Georgia politicians are lobbying to bring the U.S. military’s new Africa command center here, a move endorsed by Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
In an Oct. 30 letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson and other elected officials pitched Georgia as an attractive location for AFRICOM, now located in Stuttgart, Germany.
Specifically, the leaders suggested Forts McPherson and Gillem and Dobbins Air Reserve Base, all in metro Atlanta.
“Each is in close proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport,” the letter states. “Being the world’s busiest airport there is frequent and direct access to the African continent.”
The greater Atlanta area “is uniquely qualified to accommodate additional consulates and businesses that may be necessary if such an important command is established,” said the letter.
Forts McPherson and Gillem are scheduled to close by 2011. Dobbins, which will remain open, “has a substantial runway network as well as rail infastructure that connects it with the Port of Savannah,” the Georgia leaders wrote.
AFRICOM is one the military’s six regional command centers. It is responsible for military relations with 53 African countries.
AFRICOM “will focus on war prevention rather than war fighting,” its Web site states. Its goal is to “work with African nations and African organizations to build regional security and crisis-response capacity in support of U.S. efforts in Africa.”
So far, the military has been unable to secure a location in Africa for the headquarters, in part because of fear that it would lead to U.S. military bases there. U.S. cities are competing for the center, including Charleston, S.C., for the center. The center could have as many as 1,300 employees, with about half of those civilians.
In an interview with GlobalAtlanta on Africa, Mr. Young strongly endorsed bringing AFRICOM here.
“Whatever you want and whatever you need we pretty much got it in this region,” Mr. Young said.
Military personnel “would love to come to Atlanta,” Mr. Young said. “Right now they’re in Stuttgart and they don’t speak the language. They’re strangers. They’d come here and they’d find friends, they’d be right at home.”
He does not view AFRICOM in the traditional military sense but rather as a coordinator of peacekeeping and trainer of urban law officers.
“We know how to train police officers to relate to the community,” Mr. Young said, relating his own experiences as mayor of Atlanta..
In a wide-ranging interview on Africa, Mr. Young said “17,000 United Nations forces just aren’t enough” to control the fighting between militia groups and government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Congo is larger than Europe,” he said.
On fighting in Sudan, Mr. Young said the U.S. strategy should focus on economic development to reduce tensions.
“The problems of Africa are not simple and no U.N. resolution is enough,” he said. “ What we’ve got to do is have an overall development strategy. I would say that the railroad the Chinese are building from the north to the south in Sudan is probably going to do more to stop the killing than all of the peace treaties.”
Sam Cherribi, an Emory University specialist on African development, agreed with Mr. Young that AFRICOM would be a good fit for Atlanta because of the airport, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and strong cultural and corporate links to the continent.
“I think America has shown it is a force for good in Africa,” said Mr. Cherribi.
AFRICOM should not be used to project raw American military power but instead should help Africa solve its own problems, said Mr. Cherribi.
“All you need is some leadership,” he said. “Americans will have a coordinating role. Many countries would love to rally around an American general. This is an era of working together. If the Americans don’t take the lead, no one will take it.”