The United States military has no plans to seek permanent bases in Africa, and, in the spirit of the new defense strategic guidance, will continue to maintain a “light footprint” on the continent, the top U.S. Africa Command officer said.
“In Africa, I would say a light footprint is consistent with what we need and consistent with the defense guidance,” Army General Carter F. Ham told the House Armed Services Committee in February 2012.
With no troops directly assigned to it, AFRICOM relies heavily on its service components: U.S. Army Africa based in Vicenza, Italy; U.S. Air Forces Africa, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany; U.S. Marine Forces Africa and Special Operations Command Africa, both based in Stuttgart, Germany.
“It is that proximity to the theater that enables the agility we require,” Ham told Congress.
AFRICOM has had its headquarters in Stuttgart since it initially stood up in 2007 as a subcommand of U.S. European Command before reaching full operational capability in 2008. Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the first Africom commander, Army General William E. “Kip” Ward, agreed to defer any decision on its permanent location until 2012.
A congressionally directed review of alternate basing plans is under way, and is expected to be delivered sometime this year. None of the plans being developed involves relocating the headquarters to the African continent, Ham said.
While not expressing his own preferences, Ham said he believes AFRICOM has “been very well served” by its Stuttgart headquarters. In addition to good facilities and proximity to an international airport with direct links to Africa, he noted, Stuttgart offers the operational advantage of being in the same time zone as many of AFRICOM’s African partners. “We are on the same daily rhythm,” the general said.
In addition, he said, collocating AFRICOM with U.S. European Command makes sense, promoting their tradition of working together as they share forces, resources and capabilities.
Ham also underscored the importance of Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, the only permanent U.S. base in Africa. With about 2,000 U.S. personnel deployed there as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, many from the Army National Guard, it provides a stable platform for U.S. military operations in a critical part of the world, he said.
“It’s a great strategic location,” he told American Forces Press Service. “It facilitates not only our operations for U.S. Africa Command, but also U.S. Central Command and U.S. Transportation Command. It is a very key hub and important node for us, a good location that allows us to extend our reach in East Africa and partner with the countries of East Africa.”
Ham said he recognizes concerns among some African countries about an increased U.S. presence on the continent, but emphasized that cost alone would preclude the United States from establishing more permanent bases there.
Meanwhile, a new initiative that Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno announced last month could increase AFRICOM’s engagement opportunities with no uptick in permanent staffing.
The Army plans to implement a regionally aligned force concept next year to better support combatant commanders, Odierno said. AFRICOM is expected to be the first to receive these rotational forces as part of the pilot program to begin next year, followed by U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.