headquartered or who would take on that role have been released.

Pace said the statements of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have underscored the importance of the continent in the future.

“They want to re-establish a caliphate in all of Africa and across Asia,” he said. “We need to arrange ourselves in a way to address that challenge.

“An Africa command, in my opinion, is the right way to address part of that problem.”

The U.S. military has a 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.

Reporters Jeff Schogol and Lisa Burgess contributed to this report.

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