House defense bill targets potential troop drawdowns in Africa, South Korea

The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill seeks to put roadblocks on withdrawing U.S. troops from Africa and South Korea.

The so-called chairman’s mark of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – the version of the bill drafted by Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) – would require the Pentagon to report to Congress on the effects, implications and costs of a troop drawdown in Africa on military, diplomatic, development and humanitarian efforts.

It would also require a report on the effects of a drawdown within 90 days if the number of troops dips below 80 percent of current force posture.

Reports first surfaced earlier this year that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was eying slashing the number of U.S. troops in Africa as part of a global review of U.S. force posture to redirect troops to counter Russia and China. He later confirmed he was considering a reduction but insisted it would not be a full withdrawal.

The plan received bipartisan backlash from lawmakers who argued the troops are needed not only to fight terrorism, but also to serve as a buttress against Russian and Chinese efforts to increase their influence in Africa.

More recently, President Trump announced he plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany. Trump has framed the drawdown as a punitive measure in response to Germany not meeting NATO’s defense spending goal, while national security advisor Robert O’Brien argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed the forces are needed in the Indo-Pacific region.

The planned Germany withdrawal has also sparked a bipartisan backlash from lawmakers who say a drawdown would undermine U.S. alliances, be a gift to Russia and diminish a cost-effective launch point for operations around the globe.

The chairman’s mark of the NDAA does not address U.S. troops in Germany, which is an issue that likely came up too late in the process to include. But it is likely to come up as an amendment when the committee considers the bill next week.

The chairman’s mark does continue a prohibition on funds to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea absent a certification from the Defense secretary, which lawmakers fear Trump will also do. The provision was first included in last year’s bill, with this year’s version adding additional certification requirements such as ensuring a reduction is commensurate with a reduction in the threat posed by North Korea.

The issue has become more pressing this year as Washington and Seoul have yet to reach a new cost-sharing agreement after the last one expired Dec. 31 amid the Trump administration’s demands for South Korea to pay significantly more to base U.S. troops there.

Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump Mark Esper

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