Pentagon sending smaller troop force to Africa
The Pentagon on Wednesday said it is rotating military personnel in Africa in favor of a leaner force presence, amid reports officials were mulling a major troop reduction.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper is sending a portion of the Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) to Africa in the coming weeks, “reducing the demand for brigade combat teams to conduct security force assistance operations there,” Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in a statement on Wednesday.
The move “allows the Army to return elements of an infantry brigade from the 101st Airborne Division back to its home base of Ft. Campbell, Ky.”
The New York Times first reported in December that Esper was considering a major reduction of U.S. troops from West Africa in order to shift forces and focus to better counter Russian and Chinese aggression.
The contingent on the continent includes several hundred American service members deployed in Somalia, Niger, Chad and Mali, who are there to train and assist security forces to contain extremist Islamic groups including Boko Haram and those that pledge loyalty to ISIS and al Qaeda. The United States also helps support French forces on the continent.
But lawmakers in January pushed back on the idea of a reduction over concerns that terrorist and extremist groups would grow in the region without U.S. forces present there to quell them.
“The Secretary of Defense has been conducting a comprehensive review of DoD forces, programs and activities within each Combatant Command to ensure alignment with the National Defense Strategy’s priorities,” Farah said.
“As part of this review and in order to better compete with China and Russia in Africa, the Secretary is directing the deployment of elements” of the brigade, which will “train, advise, and assist missions in spotlight African countries.”
Esper, who is in Brussels this week for a NATO meeting, told reporters traveling with him on Tuesday that the purpose of the move is to “get the force sizing right, that the activities, the actions and tasks [are] right in each theater of command.”
Esper added that he will press European nations to fill the void should the U.S. take a step back on the continent.
“Our European partners, there’s room for them to step up in Africa. And to do more,” he said.
Army Africa commander Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the U.S. will not abandon its African partners.
“We’re not walking away. We are still engaged,” Cloutier told reporters.
Roughly 6,000 U.S. military personnel are currently in Africa.