U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday nominated Army Gen. William Ward, the highest ranking black in the U.S. military, to lead the new Africa Command and coordinate military operations on the continent.
Bush’s decision in February to create Africa Command came after months of discussion inside the Pentagon and reflected increasing U.S. strategic interest in the continent and worry that Islamic militants were finding safe haven there.
Ward, who must be confirmed by the Senate, is only the fifth black man to attain a fourth star, making him a full general.
U.S. military and intelligence assessments have for years pointed to potential threats in Africa posed by weak governments and ungoverned spaces as well as humanitarian crises and armed conflicts.
Washington also is interested in the potential offered by Africa’s natural resources, especially as the United States tries to reduce dependence on oil from the Middle East.
The U.S. military assigns responsibility for parts of the world to regional commands. Africa is now divided between European Command, responsible for Europe and most of Africa, and Central Command, responsible for the Middle East and Horn of Africa.
Africa Command will first be part of European Command and have some operational capability by October. It should be a stand-alone, operational command by the end of fiscal year 2008, which ends September 30, 2008.