US Africa Command headquarters to stay in Germany

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 5, 2013

STUTTGART, Germany — The headquarters of U.S. Africa Command will remain in Germany, The Pentagon said Tuesday, after a lengthy review that examined whether the command should remain at its headquarters in Stuttgart or be relocated to the United States.

“The decision to retain AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart was based on the operational needs of the commander (Gen. Carter Ham),” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, in a statement. “The Secretary, informed by the judgment of the AFRICOM commander and a study of locations, decided the current location serves the operational needs of AFRICOM better than a location in the continental United States.”

Congress was advised of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision on Jan. 30 .

The move comes as AFRICOM contends with a host of security challenges on the continent, including rising concerns about Islamic militants in Mali and across northern Africa. AFRICOM officials have long maintained that its current headquarters in Stuttgart is a good fit, putting the command in closer proximity to African partners than a position in the U.S.

“We had provided data and information to support OSD’s analysis, and have also noted that strategically and operationally AFRICOM’s current location in Stuttgart provides for effective command, control and coordination activities in our area of responsibility,” Ben Benson, an AFRICOM spokesman, said in an email on Monday.

Still, the headquarters of AFRICOM has been a source of controversy for some time. When the formation of the command was announced in 2007, speculation that it would set up in Africa touched off a wave of concern on the continent about the potential militarization of U.S. foreign policy in Africa. Those concerns occurred against the backdrop of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the U.S. was deeply engaged at the time.

Since then, AFRICOM commanders past and present have repeatedly stated that the command had no plans for moving to the continent. Nonetheless, the headquarters question has dogged U.S. officials during most encounters with local media in Africa.

Meanwhile, in the years since AFRICOM’s launch numerous U.S. lawmakers, ranging from states such as South Carolina and Florida to Virginia and Texas, have repeatedly called for AFRICOM to relocate its headquarters to the States. With the potential for jobs and a jolt to local economies, politicians and local economic development officials were busy jockeying for the change.

Military officials, however, have argued that the strategic advantages of being in Germany outweigh the added cost of being forward deployed. For his part, Ham has stated that a move stateside also would involve substantial startup costs at a time of budget constraints.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a town hall meeting in December with servicemembers and civilians at AFRICOM’s Kelley Barracks headquarters, also said he thinks the command should stay in Stuttgart.

AFRICOM, which became fully operational in 2008, was formed in response to the growing strategic importance of Africa, where a host of natural resources and security challenges abound. An offshoot of Stuttgart-based U.S. European Command, AFRICOM saw its profile rise after leading the initial effort to impose a no-fly zone in Libya in 2011.