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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 3:23 p.m., Tuesday, February 6, 2007

U.S. Pacific Command territory to shrink

Advertiser Staff and News Reports

A new U.S. military command covering Africa announced today by the president may cleave off a small portion of U.S. Pacific Command, which is headquartered at Camp Smith.

The new U.S. Africa Command will consolidate U.S. government efforts in Africa as the continent gains in strategic, diplomatic and economic importance.

Since 2003, the U.S. has had a counterterrorism force of more than 1,500 troops based in Djibouti, a former French colony that borders Somalia's northwestern tip.

Defense officials said the United States last month launched strikes in Somalia against suspected terrorist targets using Air Force AC-130 gunships.

The Pentagon says the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa tracks terrorism suspects, trains the forces of friendly governments and performs humanitarian relief projects such as building schools and digging wells.

"The view was that the time has come, in fact, with the increasing importance of the continent to the U.S., that we could better meet our requirements by standing up one unified command to consolidate all of (Defense Department) activities, as opposed to having three separate commands doing that," said Navy Rear Adm. Robert Moeller, executive director of the U.S. Africa Command implementation planning team.

The African continent currently is divided among three combatant commands: U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.

Central Command has responsibility for Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya. U.S. European Command has responsibility for the rest of the nations in the African mainland.

Pacific Command has responsibility for Madagascar, the Seychelles and the Indian Ocean area off the African coast, the government said. Africa Command will eventually have responsibility for the entire continent of Africa, except Egypt, and the surrounding islands.

Details of the new command still have to be worked out. The transition team will be based at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany, but the Defense Department's plan is to eventually headquarter the new command in Africa.

The new command would be the 10th of the Pentagon's unified commands. Pacific Command is the largest and oldest of the commands and encompasses more than 50 percent of the Earth's surface and 43 countries — from the U.S. West Coast to the east coast of Africa.

"AFRICOM" will cost about $50 million in fiscal 2007, and the Defense Department is evaluating its cost for fiscal 2008.