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Africom boss: New HQ is a long way off

Army Gen. Carter Ham, the man who runs U.S. Africa Command, has had a lot on his plate this year, what with piracy, popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and the late unpleasantness in Libya -- none of which is near resolved. One thing he hasn't appeared to give much thought is the future location of his command, another unresolved issue that simmers in and out of view every once in awhile.

When we last left this issue, Washington lawmakers were calling for Africom to move into their backyards. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb suggested it could take the place of the late Joint Forces Command in Hampton Roads; South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson nominated Charleston; and Georgia's Rep. Hank Johnson thinks Africom should join such institutions as CNN, Coca-Cola and Outkast down in Hotlanta.

Ham, however, said Wednesday the military has not even begun the study it would take in order to get a conclusive decision about this. In a breakfast meeting with reporters, including our colleague Christian Lowe, Ham said he still believes DoD should make a serious effort at determining where to put Africom, but relocating it should not be one of the Pentagon's top priorities these days.

A study is important, but: "The money piece, to me, is perhaps more relevant," Ham said. "I'd have a pretty tough time, in this fiscal environment, going to Secretary Panetta and saying hey, we ought to spend a bunch of money to send our headquarters anyplace, even if doing so might have some the benefits. Right now, in this environment, it would really have to be a compelling reason to go back to to the secretary and say we ought to spend a bunch of money and do this."

So as far as Ham is concerned, this is not a near-term proposition. However -- even though this is falling right into DoD's trap and saying "just wait for [insert name of review]" -- the ongoing mega-review may actually provide some direction here. Incoming DepSecDef Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that (more Penta-speak) "everything is on the table" vis a vis America's future military posture, including its forces overseas. So if DoD's forthcoming report does actually include real strategy and recommends pulling back forces deployed to Europe, this might also decide the fate of Africom.

It's possible, for example, that Austerity America could take most or all of its combat forces out of Europe and leave behind only a command and logistics presence, so leaders such as Ham and others could keep their fiefdoms and diplomatic proximity to European allies. In another scenario, Washington might decide to bring home everything from Europe, sparking off a scramble in Congress among lawmakers who'd want the Air Force wings, Army brigades and other units to move to bases in their districts. In that situation, with thousands of troops and fighter jets and heavy armor all in the mix, a headquarters such as Africom might lose some of its luster, though lawmakers would certainly still fight over it.

Equally possible is that DoD's review only will contain strato-platitudes and offer no firm direction for what should happen either to forces in Europe generally or Africom in particular. Then we'd be back where we started, and DoD could start to think about the possibility of theoretically examining the notion of studying where to put it. That could mean years before it relocated, if it ever did.

What do you think -- where should Africom go? Should it move at all?

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