GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa

GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa
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The top Republican lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees are adding their names to the growing pushback against the Pentagon’s potential plan to draw down U.S. forces in Africa.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements MORE (R-Idaho) and House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulGun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei Hillicon Valley: Judge approves T-Mobile, Sprint merger | FTC to review past Big Tech deals | State officials ask for more cybersecurity help | House nears draft bill on self-driving cars MORE (R-Texas) last week urged Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperSaudi military students resume US flight training: report Overnight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Bipartisan Armed Services leaders tear into Pentagon over use of .8B for border wall MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Former Laura Bush staffer decries Taliban's treatment of women amid peace deal Bipartisan Senate resolution would urge UN to renew Iran arms embargo, travel restrictions MORE to maintain counterterrorism efforts when making any drawdown plans on the continent, warning that “terrorist activity in this region is rapidly increasing.”

“While we agree there is a need to regularly review our force posture overseas to ensure efficiency and effectiveness, we strongly urge that any overall drawdown plans at Africa Command maintain robust support for our counterterrorism and host nation capacity building,” the lawmakers wrote in a Friday letter.

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“The increase in terrorist attacks in West Africa is staggering, with extremist-related violence having doubled every year since 2015," they added. "Partner militaries are underfunded and ill-equipped to respond to this drastic increase in violence. That is why our limited, yet focused presence across Africa, is so important.”

The New York Times reported last month that Esper was considering significantly reducing or completely withdrawing U.S. troops from West Africa in order to shift forces to better focus on Russian and Chinese military aggression.

The plan, which has not been finalized, could focus on several hundred American troops who are deployed in Niger, Chad and Mali to aid and assist in the fight against militant terrorist groups.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Democrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Bipartisan Armed Services leaders tear into Pentagon over use of .8B for border wall MORE (D-Wash.) and ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Democrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Bipartisan Armed Services leaders tear into Pentagon over use of .8B for border wall MORE (R-Texas) have also pressed the Defense Department to stop the potential reduction, as have a bipartisan group of 11 House lawmakers, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Congress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE (R-S.C.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump MORE (D-Del.), and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLobbying World GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' MORE (R-Okla.).

Esper told reporters on Monday that “no decisions yet have been made” and that his top priority “is to implement the National Defense Strategy. That means that we are focused on great power competition with China, then Russia.”

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He would not comment on reports that indicate that the new force plan could include abandoning a recently built $110 million drone base in Niger.

Risch and McCaul argue that in order to counter a China and Russia that are increasing their presence throughout Africa, “U.S. presence is vital.”

“The Trump administration has been clear-eyed about China and Russia’s destabilizing and dangerous global activities, including in Africa. The full force of the U.S. government must address their efforts to undermine democratic values and free market economies,” they wrote.

U.S. forces are in West Africa to train and assist security forces in an effort to quell extremist Islamic groups including Boko Haram and those pledging loyalty to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.