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One of the American military's most seasoned combat leaders took charge today of U.S. Africa Command, whose No. 1 mission is to work with allies to neutralize the continent's widening web of Islamic extremist groups, including those affiliated with al-Qaida.
Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez took over for Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, who is retiring after 39 years in uniform, including two years as an enlisted 82nd Airborne paratrooper.
Since its creation in 2007, Africa Command has grown from a relative backwater to arguably one of the most important commands in the U.S. military establishment.
That is largely due to rising concern about Islamic extremists in the region, including a group known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which gained strength following the March 2012 coup d'etat in Mali.
Other extremist groups of particular concern to the U.S. are Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Africa Command's area of responsibility covers the entire African continent minus Egypt.