Lawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa

Lawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of 11 lawmakers have raised concerns with Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump Defense chief blocked idea to send 250,000 troops to border: report Overnight Defense & National Security — Afghanistan concerns center stage with G-20 US Army investigating raising of Confederate flag at base in Germany MORE over reports that the Pentagon chief is considering reducing U.S. forces in Africa to better focus on Russian and Chinese aggression.

“While we understand your decision to review our force posture and to deploy our military as efficiently as possible, we are concerned that a narrow focus on confronting Russia and China in great power competition is a shortsighted action that both diminishes our overall national security posture and our ability to lead with American values and influence,” the lawmakers wrote in a Jan. 10 letter to Esper, released on Tuesday.

The letter, which was led by Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab House panel advances 8B defense bill Democrats defeat GOP effort to declare 'lost confidence' in Biden after Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (D-Md.), states that a move to cut U.S. troops on the continent “runs counter to the National Security Strategy (NSS),” and may leave a power vacuum for Russia or China to take advantage of.

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The lawmakers point to Russia’s signing of more 20 bilateral military cooperation agreements with African states since 2015, as outlined in the NSS, as well as China’s expanded economic and military presence on the continent. In just two decades Beijing has become one of Africa’s largest trading partners.

They also cite Russia’s move into Syria after U.S. forces withdrew late last year.

“Within weeks of the United States abandoning a military base near Aleppo, Russian forces assumed full control of the facility and began conducting operations from the American built infrastructure. Reports on the ongoing force posture deliberations indicate the potential to repeat this mistake by abandoning bases and other assets,” the lawmakers write.

The New York Times in December reported that Esper was mulling greatly reducing or completely withdrawing U.S. troops from West Africa, including abandoning a recently built $110 million drone base in Niger and ending assistance to French forces fighting militants in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The plan is part of a larger proposal to shift around deployments of the roughly 200,000 service members deployed abroad in an effort to diminish post-9/11 missions and focus instead on pushing back on military moves from Russia and China.

About 6,000 to 7,000 U.S. troops are in Africa, and an initial decision about troop numbers on the continent is expected this month.

Though the U.S. footprint is relatively small in that part of the world compared to Asia or the Middle East, American casualties still take place, including the attack on a Kenya Defense Forces military base in Manda Bay earlier this month that killed two U.S. contractors and wounded two Pentagon personnel.

The East Africa-based al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab has been blamed for the attack.

In their letter, the lawmakers say the attack “highlights that our fight against terrorism is ongoing and that we must remain vigilant in all theaters.”

They requested the Pentagon immediately notify them if any decision is made to significantly affect U.S. force posture in Africa.

Also adding their name to the letter were Democrat Reps. Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaAmerica's veterans hold a reserve of national security strength we should tap GOP ekes out win in return of Congressional Baseball Game 20 years later: Washington policymakers remember 9/11 MORE (Calif.), Chrissy Houlahan (Pa.), Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (Calif.), Jason CrowJason CrowThe United States must lead the way on artificial intelligence standards Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates MORE (Colo.), Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Build Back Better items on chopping block Progressives say go big and make life hard for GOP Three Democrats call for investigation into Sidney Powell to move 'swiftly' MORE (Texas), Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaBiden remarks on Taiwan leave administration scrambling Youngkin under fire for invoking George Soros in school board debate Former VA secretaries propose National Warrior Call Day to raise military suicide awareness MORE (Va.), Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.) and Republican Reps. Mike Waltz (Fla.), Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottThis week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake House committee moves to block private funds for National Guard deployments House Republican takes part in hearing while driving car MORE (Ga.), and Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonGOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Pharmaceutical industry donated to two-thirds of Congress ahead of 2020 elections: analysis MORE (N.C.).