By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 15, 2008 - U.S. Africa Command works in partnership with African nations to help make the continent more secure against terrorism and criminal enterprises and to promote prosperity, a senior defense official said at a Capitol Hill hearing here today. "Stability and prosperity in Africa are important to the long-term interests of the United States, because a secure and stable, healthy, and more prosperous Africa will contribute to global security and a stronger world economy," Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said during testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
AfriCom was stood up on Oct. 1, 2007, and its headquarters is in Stuttgart, Germany. It will be responsible for all U.S. military activity in Africa, with the exception of Egypt, which falls under U.S. Central Command. AfriCom is slated to become an independent unified command Oct. 1.
Many security challenges that exist in present-day Africa, such as terrorism and international criminal activity, are multinational and transnational in nature, Whelan pointed out. As a result, African governments increasingly are turning to collective security arrangements to meet the specters of terrorism and transnational crime, as well as the societal challenges presented by HIV/AIDS, other deadly diseases, and famine, she said.
Any U.S. engagement with Africa needs to be coordinated with African institutions established at the regional level in addition to traditional bilateral defense and military relationships, she said.
Whelan said the establishment of AfriCom "represents an opportunity to strengthen and expand U.S. and African security relationships in such a way that our combined efforts can help generate more indigenous and therefore more sustainable peace and stability on the continent."
AfriCom's creation also reflects Defense Department efforts to innovate and become more flexible in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Whelan said, as well as concerns that transnational terrorists may attempt to establish safe havens in Africa's more remote and under-governed regions.
Terrorist activity in Africa predates the 9/11 attacks, Whelan pointed out. On Aug. 7, 1998, terrorists committed nearly simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.
Through AfriCom, the Defense Department seeks to establish partnerships with African nations and institutions to nip nascent terrorism in the bud, before it can take root, Whelan said.
AfriCom's military engagement on the African continent "will remain primarily focused on building security partnership capacities, conducting theater security cooperation, building important counterterrorism skills, and, as appropriate, supporting U.S. government agencies in implementing other programs to promote regional stability," Whelan said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, she said, is among the organizations that will work closely with AfriCom and its regional African partners.
It is expected that AfriCom will enable DoD civilian and military leaders "to take a more holistic and operationally efficient approach to the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead as Africa's multilateral institutions, such as the African Union and the regional economic communities, figure more prominently in African security affairs," Whelan said.
AfriCom is an innovative command that will focus on building African regional security and crisis-response capacity, she said. The command also "will promote greater security ties between the United States and Africa," while "providing new opportunities to enhance our bilateral military relationships and strengthen the capacities of Africa's regional and sub-regional organizations," she added.
Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, AfriCom's deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, who also testified at the hearing, echoed Whelan's sentiments about AfriCom. Yates is a senior State Department foreign-service officer who has served as ambassador to Ghana and Burundi.
AfriCom is "a listening, growing and developing organization dedicated to partnering with African governments, African security organizations, and the international community to achieve the U.S. security goals by helping the people of Africa achieve the goals that they have set for themselves," Yates said at the hearing.
President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced the creation of U.S. Africa Command on Feb. 6, 2007. The decision was the result of a 10-year evaluation that acknowledged the emerging strategic importance of Africa, and recognizing that peace and stability on the continent affects not only Africans, but also the interests of the United States and the international community.