Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article about the Defense Department's search for a permanent headquarters for its Africa Command incorrectly said that southwestern Virginia was under consideration. Officials are looking at southeastern Virginia, including Norfolk. This version has been corrected.

Pentagon hunting for permanent home for U.S. Africa Command

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2010; 11:46 AM

The Pentagon is reopening a worldwide search for a home for its Africa military command, which still lacks a permanent headquarters three years after it was created.

Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, the Obama administration's nominee to take charge of the U.S. Africa Command, or Africom, told a Senate committee last week that he would launch the search if he is confirmed. The command is based in Stuttgart, Germany, partly because African countries strongly objected to the prospect of an expanded U.S. military presence on their continent.

"I think I should approach this, if confirmed, essentially with a blank piece of paper," Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Among the options, Ham said, would be to move Africom headquarters - and its 1,500 jobs - to the United States, where lawmakers are already eyeing the post as a economic boon for their districts.

One possibility is southeastern Virginia, where state officials have seized on it as a potential consolation prize for the anticipated loss of the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

In a cost-cutting move announced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in August, the Pentagon is planning to shutter the Joint Forces Command, which is based in Norfolk and employs about 6,000 government workers and contractors.

In a meeting Tuesday with Virginia lawmakers who are lobbying him to preserve the Joint Forces Command, Gates said he was open to the possibility that the state be considered as the new home for Africom.

"Secretary Gates agreed to include Norfolk in any future review to decide on a permanent home for Africom headquarters," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Gates tried to take the sting out of the expected closure of the Joint Forces Command by telling the Virginia delegation that not all of its 6,000 jobs would be eliminated. "Functions determined to be of importance and retained will likely remain in the Norfolk and Suffolk area," Morrell said.

The Bush administration announced in 2007 that it would create Africom to improve military relations with countries that historically have gotten short shrift from Washington. The decision was spurred, in part, by concerns that Islamist extremists could find a refuge in poor, loosely governed areas of the continent.

The announcement, however, drew criticism at home and abroad. Diplomats complained that the Pentagon was militarizing U.S. government relations in Africa. And many African countries, citing memories of colonial oppression, recoiled at the idea of a large U.S. military footprint in their backyard.

A U.S. delegation that visited Africa in June 2007 to seek a home for the command headquarters got a chilly reception, even from allies otherwise on friendly terms with the Pentagon.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company