US pulls back over Africom HQ issue

Jan 30, 2008
Author: P&S

The message was never quite as blunt as the South American’s used to put it… ‘Yankee go home’ but it remained just as clear - the United States is not welcome to set up AFRICOM’s military base and headquarters in Africa.

This has been the firm attitude of a number of African leaders, including Presidents Mbeki of South Africa and Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria – representing the sub-continent’s two ‘powerhouses.’

For the present Africom remains based in Stuttgart, Germany but when President George W Bush announced last February that the United States would create a new, unified combatant command for Africa (Africom) to oversee security, enhance strategic cooperation, build partnerships, support nonmilitary missions, and conduct military operations as necessary, the thinking was that its headquarters would of necessity move to an African location.

The rationale behind the US drive for a separate US African Command was felt in some quarters to be long overdue. It was said that Africa was no longer a region that could be ignored by the US. The National Security Strategy clarified the need to expand and safeguard America’s access to energy resources, and to prevent the spread of terrorism in weak or ‘problem’ states.

African states responded with a willingness to cooperate with the United States towards several of these objectives and two US warships are currently deployed to the West African region for a lengthy period, where they are showing the flag and have been generally warmly welcomed. Several naval exercises have taken place in East, South and West Africa involving other warships, but the message from most African states still remains clear and unambiguous. There must be no American military base anywhere in Africa. President Yar’Adua went so far as to say that the US military would not be allowed to establish a base anywhere in the West African region, despite having no mandate to speak for the remainder of West African states.

He later qualified his statement saying he had asked the US to assist Africa in establishing its own version of an African High Command, which would be managed by itself without allowing the US to set up a base in Nigeria.

South Africa’s attitude was set out by Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota who said Africom would not be welcome in Southern Africa, a viewpoint that did not receive total support from other countries in the southern African (SADC) sub-region.

Faced with what was perhaps an unexpected response, it now appears the US is taking a step back. Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, Africom’s deputy commander indicated in the past week that the US military command for Africa is turning away from setting up an African headquarters and will instead emphasise the value that Africom can bring to Africa.

Moeller confirmed that for the foreseeable future Africom would continue to be based in Europe. “From here we can do all the activities that we need to do with our African partners,” he said.

Referring to the idea of an African base he said. "If it's in the desire and the interests of our African partners in that regard then we'll look for an opportunity to do that where it makes sense to do so, but only obviously where we're invited."

The US has also gone to some length to stress it is not looking to base additional US troops in Africa apart from 1200 currently at Djibouti. Instead it said the focus of Africom would be on assisting African countries with counter-terrorism training and with providing humanitarian assistance. President Bush described it as “promoting peace, security and our common goals of development, health, education, democracy and economic growth in Africa.”

Sceptics on the other hand see things differently, pointing out the growing reliance of the US on African oil supplies. They remain convinced that the US intended from the beginning to situate Africom’s headquarters in the region of the Gulf of Guinea where the oil lies thickest.

Admiral Moeller dismisses this, saying there’s a lot of misconception out there but he acknowledges that Africom had much work to do on its strategic communications.

Africa Partnership ship visits Togo

In a matter related closely to Africom, High Speed Vessel (HSV) 2 SWIFT has arrived in Lome, Togo making this the first US Navy warship to visit the country in 15 years.

While in Togo the crew will meet their counterparts on several levels by participating in a community relations project at a local school, visiting an orphanage and hosting receptions with the Togolese Navy.

The commanding officer of Swift said that his ship was unique and different from any other that he had served on and was able to get into ports that other ships can’t. “I just think the opportunity to visit a country like Togo is extremely unique," Cmdr. Charles W. Rock said in an interview with the Africa Partnership Station news service.

Referring to the mission Rock said that while this is the first time Swift has operated in the Gulf of Guinea, the mission of maritime partnership to foster safety and security while bringing humanitarian aid to the region is one the crew was already experienced in.

"Swift participated in something similar in the last eight months called global fleet station and that was conducted in the US Southern Command area of operations, specifically the Caribbean and Central America," Rock said. "We did a similar type of mission, but the cultures are different and the people are different, so the outcome of the vision of what we're trying to achieve is frankly a bit different. Although, we have a lot of experience doing this type of theatre security cooperation work, this is a different spin."



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