New Commander Speaks of Military's Newest Combatant Command
Army Capt. Laura Porter prescribes medication for children during a medical capabilities exercise Sept. 3, in Senkoro, Mali.

WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Oct. 5, 2007) - Members of the new U.S. Africa Command are going to listen to the people of the continent and help them realize their plans, the first commander of the organization said here Oct. 3.

In a news conference at the State Department's Foreign Press Center, Army Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward said he was honored to be selected and confirmed as AFRICOM's first commander.

"I think this is a good time for the establishment of the command," he said. "I think the economic, political and social importance of the African continent in global affairs continues to grow."

The command is based in Stuttgart, Germany, for now but will move to Africa in the future. Africa has enormous historic, cultural and geostrategic significance to the United States, and the establishment of the command reinforces the U.S. commitment to the continent, Gen. Ward said.

Responsibility for operations on the African continent was divided among three combatant commands: U.S. European Command, which had responsibility for most of the nations in the African mainland except in the Horn of Africa; U.S. Central Command, which had responsibility for Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya; and U.S. Pacific Command, which had responsibility for Madagascar, the Seychelles and the Indian Ocean area off the African coast.

Egypt and Yemen will remain as part of U.S. Central Command.

Gen. Ward served as the deputy commander of U.S. European Command. "I traveled extensively in Africa," he said at the press center. "One of my observations is our assistance to existing and emerging African security institutions is most effective when it offers African solutions to African challenges."

He said the command will be committed to helping African nations and regional African organizations, like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, develop and maintain security, allowing effective development.

The command will work with nations of the continent to develop exercises, humanitarian programs, training events and support to peacekeepers.

Africa Command offers a chance to "harmonize U.S. government efforts in the region especially with (the Department of) State and the Agency for International Development and other agencies," Gen. Ward said.

He said the U.S. State Department will lead policy development for the command. Officials at the command will rely heavily on the expertise of USAID workers and employees of other government agencies -- such as the departments of Treasury, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Justice -- as they plan for the future.

"We at AFRICOM recognize the leading role these U.S. agencies play for policy, diplomacy and development and will draw on their expertise as well as non-governmental, private companies and international organizations," he said.

Gen. Ward said he has three main priorities. First, like doctors, the command will endeavor to "do no harm." He said the command is not on the continent to disrupt or confuse efforts in Africa. "Our intent is to make (the transition) as seamless as possible from three existing commands to one unified command," he said.

Second, Gen. Ward said officials want to add value to ongoing efforts on the continent. The command will focus on helping African nations build security structures that work for Africans. These will include military, police, border guards and other services nations require to protect their citizens.

"Third, we believe AFRICOM will enable African solutions," he said.

The general said the command will continue to strive to build bilateral relationships and work to build multinational working groups. "We will take time to listen and collaborate with partners," he said, adding that the command will work with African nations to provide for their own security and export security across the continent.

However, there are some things that the command definitely will not be, Gen. Ward said. AFRICOM will not be a large command with large bases and large numbers of American troops. "The idea of a command with large bases and a lot of forces is just wrong," he said. "At some point in time, we will move the headquarters or pieces of the headquarters from Stuttgart to the continent."

There have been no negotiations on this yet, and whatever is done will be done deliberately and only after discussions with African allies, Gen. Ward said.

Gen. Ward stressed that the command is not just a Defense Department organization. Senior State Department officials will be included, and the deputy to the commander -- a three-star equivalent -- will be a senior Foreign Service officer. "As we develop as an organization, we will be trying something for the first time," Gen. Ward said. "It's an evolutionary construct, and when things aren't achieving the things we want to achieve, we will change it. The collective work of us all is for stability. That's what we need to move towards."

Page last updated Fri October 5th, 2007 at 09:34