ARLINGTON, Va. — President Bush has approved a plan for an Africa Command, defense officials said Friday.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen mentioned the move during a visit Thursday to Naples.

“The President, on the 15th of December, made the decision to stand it up,” Mullen told sailors. “There was a working group for about the last, the last several months, to look at all of the issues that are associated with that.”

The White House could not provide any information on the matter Friday.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department had nothing to announce on the Africa Command on Friday.

But a Pentagon official confirmed that President Bush had approved the concept of an Africa Command, and Defense officials now are working on changing the Unified Command Plan to make the new command a reality.

As it stands, the UCP has most of Africa falling under the purview of Germany-based U.S. European Command; the Horn of Africa under the responsibility of U.S. Central Command; and Madagascar and other African Islands off the continent’s east coast under U.S. Pacific Command.

There is no timeline for when the proposed change in the UCP creating an Africa Command would go to the president for his approval, the Pentagon official said.

Details, such as where the command would be headquartered and how many personnel would be assigned, still need to be worked out, the official said.

Still, Chester Crocker, professor of strategic studies at Georgetown University, said just the act of creating an Africa Command, whatever its timetable or structure, is an important symbolic move.

“To pull all of that together is a positive thing,” he said. “Having Africa covered by three different commands, having that division of attention, that’s not a good plan if you want to have a coherent Africa strategy.”

Crocker was one of several experts who helped write the Council on Foreign Relations January 2005 report that called current American policy towards Africa “fragmented,” in part because foreign assistance and anti-terrorism programs are being handled by three different military commands.

“The Sahara is not a wall; jihadists will travel across it and spread their ideology,” Crocker said. “The upside of this is a unity of focus throughout Africa.”

Currently, about 1,800 U.S. servicemembers are stationed on the African continent as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which is tasked with preventing terrorists from gaining a foothold on the continent.

The task force recently air-dropped about 150 metric tons of relief supplies to flood-affected regions of Kenya. National Guardsmen from Guam are also training Ethiopian troops on border protection.

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

Other U.S. operations in Africa in recent years include a peacekeeping mission to Liberia that was led by the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force (Airborne).

The U.S. military once had a major air base near Tripoli, Libya, from after World War II to Moammar Gadhafi took power in 1969 and ordered all foreign countries out the following year. The U.S. vacated Wheelus Air Base in June 1970.

Stripes reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report.

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