West African military chiefs denounce Africom

West African military chiefs have charged that the United States has failed to consult adequately with countries that will be affected by a planned American military command for Africa.

In a statement issued late on Tuesday at the close of a two-day conference of West African military heads, the group said the plan ”had not been fully understood” by African countries and called for ”further sensitisation by the United States authorities at the highest political level”.

The US Defence Department created a unified US military command for the continent last month. Africom, as the command is called, consolidates operations that had been split between three other regional commands, none of which had Africa as a primary interest.

An Africom spokesperson said the US government had a series of consultations and discussions with African countries as it prepared for the reorganisation.

The US has said it aims to better protect its strategic interest in Africa and assist African countries with military training and conflict prevention. But a number of African countries — including Libya, Nigeria and South Africa — have expressed reservations about a move that could signal an expansion of US influence on the continent and may focus primarily on protecting oil interests.

Though the military chief’s statement did not provide further details, an official with the group said that African leaders were not sufficiently informed or consulted about the plan.

”The heads of state should be fully briefed; the heads of state should ask pertinent questions that will give them the direction to cooperate fully,” said Colonel Toure Mahamane, head of political affairs, peace and security with the commission of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

He said the US had neglected such procedures in a disregard for common ”due process” on the continent.

He added that the military chiefs felt that there had been insufficient consultations with African leaders on the relocation of American forces or operations from Europe to Africa.

”Everybody welcomes and supports the idea, but we want that direction to come from the heads of state,” Mahamane said.

Vince Crawley, a spokesperson for Africom said US officials have been meeting representatives from African countries for months. In September, officials from the defence and state departments met representatives from African embassies in Washington to discuss Africom and hear their concerns, he said.

”The intent of the US Africa command is to continue our consultation with African nations and organisations,” Crawley said. ”We intend to listen. We intend to invest time and effort to understand our mutual interests and needs,” he added.

Crawley said he had not seen the military chiefs’ statement and so could not comment directly on it.

Africom currently operates out of existing US bases on the continent with a headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. War-wrecked Liberia is the only African nation that has publicly offered to host a headquarters.

Separately, the military chiefs called for West African states to prepare their militaries for possible use in an Ecowas standby force for use in security emergencies. — Sapa-AP

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