Africa Command to be Based in Germany

Noah Shachtman is somewhat surprised to learn that the U.S. military’s new unified Africa Command will not be based, as its name suggests, in Africa but rather in Stuttgart, Germany.

The U.S. military’s newest command, Africa Command, could have only a small minority of its people actually working on the continent. Theresa Whelan, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told a Washington- based think tank last week that 80 percent of the command’s staff would live outside of Africa. Whelan did not say where the majority of staff would be located, but the command, called AFRICOM, is currently forming up in Stuttgart, Germany. The Defense Department has previously called Stuttgart a temporary headquarters for AFRICOM.

[…]

When asked for further information on where the command’s employees would be located, Vince Crawley, a spokesman with the AFRICOM Transition Team in Stuttgart, said the structure and eventual location of the command is being debated at different levels of the U.S. government. “There’s a lot of discussion,” Crawley said. “You could keep your (80 percent) rear area in Stuttgart, you could move it to somewhere else in Europe, you could move it to somewhere else in the United States, or to some other area that hasn’t even been discussed yet. The decision is on the table that 20 percent would be in Africa, and where do you put the rest? And the 20 percent represents secretary Whelan’s best understanding of the thinking as of last week.”

The command is expected to employ 800 or more people, including active-duty servicemembers and civilians. The Defense Department has said that nonmilitary personnel, such as representatives from the State Department, would serve influential roles in the command. On the giant continent, the department is planning to establish a main office with five “regional integration teams,” one for each of the African Union’s five regional economic communities.

While rather amusing on its face, it should be recalled that the responsibilities that AFRICOM will assume are now and have for decades been performed by the European Command (EUCOM). Indeed, as the AFRICOM website notes,

In October 2007, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is slated to be structured as a sub-unified command to U.S. European Command. It is expected to be a fully unified command able to handle all responsibilities about a year later. AFRICOM will eventually have responsibility for the entire continent of Africa, except Egypt and the surrounding islands.

It certainly makes sense to have it based in Stuttgart, then, during the transitional period. Does it make sense to base it in Africa down the road? Possibly. But there are all manner of logistical concerns that come from this, including the issue of family members. Certainly, it’s a lot easier to provide proper accommodations for spouses and children in Western Europe.

Recall, too, that we’re currently fighting not one but two wars in the territory controlled by Central Command (CENTCOM). Its headquarters? Tampa, Florida.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Military Affairs,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    Recall, too, that we’re currently fighting not one but two wars in the territory controlled by Central Command (CENTCOM). Its headquarters? Tampa, Florida.

    At some point, of course, the argument becomes silly, unless one’s prepared to argue that FDR and George Marshall should’ve spent WW2 shuttling between Normandy and Midway.

    Still, the CENTCOM example is thought-provoking: would a command center actually based in the geocultural area it’s responsible for, perhaps have a better chance of avoiding some of the really dumb mistakes we’ve made?

  2. James Joyner says:

    would a command center actually based in the geocultural area it’s responsible for, perhaps have a better chance of avoiding some of the really dumb mistakes we’ve made?

    Certainly, you’d like to have a longterm, institutional relationship with the people. It’s worked out well for us in Europe, generally speaking. Perhaps less well in the case of Southern Command (HQ’d in Miami but with personnel constantly rotated to Latin American assignments, unique among the regional commands) but its still be useful at the operational level.

    The CENTCOM area of responsibility, like AFRICOM’s, is tricky, though. Not only are there severe logistical constraints with HQ’ing there but there’s so much cultural diversity in the regions under the labels “Africa” and “the Middle East” that it might be easy to get a false sense of expertise. Nigeria ain’t Zimbabwe which ain’t Sudan. Still, you’ve got to start somewhere.

  3. Anderson says:

    I suppose there might be problems with basing CENTCOM in Tel Aviv ….

  4. bob in fl says:

    Ah! Just what we need; another sub-bureaucracy in the DOD. It isn’t as if our military (ground forces, at least) isn’t already stretched to the limit. So we pull another tens of thousands off the line. Anyone ever hear of, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians”?

  5. Richard Gardner says:

    Even if there is a desire to have the HQ in Africa, where could it be located? What African country would want a permanent USA military presence and be seen as being closely aligned with the USA? And what African countries are stable enough for us to establish a base?

    The only place I can think of that we have troops is tiny Djibouti.

  6. new comer says:

    don’t forget the special ops in eastern ethiopia and the huge american complex being built in that country.

  7. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think Richard hit the question on the head. What country in Africa is far enough down the democracy road to be a stable allies 50 years hence? There are no guarantees, but I have a hard time pointing to a stable country 5 years hence.

    Then think about the infrastructure, family housing, etc. Stuttgard has the advantage of being in the same time zone (CENTCOM doesn’t even get this advantage).

  8. mannning says:

    It is bad enough to be posted to a hardship assignment without family, normal support, and with the danger of being killed in the next uprising.

    The Army is being sensitive to the majority of its assignees, and basically relegating most of Africa to a hardship posting. If you have ever been there, you would agree with this decision.

    Let them stay in Stuttgart, a very pleasant city. The 20% in-country folks can develop what rapport that is needed and possible, and their assessments of the current situation in these chaotic places. I do not envy them!