Bush says purpose of Africom not to build new bases

ACCRA (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Wednesday said the purpose of a new Africa Command was not to build new military bases.

“We do not contemplate adding new bases, in other words the purpose of this is not to add military bases,” Bush said at a news conference in Ghana during a trip to Africa.

“I know there are rumors in Ghana: ‘All Bush is doing is coming to try to convince you to put a big military base here.’ That’s baloney,” Bush said.

Looking to bolster the U.S. presence in Africa, already a major supplier of crude oil to the American market, the Bush administration created Africom last year as a separate entity.

U.S. officials talked initially of plans to eventually transfer the Africom headquarters to the African continent.

But following a wave of African hostility to this idea, the U.S. has since clarified the proposal, saying Africom will not bring any more U.S. troops or bases to the continent. A base for 1,800 U.S. troops already exists in Djibouti.

“That doesn’t mean that we won’t try to develop some kind of office in Africa. We haven’t made our minds up. It’s a new concept,” Bush said, flanked by his Ghanaian counterpart John Kufuor.

Africom commanders have instead mooted the idea of a loose structure of Africom liaison staff posted across Africa.

Bush was due to conclude a five-nation African tour on Thursday in Liberia, which has offered to host Africom -- an offer the U.S. leader has previously said he will seriously consider.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Writing by Alistair Thomson; Editing by Daniel Flynn