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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 InhofeOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Senate confirms Austin to lead Pentagon under Biden Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges 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 RoundsMike RoundsSenate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda The GOP is in a fix: Gordian knot or existential crisis? McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-S.D.) and John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSenate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto Republican senators introduce bill to protect government workers from being targeted at home Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair MORE (R-Ark.) along with Reps. Trent KellyJohn (Trent) Trent KellyTop Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results House votes to curtail Insurrection Act powers MORE (R-Miss.) and Tim WalbergTimothy (Tim) Lee WalbergREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview 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 EsperTrump administration official Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief Watch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget Biden needs to fill the leadership gaps on Day One 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 GrahamTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February 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.”