The Pentagon announced Thursday that it will cut by hundreds the number of U.S. troops deployed to Africa on counterterrorism missions over the next several years.
“The Department of Defense announced today the realignment of Counter-Violent Extremist Organization personnel operating in U.S. Africa Command to support priorities outlined in the National Defense Strategy,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “Over the next several years, the realignment projects a reduction of less than 10 percent of the 7,200 military forces serving in Africa Command.”
The announcement comes as the Pentagon seeks to shift its focus from counterterrorism to so-called great power competitions with Russia and China.
It also comes after a deadly ambush in Niger last year prompted questions about both why U.S. troops are in Africa and whether the Africa missions were underresourced.
In its statement, the Pentagon said the counterterrorism missions in areas such as Somalia, Djibouti and Libya would largely remain the same.
Djibouti is home to the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa and serves as a launch point for military operations elsewhere in the region. U.S. forces in Somalia and Libya conduct operations against al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Missions in other areas, such as West Africa, will shift from tactical assistance to advising, assisting, liaising and sharing intelligence, according to the statement.
“Optimization preserves the majority of U.S. security cooperation partnerships and programs in Africa to strengthen partner networks, enhance partner capability and support ongoing programs,” the statement said. “Overall, optimization efforts retain the flexibility to adjust, as required, to maintain a competitive posture in a dynamic, global environment.”
The shift in military focus to Russia and China was called for in the National Defense Strategy released early this year.
But while the military is drawing down in Africa to align with the strategy, U.S. military leaders have also warned that Russia and China are growing their presence in Africa.
Questions have swirled about the U.S. military presence in Africa since four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger last year.
Some U.S. lawmakers said they were unaware of the U.S. presence there until the ambush and argue that the presence was unnecessary.
Others, though, particularly Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE (R-Okla.), said the incident shows a need for more U.S. troops in Africa.
Inhofe has been a key backer of U.S. forces in Africa, having been instrumental in the creation of U.S. Africa Command and arguing this year for a new advisor brigade to be sent to Africa.