updated 12/14/2006 7:15:49 PM ET 2006-12-15T00:15:49

The Pentagon is recommending a new U.S. military command for Africa, which is seen as having greater strategic importance to America since the start of the fight against terrorism.

The Defense Department has sent the proposal to President Bush for his approval, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Thursday.

The U.S. military has a system under which each region of the world is overseen by a specific command. Africa is split among several commands, which have been increasing activities on the continent greatly in recent years.

Central Command, which controls the Horn of Africa, set up a task force there in attempt to catch any al-Qaida escaping from Afghanistan after the war started in late 2001. It has since has expanded to humanitarian and other missions.

The European Command has sent Special Forces to do training exercises in North Africa and worked on humanitarian projects, medical training and other missions such as harbor maintenance in oil-producing nations in the Gulf of Guinea.

The various types of operations are aimed at building partnerships and strengthening the ability of African governments and militaries — as well as winning hearts and minds.

The hope is that the efforts will make African nations less vulnerable to the recruiting efforts of terrorists and help drive out those already using Africa as a safe haven.

Officials say Africa also is strategically more important because of increased efforts by China to involve itself and gain influence on the continent.

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