Washington, DC — The United States European Command (Eucom) will change its name to reflect a new strategic concern with Africa, according a senior Eucom official involved in the planning. Eucom "does sound extremely Eurocentric," said the official, speaking on background and on a condition of anonymity.
"Eucom gives the wrong impression; only 25 or 30 percent of the Eucom area of operation is actually Europe, unless you're counting Russia all the way out to the Urals," the official said during an interview with AllAfrica.
The official suggested "Eurafrica" would be a name that reflects the reality that "probably over half" of the Command's territory is in Africa. Other possible names are under consideration as well. The official offered no timetable for the change to take place.
Eucom's area of operations includes 43 African countries. Another seven - Djibouti, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya - fall under the responsibility of the U.S. Central Command (Centcom).
The suggestion that Eucom needs a name change was made during a telephone interview in which the official, speaking from Stuttgart, Germany where Eucom is headquartered, elaborated on Pentagon concerns about Africa. The continent "is an area of enhanced new strategic concern," the official said. "Stability, combating health issues like HIV/aids, which we think will lead to instability in coming years if it's not quickly dealt with and very strongly dealt with, terrorism, and resources are probably the four big national security issues we see in Africa," the official said.
In a broad sense, the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, DC triggered this new concern. "When 9/11 happened we sat down here at Eucom. We put together a special planning team to decide what defensive and preventive measures we needed to take in Eucom in terms of combating terrorism and protecting U.S. citizens and interests. We looked at regions and prioritized those regions in terms of what we perceived at the time as the most likely area and safe haven for terrorists to operate from."
The South, Eucom planners concluded, demanded greater attention. "The region that rose to the top was northern Africa because of the large Islamic populations, because of the large areas of uncontrolled territory where the nation have a difficult time controlling their sovereign areas and because of what one would call a sympathetic or apathetic population and a number of other reasons. That's what drove us to north Africa and areas of the Sahel."
Citing some of the major "Jihadist" groups operating in the region, the official said their "primary motivation" is to "undermine and overthrow." Furthermore, according to this official, there are splinter groups "that have aligned themselves with a broader global jihadist movement." These splinter organizations "are less concerned with overthrowing a specific government and more concerned with waging a war or jihad with the west," the official said. Noting that several Moroccans were involved in the recent bombings in Spain, the official said "Madrid points out that this is not a local problem."
At this point, said the official, American 'boots on the ground' are not what Eucom envisions. "Our main goal is to give the nations of northern Africa the resources and capability to take care of their own problems. We don't want them to become like Afghanistan." He denied that a late March military campaign in Niger and Chad against the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known as the GSPC, involved U.S. troops. "There was intelligence sharing. That was our major contribution." Other sources say that P-3 Orion aircraft guided the anti-GSPC operation and a Voice of America report said that ground troops led the Algerian army to a large weapons cache that was believed to be headed for terrorist groups.
Terrorist organizations "use the political borders between these nations, and the uncontrolled spaces to move about freely and to limit the state's ability to do anything about them." Eucom intends to "give them equipment that's right for what they need, whether it is vehicles, or communications equipment or body armor or training on how to maintain their vehicles or training on how to maintain communications systems. Maybe encryption gear so they can encrypt and talk securely."
The State Department has funded a Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI)under which Eucom is assisting Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation is one model. "We may have a better lock on a group because of our superior intelligence gathering capabilities" the official insisted. "We do not see establishing U.S. bases."
In March, Nato's Joint Command Southwest (JCSW) and the Spanish Instituto Universitario announced plans for a seminar on security and cooperation with the Maghreb and Sahara as part of Nato's "Mediterranean Dialogue". And later this month a conference will be held in Europe to initiate an "African Clearing House" program aimed at avoiding duplication of efforts.
"The idea is to bring together military folks from about a dozen European nation who have engagement with African nations to compare what they are doing with what we are doing. everybody sits down and sees what every body else is doing," the official said during the interview.