WASHINGTON — A key defense lawmaker wants to know why, after more than 10 years of operations in Africa, the U.S. combatant command for the continent still isn’t located there.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the issue may be worth revisiting in the near future, given the “disjointed” nature of AFRICOM’s current setup. The youngest of the nine combatant commands has been based in Germany since its founding in 2007.
Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of AFRICOM, acknowledged the topic has been discussed in the past but said shifting the main headquarters site (and about 1,500 Defense Department employees) would be a significant cost with questionable return.
He also said selecting a country for the new location in Africa could raise questions of “what it would mean for other partners in the region.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and committee’s No. 2 Republican, put it more bluntly: “It’s about perceived colonialism.” He said worries about U.S. forces moving en masse on the continent could undermine partnerships and missions there.
The U.S. mission in Niger is by far the largest in West Africa and the incident that left four U.S. soldiers dead is calling into question whether U.S. officials have been transparent with the public about the full scope.
About 500 additional AFRICOM personnel are posted at locations in Florida and the United Kingdom. The command’s programs in Africa are coordinated through offices in 38 separate nations.
In 2013, military officials opted to leave the AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart after a lengthy review of other potential sites, including the United States. At the time Defense Department officials said the Germany site — which is also the base for U.S. European Command — best met the “operational needs” of the Africa-base missions.
But Inhofe said he would be open to new discussions into changes for the command, to include the possibility of assigned troops for its operations. Currently, troops for AFRICOM missions are borrowed from other combatant commands, and not permanently assigned to those operations.
“It would be my intention to try and put that in focus and see if we have the right blend there now,” he said.
Waldhauser said he be open to that debate.
Lawmakers have already begun talks on the fiscal 2019 defense budget, and large-scale changes to AFRICOM’s setup are not included in the administration’s plans. That makes any major moves or personnel shifts unlikely this year, but not impossible.