3 September 2018
The United States is reviewing a plan to withdraw nearly all American counterterrorism forces from African countries, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
Three Defense Department officials told the Times that if the plans are approved by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the U.S. would shut down seven of eight elite units serving in Africa, as well as posts in Tunisia, Cameroon, Libya and Kenya.
A strong U.S. military presence would remain in Somalia and Nigeria, the account said.
A year ago, General Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there were about 6,000 U.S. military personnel in 53 African countries – which is to say nearly all of them. Two-thirds of them are based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and relatively little attention was paid to the U.S. presence until an October 2017 militant attack in Niger in which four Americans were killed.
There were 800 Americans in Niger at that time, Dunford said. “In our judgment, we’re dealing with global threats in Al Qaeda, in ISIS and other groups,” he explained. “We are working with partners on the ground in West Africa. We are working with partners on the ground in other parts of Africa. It’s the same thing we’re doing in Iraq, in Syria and it’s what we’re doing in Afghanistan.”
Since then, however, the U.S. issued its first new formal defense strategy in a decade, and that places more focus on China and Russia. On the other hand, as AFRICOM commander and Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser noted during a March hearing, the importance of a higher visibility for the U.S. is heightened by the challenge of China’s established influence on the continent.