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GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences'

GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences'
© Greg Nash

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee warned Wednesday that any drawdown of U.S. military forces in West Africa would have “real and lasting negative consequences” after visiting the continent.

“The takeaway from our meetings over the past few days was clear: any reduction in U.S. military presence in West Africa would have real and lasting negative consequences for our African partners,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSexual assault case against Air Force general can proceed, judge rules House Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal EPA gives Oklahoma authority over many tribal environmental issues MORE (R-Okla.) said in a statement. “At each meeting, they reiterated how helpful the U.S. presence has been to building their own capacities to defeat the growing radical Islamic terrorist threat in West Africa.”

Inhofe led a congressional delegation to Uganda, Ghana and Mauritania that also included Sens. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Team Trump on defense over president's comments on white supremacy Trump says Proud Boys should 'stand down' after backlash to debate comments Tim Scott: Trump 'misspoke' with white supremacy remark, should correct Proud Boys comment MORE (R-S.D.) and John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanRomney calls first Trump-Biden debate 'an embarrassment' COVID-19 relief talks look dead until September  Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick MORE (R-Ark.) along with Reps. Trent KellyJohn (Trent) Trent KellyHouse votes to curtail Insurrection Act powers Defense bill would survey troops on if they've faced 'racist, anti-Semitic or supremacist' activity House GOP lawmakers urge Senate to confirm Vought MORE (R-Miss.) and Tim WalbergTimothy (Tim) Lee WalbergHillicon Valley: Judge's ruling creates fresh hurdle for TikTok | House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks | Biden campaign urges Facebook to remove Trump posts spreading 'falsehoods' House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks The health care crisis no one is talking about MORE (R-Mich.).

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Inhofe, who was instrumental in the establishment of U.S. Africa Command in 2007, has previously warned about a drawdown in Africa amid Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Biden nets military family endorsements | Final debate features North Korea exchange | Judge refuses to dismiss sexual assault case against top general Israel signals it won't oppose F-35 sale to UAE Our troops in the Sinai are a small force with outsized importance MORE’s review of force posture there.

Esper is eyeing a reduction in forces aimed at better aligning with the National Defense Strategy, which focuses on competition with Russia and China.

But lawmakers who support the U.S. military presence in Africa argue it is vital to countering Russian and Chinese influence on the continent, in addition to its counterterrorism role. 

Inhofe’s latest comments come after Esper reportedly got an earful from another backer of U.S. forces in Africa, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid MORE (R-S.C.).

NBC News reported that Graham told Esper at this past weekend’s Munich Security Conference that he could “make your life hell” if the Defense secretary withdrew forces from West Africa.

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Graham denied using those words, but also said 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.”

Inhofe and his delegation’s meetings in Africa included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Defense Minister Adolf Mwesige; Ghanaian Defense Minister Dominic Nitiwul, Speaker of Parliament Mike Ocquaye, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani; and the permanent secretariat for the G5 Sahel, which coordinates development and security in West Africa.

“I was especially encouraged that our African friends are not asking us to do this work for them. They each emphasized their ownership over the fight, and I am eager to share the specific examples of how our partnership has helped them with Secretary Esper when I return,” Inhofe said in his statement.

“Our small military presence across Africa is meaningful, and provides significant return on investment. Our partners are grateful for our leadership,” he added. “Downgrading our investment now would only increase our risk and make future competition or potential conflict more costly down the road.”