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U.S. Africa Command: A New Way of Thinking

March 13, 2008

Recent national security reviews have highlighted an emerging trend affecting U.S. vital interests: the importance of the African continent to America’s security. In response to this growing strategic challenge, the President and the Secretary of Defense have announced their intention to create a new unified combatant command for Africa. This new regional command will differ greatly from other regional combatant commands in its interagency approach and the unique, complex challenges facing the U.S. Army in the region.

On 6 February 2007, the White House announced a presidential directive to create a new unified combatant command in Africa. The project was detailed in greater length on 9 February 2007 by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) commenced official operations on 1 October 2007 and will remain a sub-unified command under U.S. European Command (EUCOM) until October 2008.

The establishment of AFRICOM marks a realignment of the Pentagon’s regional command structure on the African continent and is, in large part, a response to Africa’s growing strategic importance to U.S. national security interests. The post-9/11 environment and prioritization of counterterrorism for U.S. national security, in addition to the traditional security issues on the continent—humanitarian crises, ethnic conflict and health epidemics—have raised Africa’s geopolitical profile.

The establishment of AFRICOM provides the United States an opportunity to rearrange its current military orientation on the continent, address traditional and developing issues for U.S. security in Africa, and provide security and development assistance for 53 African countries.1 During the transitional phase, AFRICOM will gradually receive oversight of U.S. military programs and activities conducted with African nations.