Amid rising attacks by Islamic supremacists, the American military presence in Africa has come under scrutiny in U.S. policy circles, as well as among African analysts.
Some two-thirds of the approximately 6,000 U.S. troops in Africa are stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti City. As many as 800 are deployed in Somalia and Kenya, and another 1,400 are reportedly in west Africa.
Members of Congress have voiced concern about indications that the Trump administration is moving towards reduced military engagement on the continent. Deteriorating security in several African regions has prompted fears of growing instability, as well as fears about the methods used to contain the spreading violence.
“A devastating surge in terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets” is producing “alarming humanitarian consequences,” Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the United Nations Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel told the Security Council earlier this month. An update issued January 18 by the U.S. government-funded Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) says “militant Islamist groups in Africa set a record pace of activity in 2019,” with attacks doubling since 2013.
The Pentagon is examining the level of support needed for military operations across Africa, which are conducted by the U.S. Africa Command, known as Africom. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military, said last week that he expects the review to be completed within two months.
News of the review has sparked what government relations consultant Riva Levinson calls “bipartisan, bicameral Congressional push-back”. A drawdown of U.S. forces, if implemented, “would be in defiance of the White House’s own Africa policy, of U.S. national security interests in preempting threats to the U.S. homeland and in contravention of commitments to our NATO allies,” Levinson wrote in a column for The Hill.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe, a senior Republican from Oklahoma, opposes a downsizing of Africom, which he says “provides an enormous value to the nation for an extremely modest level of investment.” In a January 16 statement, Inhofe said: “Africa has been and must remain a key theater for our counterterrorism efforts.”
Eleven members of the U.S. House of Representatives have voiced similar concern, led by Armed Services Committee Vice Chair Anthony G. Brown, a Maryland Democrat. “Rather than retreat from African affairs, it is in the interest of the United States to continue to share democratic values and military expertise with developing nations across the continent,” the bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on January 14. The letter argues that U.S. troops are vital for regional stability and for countering terrorism, human trafficking and illegal trade.
Three days later, the chairman and ‘ranking member’ of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith and Mac Thornberry – the committee’s senior Democrat and Republican, respectively – warned Esper to “carefully consider the adverse implications of reducing our force posture in Africa,” according to MilitaryTimes.
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