updated 10/29/2007 2:08:38 PM ET 2007-10-29T18:08:38

The U.S. military has named a senior American diplomat to serve alongside a Navy admiral as deputies to the general leading its new Africa Command, an acknowledgment of the importance of the civilian aspects of the operation.

The appointment of Mary Carlin Yates, a former ambassador to Ghana and Burundi, was believed to be the first time a senior government civilian from outside the Defense Department was named to be part of a U.S. regional military headquarters command structure, according to the military.

“Certainly it’s a first among the unified combat commands,” said Vince Crawley, a spokesman for Africa Command, where Yates will be the deputy for civil-military activities.

The command began operations Oct. 1 with a staff of 175 under Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward and will increase to about 800 through 2008.

“It’s been our intent from the beginning to have a civilian aspect to the command,” Africa Command spokesman Maj. Steven Wollman said. “The appointment of Ambassador Yates signifies ... the resolve behind the intent to make that happen.”

Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller was appointed deputy for military operations.

Both security, humanitarian missions
The Africa Command headquarters, which started operations earlier this month, is meant to help African security forces tackle regional crises and terrorist threats — recognizing the continent’s increasing strategic importance.

It is tasked with working closely with African nations on joint military exercises, but also on aid and other humanitarian operations.

Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy, said in addition to serving as ambassador to the two African nations, Yates was a foreign policy adviser to the military’s European Command from 2005-2007.

The Africa Command operates from the U.S. Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, with diplomatic efforts still under way to find a permanent location in Africa.

Liberia is the only country to publicly offer to host the command, though U.S. officials say other nations have made private offers.

Hesitance to host command
While some countries are receptive to having the command based on the continent, the plans have met with sharp resistance from many other African nations — most recently Nigeria, which worked to block the headquarters from being established in the Gulf of Guinea region.

In August, South African Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said that there was widespread hesitance among African nations to host the headquarters.

Edelman stressed in a statement that “the goal of Africom is to provide the most effective support possible for those who seek African solutions for African security.”

It is a so-called “unified combatant command” made up of all branches of the military, as well as civilians from not only the Defense and State Departments, but also the Agriculture, Treasury and Commerce Departments, along with USAID.

Under the U.S. military’s system of regional headquarters, responsibility for Africa previously was split between the Pacific Command, Central Command, and European Command.

Over the next year programs currently overseen by those commands — such as joint training exercises and humanitarian operations — will be taken over by Africom.

The U.S. plan foresees a small headquarters, and five regional teams spread around the continent. The Pentagon has emphasized that it is not building new military bases.

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