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General News of Tuesday, 24 April 2007

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US Military Base in Africa: Will It Be In Ghana?

Ghana is on the shortlist of countries being considered by the United States for the location of the headquaters for the still-forming Africa Command to oversee US military activities on the continent.

A top US Defense Department official said on Monday that the US will make the location of the command public within six months.

"Our thinking is still evolving," said Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry, adding that a decision was expected "prior to the beginning of October" and the Pentagon would like to see the Africa command fully operational by September 2008.

"The only major decision that's been made is that the commander of AFRICOM will be stationed ... specifically ... on the continent," he said following in-depth talks earlier this month with African leaders on the strategic site of the command center.

"We have to be very sensitive to where we put the headquarters and what the headquarters look like," said Henry, stressing that its "principal mission will be in the area of security cooperation and building partnership capability. It will not be in warfighting."

The US Defense Department said the command will focus more on developing security cooperation and partnerships with African nations rather than establishing a war-fighting capability on the continent.

Creation of the new command comes amid stepped-up US military activities in the region, much of it aimed at denying new havens for militant Islamic groups aligned with Al-Qaeda.

Africa "is emerging on the world scene as a strategic player and we need to deal with it as a continent," said Henry, who just returned from an April 15-21 trip to Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal for talks for opening the regional command.

Henry cautioned that the headquarters may not be located in one of those six countries since the United States was still in "fact-gathering mode," and said much of the talks during his tour centred on clearing up "a number of misunderstandings."

Among them, the establishment of AFRICOM "did not mean that there would be additional US forces put on the continent," nor did it mean "a dramatic increase in resources to the African continent from the Department of Defense or from the US government."

He also denied various allegations about US government's intent in setting up AFRICOM.

"AFRICOM was not being stood up in response to a Chinese presence on the continent, it was not being stood up solely for the effort of enhanced counterterrorism, and it was not being stood up in order to secure resources, of particular sensitivity to the oil resources."

President George W. Bush decided in February to create an African regional command but did not say where.

The Pentagon's coverage of Africa is currently divided into three regional commands. Central Command (CENTCOM), based in Tampa, Florida, is in charge of US military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan as well as Egypt, Sudan and the Horn of Africa.

The European Command (EUCOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany, is responsible for the rest of Africa. Pacific Command (PACOM), based in Hawaii, is responsible for the island of Madagascar.

The US military has for four years maintained a base in the Horn of Africa's Djibouti, which is bordered by Ethiopia and Somalia and is where 1,700 US soldiers are deployed.