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 EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Overnight Defense: Trump reportedly considering replacing Esper after election | FBI, Air Force investigating after helicopter shot at in Virginia | Watchdog says UK envoy made inappropriate comments on religion, race, sex Trump eyes replacing Esper after election: reports 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 BrownDemocrats 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 Overnight Defense: Senate passes annual defense policy bill that sparked Trump veto threat | Military has considered two waivers for transgender troops since ban 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 CrowTrump-Afghan deal passes key deadline, but peace elusive Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats Congressional inconsistency continues regarding war powers MORE (Colo.), Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarHispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's latest plan on racial inequality Democrats hope clash resonates with key bloc: Women MORE (Texas), Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaHouse panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Republican Scott Taylor wins Virginia primary, to face Elaine Luria in rematch National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus MORE (Va.), Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.) and Republican Reps. Mike Waltz (Fla.), Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottLobbying world Lawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa 5 Republicans who could replace Isakson in Georgia's Senate race 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.).