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 EsperTop admiral: 'No condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Oldest living US World War II veteran turns 111 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 BrownPelosi seeks to put pressure on GOP in COVID-19 relief battle Democrats demand Esper explicitly ban Confederate flag and allow Pride, Native Nations flags Trump tweets key GOP lawmaker has committed to not changing Confederate base names 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.

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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 PanettaOn The Money: McConnell previews GOP coronavirus bill | Senate panel advances Trump Fed nominee who recently supported gold standard | Economists warn about scaled-back unemployment benefits Bipartisan bill introduced to provide tax credit to food and beverage distributors Overnight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze MORE (Calif.), Chrissy Houlahan (Pa.), Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (Calif.), Jason CrowJason CrowClark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Trump-Afghan deal passes key deadline, but peace elusive Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats MORE (Colo.), Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarHispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Races heat up for House leadership posts Ahead of a coronavirus vaccine, Mexico's drug pricing to have far-reaching impacts on Americans MORE (Texas), Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaVirginians wait up to four hours to cast early voting ballots US Chamber of Commerce set to endorse 23 House freshman Democrats House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate MORE (Va.), Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.) and Republican Reps. Mike Waltz (Fla.), Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottMaybe they just don't like cowboys: The president is successful, some just don't like his style Lobbying world Lawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa MORE (Ga.), and Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonHow Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats American meat producers must leverage new technology to protect consumers, workers MORE (N.C.).