The US Department of Defense is considering taking a step back from its counterterrorism operations in Africa in the near future as the US military begins to shift its focus to the Pacific region, according to the nation’s top general.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley informed reporters on Monday that the topic of scaling back the US’ presence in Africa “to increase readiness of the force in the continental US” or the Pacific has been discussed at the Pentagon. Since taking office last year, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has been vocal about the US military’s need to shift troops out of counterterrorism operations and focus its attention on Russia, “the instigator of aggression in Europe,” and China.
“We’re developing options for the secretary to consider, and we are developing those options in coordination with our allies and partners,” he told AFP shortly after arriving in Brussels for talks with NATO allies.
Milley’s confirmation of these talks comes just weeks after reports citing individuals close to the Pentagon suggested the department’s reduction in US troops in Africa would include the abandoning of a drone base in Niger and terminating the military’s assistance to French forces conducting anti-terror campaigns in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Commenting on the US’ desire to scale back counterterror operations on the continent, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed that he hoped he could get US President Donald Trump to reconsider the pullback of troops from West Africa.
“If the Americans were to decide to leave Africa, it would be really bad news for us … I hope to be able to convince President Trump that the fight against terrorism also plays out in this region,” he said Monday during his summit in Pau, France, with leaders from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – also known as the Sahel G5.
Macron also announced during the Monday meeting that he would “engage additional combat capabilities” and send a total of 220 additional troops to combat terrorists in the Greater Sahara region.
Earlier this month, US Africa Command announced that additional troops had been sent to East Africa following the January 5 attack on a US base in Kenya by al-Shabaab terrorists that resulted in the deaths of one American soldier and two US defense contractors.
A study published by the US-based Africa Centre for Strategic Studies last year found that despite the US military’s increase in counterterror forces in Africa, terror-related violence has increased, and militant Islamist group activity on the continent “has doubled since 2012.”
The research noted that while there were five “active militant Islamist groups” operating within Africa in 2010, that number has since ballooned to roughly two dozen acitve groups – many of which carry out regular attacks on 13 African countries.