Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report

Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report
© Bonnie Cash

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE (R-S.C.) told Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Aircraft carrier captain removed from duty after pleading for help with coronavirus outbreak Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' MORE he could “make your life hell” if the Pentagon chief pulled U.S. troops from West Africa, according to NBC News.

The interaction reportedly happened at the 2020 Munich Security Conference last week. Graham attended the conference with a bipartisan group of senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate includes 0M for mail-in voting in coronavirus spending deal Hillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting MORE (D-Del.), as well as House lawmakers.

The senators reportedly made their case to Esper “forcefully” that the U.S. should hold a presence in Africa to counter Chinese and Russian influence on the continent, in addition to terrorist groups. Graham reportedly told Esper it was possible to find $50 million among the more than $700 billion defense budget for fiscal 2020 to fund the deployments. 

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Graham, however, denied making the comments.

“I never said that to Secretary Esper,” Graham said in a statement obtained by The Hill on Tuesday. “I have a lot of respect for him. Secretary Esper knows my view that for the time being these forces are leveraging the French presence which is vital to our counterterrorism mission in Africa and I also support the Defense Secretary’s ongoing overall review of U.S. deployed forces.”

Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah also  denied the exchange took place.

"I was in the room and that was never said," she told NBC. "The secretary had a productive conversation with bipartisan, bicameral members of Congress on the future of U.S. force presence in West Africa."

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Hill. 

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Last month, Graham and Coons were among those who penned a letter pressuring Esper to keep troops in Africa. The Trump administration's push to shrink its military presence abroad comes as the race for the White House heats up and as President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE has fallen short on his promise to pull U.S. troops from "endless" wars.

"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 bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote in their letter.

--This report was updated at 12:29 p.m.