Africa: Inhofe: Strong U.S. Presence in Africa is Critical to Our National Defense Strategy

press release

Washington, DC — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, submitted the following statement for the record today:

Mr. President, as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, my top priority is ensuring the effective implementation of the National Defense Strategy.

I rise today to speak about the importance of Africa as a key front in our global efforts under the NDS to compete with China and Russia, defend U.S. national security, and combat radical terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. The NDS says competition with China and Russia is “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security.” This is where DoD is rightly focusing its attention. But China’s and Russia’s growing influence isn’t restricted to Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

Recent actions by China and Russia clearly demonstrate that both countries view Africa as a critical battlefield to fulfill their global ambitions and challenge U.S. interests.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve conducted 164 African country visits.  I can tell you it’s no coincidence that China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti--strategically located on one of the most important maritime transit routes in the world.  I visited Djibouti last February and saw first-hand China’s military base and their encroachment on the Port of Djibouti.

Elsewhere, China is using cash and debt to trap countries and force them to put their infrastructure and potentially their very sovereignty on sale. For example, 90 percent of African exports depend on ports and China is funding, building or operating at least 46 port projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to giving China a potential stranglehold on African prosperity, it also provides China access to critical maritime routes and chokepoints.

At the same time, Russia is using its armed forces, mercenaries and the sale of Russian arms to buy influence, exploit Africa’s natural resources, and to prop up leaders sympathetic to Russian interests and hostile to those of the West.

And while the NDS states that competition with China and Russia should be DoD’s top priority, it makes clear that we cannot afford to lose sight of the continuing threat posed by radical terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Africa has been and must remain a key theater for our counterterrorism efforts.

Today, more than a dozen terrorist groups with ties to al-Qaeda and ISIS, like Al-Shabab, are operating across the continent. Many of these groups have ambition to attack Americans and our partners, as we saw last week when Al-Shabab militants in Kenya killed a U.S. service member and two DoD contractors.

Without pressure, the threat these groups pose to the U.S. will grow unchecked. And this isn’t a recent development – I’ve seen this come up time and time again on my visits to the continent. It’s why I pushed the DoD for years to stand up an Africa command.

People forget that we didn’t always have a dedicated military presence in Africa, despite its strategic importance. It was managed through three separate combatant commands.

I worked with DoD and then-President Bush to change that, and, in 2008, we officially stood up United States Africa Command (AFRICOM).

Despite the breadth of security challenges we face on the African continent every day, AFRICOM has consistently suffered resource shortfalls.

On any given day, there are about 7,000 DoD personnel serving in Africa. Africa is home to 1.3 billion people and is larger geographically than China, India, the United States, and most of Europe–combined!

In light of these significant resource and geographical challenges, the men and women of AFRICOM perform critical missions every day to check Chinese and Russian influence, combat terrorism and strengthen the capabilities of our partners.

AFRICOM provides an enormous value to the nation for an extremely modest level of investment—the very definition of “economy of force.”

Despite this, I understand that DoD is reviewing our military presence in Africa and is considering significant cuts.

Given what is at stake for both U.S. national security and effective implementation of NDS, we must have a meaningful, albeit limited, U.S. presence in Africa.

Any drawdown of our troops would be short-sighted, could cripple AFRICOM’s ability to execute its mission and, as a result, would harm national security.

Rather than talking about drawing down troops in Africa, we should finally assign forces to AFRICOM on an enduring basis – including an SFAB – in order to provide the command with predictable resourcing so it can be most effective in defending U.S. national security.

I urge the Secretary of Defense to keep this in mind as he makes decisions on the future of our presence and role in Africa.

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