US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said his country would not withdraw all its forces from Africa, as he carries out a global troop review meant to free up resources to address challenges from China’s military.
“We are not going to totally withdraw forces from Africa. I know that is the concern of many folks, but again I say no decisions have been made yet, this is a process,” Esper said.
Esper is spearheading the review. The US currently has around 6 000 military personnel in Africa. The possibility of cuts alarms France, which relies on US intelligence and logistics for its 4 500-strong Sahel mission.
The deaths of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter crash during a combat mission in Mali in November increased French determination to secure more support in the zone.
During a visit to the Pentagon, French Defence Minister Florence Parly warned Esper joint counterterrorism efforts in West Africa would be harmed by cuts to US military assistance.
During a congressional hearing, the head of US Africa Command said withdrawing support from France in Sahel would mean efforts against militant groups would “not go in a good direction.”
General Stephen Townsend believed the review undertaken by Esper could reduce the tasks US forces in Africa carry out.
This month, Somalia’s al Shabaab militant group killed three Americans – one military service member and two contractors – in an attack on a military base in Kenya used by US and Kenyan forces.
Townsend said the forces were inadequately prepared for the attack and the military was looking into why.
He added intelligence suggested Iranian and Iranian-backed forces were looking to strike back at the US after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and one place could be Africa.