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Washington (AFP) Oct 23, 2013
The Pentagon has no plans to scrap the US military's Africa Command despite growing pressures on the defense budget, the general who leads the headquarters said Wednesday.
As it prepares for another round of automatic budget cuts, the Defense Department is looking at cutting back spending on regional headquarters and senior positions, fueling speculation that Africa Command could be dissolved and its responsibilities taken over by other commands.
But General David Rodriguez, head of Africa Command, said "that is not part of the plan right now."
"We will continue to look at that in the future, but right now the United States believes that the focus of having a headquarters focused on Africa to improve the effectiveness of our military support to the State Department in the region is going to remain separate," he told reporters in a teleconference.
The four-star general added that "right now there are no plans to consolidate."
Africa Command or Africom, created in 2007, has overseen an expanding role for the American military across the continent, focusing on countering Islamist militants through training and arming partners in the region.
"We've always had an interest in Africa. What is new over the past five years is that we're more engaged, we're more direct, it's more coordinated, it's more strategic than it's been in the past," Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the same teleconference.
The command is based out of Stuttgart, Germany, after US officials ran into political controversy trying to find a location for its headquarters in Africa.
The command has operated with an annual budget of about $296 million in recent years, though that does not cover the cost of a major US base on the continent, Camp Lemonnier at Djibouti, which has been funded under war-related "overseas contingency operations."
Over the past decade, the US military has built up a logistical network across East Africa and beyond, securing access to key airfields and ports.
The Pentagon has tended to prefer a light footprint in Africa, gathering intelligence while relying on allies to take direct action against Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Somalia, Mali and elsewhere.
But earlier this month, the US military staged stealthy raids with commandos in Libya and Somalia. The raid in Tripoli captured a long-sought Al-Qaeda figure who had been on a wanted list for years, Abu Anas al-Libi, while US special operations forces in the Somali assault ran into heavy fire and did not succeed in seizing a targeted Shebab militant.
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