Today’s news:

u.S. Africa command reports for duty

A new U.S. unified command that seeks to meld civilian expertise with military planning and logistics raised its flag during a Pentagon ceremony today.

Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward unfurled the colors and told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen that “U.S. Africa Command reports for duty!”

The focus of American foreign policy in Africa is defense, diplomacy and development, Gates said during the ceremony.

“On the defense side, AfriCom’s mission is not to wage war, but to prevent it - not to show United States military presence, but to enhance the security forces of our partners,” Gates said.

The command will build lasting ties with African nations, the secretary said. “All of this contributes to our overall goal as a nation: to be a trusted, reliable partner for the nations of Africa,” he added.

President Bush announced in February 2007 that the U.S. military would form the command as part of an overall change in the DoD footprint.

“Beyond moving and realigning troops and bases, we have also been reconsidering, on a more general level, the nature of the kinds of threats to our nation ... and those threats we might face in the future,” Gates said.

Crime, terrorism, natural disasters, economic turmoil, ethnic fissures and disease can be just as destabilizing on the African continent as traditional military threats, Gates noted. “It makes sense to fuse old understandings of security with new concepts of security, and how security, stability and development go hand-in-hand,” he said.

One sign that AfriCom is a different paradigm is that one of its deputy commanders is Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates. The U.S. Agency for International Development also has provided personnel for the new command, as has the departments of Commerce and Homeland Security and other federal agencies.

The command will focus on supporting military professionalism and military capacity, said USAID Administrator Henrietta H. Fore, who also spoke at the ceremony. Fore also represented the State Department for the unfurling.

Helping African nations build security will enhance their development prospects, Fore said.

“We welcome AfriCom’s integrated and innovative command structure,” she said. “The State Department will ensure that AfriCom’s activities are coordinated by our ambassadors. Such coordination will make sure our foreign policy priorities are met and are complementary among all United States programs and activities, and [that] their effectiveness is maximized.

She said the State Department and USAID recognize security is fundamental to the success of their missions on the continent. “The link between security and development is clear throughout sub-Saharan Africa,” she said.

The chairman called the stand-up an exciting day for the department, and he thanked all those who worked so hard to make the command a reality. He said the command “is different than what we’ve done in the past, and [it will] allow us to engage in a part of the world that is critical to the United States and the world.”

While the command will face challenges, it also has opportunities, and the men and women of the command - with their African partners - will meet them head-on, the chairman said. The command personnel are excited “about making a difference and in the newness of the construct, and in the ability to engage in a place where heretofore we have not been able to dedicate the resources and the people to do so. It is in that dedication and focus and engagement that will make so much difference,” Mullen said.

For his part, Ward emphasized that his new command will not hijack American foreign policy on the continent. AfriCom will take its foreign policy marching orders from the State Department and in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, he said, and it will conduct sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities and other military operations as directed. The goal is to promote a stable and more secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy, Ward said.

“Our first priority is the delivery and sustainment of effective security cooperation programs on the African continent and its island nations,” he said. “We will work to build partner security capacity. Within our means, we will endeavor to provide value added to existing programs while establishing new programs based on what African nations and African organizations ask us to do as they seek to provide for their own security.”

When all is said and done, Ward said, the command will exemplify new civilian-military and U.S.-African partnerships that seek to prevent wars and foster peace.

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