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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

I'm Alex Cohen.

The U.S. Defense Department is launching a new military command for Africa today. It's called the U.S. African Command or AFRICOM. And it brings together what had been three different military groups under a single command unit.

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. Tom, what exactly is the purpose of AFRICOM?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, there are really two purposes here, and the first is to go after al-Qaida in northern Africa where - they're seeing inroads by the terrorist group up there. And the other reason is more to the central and southern part of Africa - the humanitarian mission, which they wanted to have a lot more emphasis on in the coming years. So those are the two main reasons why you're seeing the African Command split off from what it's now the European Command and creating its own command itself.

COHEN: It's interesting you mentioned al-Qaida. It took at the Department of Defense press release for AFRICOM and the first line says the mission is to help Africans achieve their own security not to extend the scope of the war on terrorism. It kind of sounds like the DOD is trying to play down the whole terrorism angle here.

BOWMAN: Right, they are. But clearly, they're very concerned about al-Qaida making inroads up in northern Africa, you know, in Tunisia, Libya, Algeria area. And what they'll do is have, you know, special forces groups and other U.S. soldiers work with the militaries up there, work with the government, build sources, that try to make inroads into any al-Qaida up there. Now they already have what's called an operation on the horn of Africa. That's been going on for several years - Djibouti, Ethiopia area - working with local militaries and governments to go after al-Qaida there and they say it's been pretty effective so far.

COHEN: AFRICOM is currently based in Germany. Any sense of if and when it actually might go to Africa?

BOWMAN: Well, that's a good question. Over the next year, they'll decide whether it moves to Africa right on the continent. They may have multiple locations for their offices so there could be some in Germany, perhaps sub-offices, let's say, in the African continent. But they'll probably spend the next year to determine exactly where that will happen.

COHEN: The person tapped to command this unit, his name is General William E. Ward, he's African-American. Can you tell us a little bit about him?

BOWMAN: Well, he's a highly regarded officer, a Baltimore native, spent some time at Morgan State University, a traditionally all-black school, and a wide amount of experience. He was assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, and also has some diplomatic experience, so to speak. He was with the Office of Military Cooperation in Egypt and also worked on - was security coordinator with the Israelis and Palestinian authority two years ago. So highly regarded and a lot of experience for this kind of job, most people would say.

COHEN: Of course, one of the toughest problems in Africa lately has been the situation in Darfur. Do you think that this new command can make any difference there?

BOWMAN: Well, it's hard to say. I think they'll probably, you know, offer more people, you know, more - a greater look at the problem, trying to see what the African troops need. Usually in situations like this, the Americans offer, let's say, C-130 cargo planes, some intelligence communications equipment. I don't think you'll see more U.S. troops, but maybe a focus from war than others on that issue.

COHEN: Thank you so much, Tom. That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

BRAND: And there's a big change today at the top of the military chain of command. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen takes over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He replaces Marine General Peter Pace.

Admiral Mullen has already been unusually open about what the military faces in Iraq. At his Senate confirmation hearing this summer, he said, quote, "I understand the frustration over the war. I share it." Mullen says one his first actions in his new job will be to visit Baghdad immediately so that he can see first hand how the war effort is going.

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