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News :: International
U.S. mounts charm offensive for new Africa Command
11 Sep 2007
LONDON (Reuters) - The launch of a new U.S. military command for Africa is aimed at helping the continent to boost its own security and not at projecting American power or countering Chinese influence, a U.S. official said on Monday.
Mon Sep 10, 2007 3:14 PM ET

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, rejected what he called a series of "myths" surrounding October's launch, also including the idea that it was linked to growing U.S. appetite for West African oil exports.

"The command is focused on African solutions that are led by Africans. ... We do not see this command getting involved in operations. There will be no new troops assigned to Africa as a result of this and there will be no new bases associated with it," Henry told reporters in London.

"We think the solutions to Africa's security problems need to be indigenously developed in Africa. Some outsiders can help, but they can't do the heavy lifting."

The comments were part of a U.S. charm campaign to counter critics' charges that its strategy in Africa is driven by greed, imperialism or competition with China, which has mounted its own strong diplomatic and economic offensive on the continent.

Responsibility for Africa, until now split between three U.S. regional military commands, will be transferred on October 1 to the new Africa Command (AFRICOM). Its head, General William Ward, will eventually be based on the continent and detailed talks are expected in coming months to decide where, Henry said.

The United States currently has around 1,500 troops based in Djibouti in east Africa, and provides training and support to nine north and west African countries through its Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership.

Henry said the evolution of the militant Islamist threat in Africa would depend partly on the pressure the United States was able to bring on al Qaeda elsewhere.

"Al Qaeda has a tendency to 'squirt'. You close in on them, get your hands around them and different parts squirt out to different areas, and where it squirts is into ungoverned territories," he said.

He cited Somalia, where Islamists routed earlier this year are waging an insurgency against a weak interim government, as a "poster child for how bad things can get" when countries lack strong governance and security.

"It's a fully ungoverned area and so the (terrorist) threat always exists. And so it is an area of significant interest to us to make sure that it does not get worse and no formalized training camps start to develop there," Henry said.

He said "our concern continues to be heightened" about al Qaeda's north African arm, which claimed responsibility for two suicide attacks in Algeria last week that killed at least 57 people.

Despite the emphasis on developing indigenous African security, Henry did not rule out the possibility that Washington would intervene with its own forces if it had intelligence pinpointing a top al Qaeda figure in an African country.

"It would depend on a myriad of circumstances. If we thought that someone was going to unleash an attack somewhere in the world that was on the scale of 9/11 or greater, we're obviously going to do something about it," he said.

But "it's obviously best to work with the host country", Henry added.

This work is in the public domain
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