When created in 2007, the United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOM) was temporarily headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, until an official home could be found for the new command. Six years and several analyses later, the Department of Defense announced (in February 2013) that AFRICOM would keep its Stuttgart headquarters. According to the Pentagon, the decision was based on the conclusion that “the current location serves the operational needs of AFRICOM better than a location in the continental United States.”
This Monday the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report (PDF) critical of DOD’s rationale to keep U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) headquarters permanently in Stuttgart, Germany. The House Armed Services Committee report on the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act mandated GAO to “conduct a comprehensive analysis of options for the permanent placement of the U.S. Africa Command headquarter . . The study should consider locations both in the United States and overseas, or a combination thereof.” DoD’s announcement came before the GAO report was finished, so its scope changed to look at whether the decision to keep AFRICOM in Stuttgart was based on a well-documented, cost-benefit analysis.
GAO’s review found that DOD’s decision was not based on a comprehensive and well-documented economic analysis assessing the operational benefits versus economic cost. In fact, GAO found that moving the headquarters to the United States would save $60 million to $70 million per year. This finding led Virginia’s two Democratic senators to immediately start lobbying DOD to relocate U.S. Africa Command to Hampton Roads, VA.
According to AFRICOM, critical operational concerns outweigh economic savings: such as the proximity to both Africa and the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). GAO disagreed, arguing that forward operations bases could address such concerns, as demonstrated by U.S. Central and Southern Commands, which are both headquartered in the United States.
While the focus on AFRICOM’s budget appears to be increasing, there is an absence of a larger debate on U.S. military expansion in Africa, and the associated costs. When AFRICOM was created, U.S. military officials insisted that it would not lead to bases or stationed troops to the continent. However, the Washington Post recently reported that the U.S. is vastly expanding its secret intelligence operations on the continent. Last week, TomDispatch reported evidence of U.S. military involvement in no fewer than 49 African countries.
As noted previously on this blog, Congress has historically enabled this U.S. military expansion with steadily increasing funding streams. Instead of the House of Representatives focusing on the cost of operating the headquarters of AFRICOM, perhaps a broader discussion about the expansion of our military presence throughout Africa should be carried out.