The top Republican lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees are adding their names to the growing pushback against the Pentagon’s potential plan to draw down U.S. forces in Africa.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) last week urged Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to maintain counterterrorism efforts when making any drawdown plans on the continent, warning that “terrorist activity in this region is rapidly increasing.”
“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 lawmakers wrote in a Friday letter.
“The increase in terrorist attacks in West Africa is staggering, with extremist-related violence having doubled every year since 2015,” they added. “Partner militaries are underfunded and ill-equipped to respond to this drastic increase in violence. That is why our limited, yet focused presence across Africa, is so important.”
The New York Times reported last month that Esper was considering significantly reducing or completely withdrawing U.S. troops from West Africa in order to shift forces to better focus on Russian and Chinese military aggression.
The plan, which has not been finalized, could focus on several hundred American troops who are deployed in Niger, Chad and Mali to aid and assist in the fight against militant terrorist groups.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) have also pressed the Defense Department to stop the potential reduction, as have a bipartisan group of 11 House lawmakers, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.), and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Esper told reporters on Monday that “no decisions yet have been made” and that his top priority “is to implement the National Defense Strategy. That means that we are focused on great power competition with China, then Russia.”
He would not comment on reports that indicate that the new force plan could include abandoning a recently built $110 million drone base in Niger.
Risch and McCaul argue that in order to counter a China and Russia that are increasing their presence throughout Africa, “U.S. presence is vital.”
“The Trump administration has been clear-eyed about China and Russia’s destabilizing and dangerous global activities, including in Africa. The full force of the U.S. government must address their efforts to undermine democratic values and free market economies,” they wrote.
U.S. forces are in West Africa to train and assist security forces in an effort to quell extremist Islamic groups including Boko Haram and those pledging loyalty to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.