November 8, 2007 (ADDIS ABABA) — Formation by the United States of a unified military command for Africa is not a move to push more troops onto the continent and impose American policy, the unit’s commander said on Thursday.
Visiting African Union (AU) headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward sought to allay fears raised by some on the continent that the United States is planning to throw its military might around Africa.
"Africa Command is not meant to militarize U.S. foreign policy," Ward told reporters. "Our policy is to assist African countries to build their security capacity and have a secured environment."
Some African nations have worried that the new U.S. command, created by President George W. Bush in February, will mean a greater presence of troops on the ground and make their countries the target of al Qaeda and other U.S. enemies.
"Africa Command is not here to build garrisons and military bases," Ward said.
He described his discussion with AU chairman Alpha Oumar Konare and other officials as positive: "No one expressed that they do not want the command to be operational in the continent."
The Pentagon says its vision for the command is to merge a military component into diplomatic and aid efforts across the continent, parts of which Washington views as fertile ground for al Qaeda and other militant groups.
"Our goal is to ... assist in addressing regional challenges in medical activities, disaster preparedness, communication and capacity-building operations of African forces," Ward said.
The United States already has about 1,800 troops at a counter-terrorism task force base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.
Its soldiers train local militaries and carry out civilian welfare projects, such as building schools and drilling wells, designed to win local support in poor areas where militants might operate.
Analysts believe that the Africa Command has been designed to ensure resource flows — especially oil — and advance counter-terrorism efforts.
One major issue is where the command will build its headquarters, but Ward said that had not been decided yet.
Speculation has been rife that Ethiopia, one of Washington’s strongest military allies in Africa, is front-runner to house the command’s headquarters.