Africa: Senators Write to Secretary Esper Requesting Reconsideration of AFRICOM Drawdown

press release

Washington, DC — U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware) yesterday sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper concerning the possible troop reduction or complete withdrawal from the AFRICOM area of responsibility.

“We write to express our serious concern regarding reports of a possible decision to significantly reduce or completely withdraw U.S. Armed Forces within the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility, specifically the Sahel of West Africa,” wrote Graham and Coons.

“While we support the intent of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the desire to do more to focus on our near-peer competitors, we must not forget the continued threat from violent extremist to our interests and our homeland. 

“Furthermore, the retention of forces within the AFRICOM area of responsibility serves as a check against the growing presence of near-peer competitors like China and Russia who continue to expand their influence across the continent.”


The full text of the letter is below.

January 15, 2020
The Honorable Mark T. Esper
Secretary of Defense
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Secretary Esper:

We write to express our serious concern regarding reports of a possible decision to significantly reduce or completely withdraw U.S. Armed Forces within the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility, specifically the Sahel of West Africa.  While we support the intent of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the desire to do more to focus on our near-peer competitors, we must not forget the continued threat from violent extremist to our interests and our homeland.  Furthermore, the retention of forces within the AFRICOM area of responsibility serves as a check against the growing presence of near-peer competitors like China and Russia who continue to expand their influence across the continent.  

The United States currently maintains approximately 7,000 personnel throughout the continent located on strategic bases, such as the newly constructed drone airbase near Agadez, Niger.  These personnel and installations are critical in combatting the ever-increasing number of violent extremist groups throughout the region that pose an immediate threat to our partners and allies in the region.  In fact, there are at least a dozen terror groups with ties to either the Islamic State or al Qaeda operating in Africa.  Our European partners, such as France, rely on our intelligence and logistic support for operations within West Africa.  A reduction at this time would counter the intent of the NDS which states as one of its goals to “bolster existing bilateral and multilateral partnerships and develop new relationships to address significant terrorist threats that threaten U.S. interests and contribute to challenges in Europe and the Middle East.”  In addition, African nations benefit from U.S. military train and assist programs, and the abandonment of these programs could result in further instability on the continent and serve to strengthen terrorist groups that could target the homeland.

A withdrawal from the continent would also certainly embolden both Russia and China.  The influence of these nations on the continent has significantly increased with Russia currently maintaining military cooperation deals with the governments of at least nineteen African nations and China opening its first overseas military installation in Djibouti in 2017.  In addition to increased military presence on the continent, both nations are engaging in significant debt relief programs and have injected substantial foreign investment into a number of nations.  However, as we have seen in other areas, Russian and Chinese investment into Africa only serves to increase Russia and China’s global power.

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the Global Fragility Act into law, legislation we co-authored to address the root causes of violent extremism and reduce instability in fragile countries and regions around the world.  The Sahel of West Africa and the Horn of Africa are two regions ripe for U.S. engagement.  We urge the Department of Defense to work with the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop a long-term strategy required by the Global Fragility Act to stabilize fragile regions in Africa. 

Africa is a continent full of potential, and this is the wrong time to withdraw U.S. troops serving to stabilize fragile regions of the continent.  Any withdrawal or reduction would likely result in a surge in violent extremist attacks on the continent and beyond as well as increase the geopolitical influence of competitors like Russia and China; both key concerns of the NDS.  A withdrawal would also abandon our partners and allies in the region.  Finally, our continued presence in Africa can serve as an example of American values that have made our nation so great.  

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. 

Sincerely,
Lindsey O. Graham
Christopher A. Coons

 

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.