By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2013 – Five years after it was stood up as the newest of six U.S. geographic combatant commands, U.S. Africa Command has improved the quality of military-to-military engagements across the continent and has helped regional partners increase their capacity to provide their own security, the Africom commander said.
“Africom was established five years ago to improve the coordination [and] effectiveness of U.S. military activities in Africa on the premise that a safe and secure Africa was in the best interest of Africans, Americans and the broader international community,” Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez told reporters last week during an online news conference.
The command, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, brings a dedicated focus to the African continent, where U.S. military involvement previously was shared among three combatant commands.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who joined Rodriguez during the news conference, said Africom has gone a long way in elevating U.S. interests in the region.
“The American military was working with partners in Africa before Africom. We have always had an interest in Africa,” she said. “What is new with Africom over the past five years is that we’re more engaged. It’s more direct, it’s more coordinated, it’s more strategic than it’s been in the past.”
African military leaders who have worked with Africom share that sentiment, Thomas-Greenfield said. “They would also agree that this has been a positive advancement in our relationship,” she added.
Rodriguez credited Africom’s progress in helping partners set the conditions for an enduring stability to an approach that leverages the capabilities of U.S. government agencies, international partnerships and nongovernmental organizations.
“Our strategy is to develop partner-security capacities, strengthen relationships and enhance regional cooperation,” he said. “We conduct all of our activities in close coordination with our African partners and our partners in the U.S. government.
“Every team has a leader. And in countries where we operate, that leader is the U.S. ambassador,” he said.
Rodriguez acknowledged skepticism by some about the command and its mission, but said its actions since its inception send a clear message.
“Africa Command has always been focused on trying to figure out how to best support the African nations and the African partners and strengthen their defense capabilities so that the African solutions are the way of the future,” he said. “I think the track record over the last five years has been that Africom has helped to support the defense institutions [and improve their capacity] … so that African solutions are the way of the future all around.”
Rodriguez dismissed speculation that budget cuts could cause Africom to return to its previous status as a subcommand of U.S. European Command. At least for now, the United States intends to keep the two commands separate, he said, maintaining a headquarters focused specifically on Africa and on improving the effectiveness of U.S. military support there to the State Department and region.
“We’ll just see how that goes in the future,” Rodriguez said. “But right now, there are no plans to consolidate.”