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With eye on Al-Qaeda, US creates Africa military command

UNITED STATES: The United States said Tuesday it was to set up a new US regional command to oversee military activities in Africa in a move reflecting US fears that some African nations may be harbouring suspected terror groups.

“This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa,” President George W. Bush said in a statement.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the president had decided to create the new command to replace “an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War.”

The Africa Command would “oversee security, cooperation, building partnership capability, defense support to non-military missions, and, if directed, military operations on the African continent,” Gates said.

The United States is increasingly concerned that some African countries are providing sanctuary for militant groups, and is keen to prevent east Africa from taking over from Afghanistan as a safe haven for the Al-Qaeda network.

“We will be consulting with African leaders to seek their thoughts on how Africa Command can respond to security challenges and opportunities in Africa,” Bush said.

He added Washington would also consult with African allies on where the new regional command should be based with the aim of it being in place by the end of the 2008 fiscal year.

Current responsibility for Africa within the Pentagon is shared out among three regional commands.

Until now the continent has fallen mainly under the US European Command, which also has taken on new responsibilities in recent years with growing relations with Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Central Command (Centcom), which oversees the Middle East, is responsible for the Horn of Africa while Pacific Command has watch over Madagascar.

A top State Department official said Tuesday that Washington remained concerned that terror suspects affiliated with the Al-Qaeda network were using Somalia as a “safe haven.”

“Somalia’s continued exploitation by terrorist elements threatens the stability of the entire Horn of Africa region,” said Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

“We will therefore take strong measures to deny terrorists safe haven in Somalia, as well as the ability to plan and operate from Somalia,” she pledged.

Senegal meanwhile announced that US chiefs of staff would meet with their counterparts from nine countries in western Africa in Senegal on Wednesday to discuss the fight against suspected terror groups.

Washington, Wednesday, AFP



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