WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday that the U.S. will continue to support French anti-terrorism efforts in Africa despite a Pentagon review of the U.S. footprint on that continent aimed at reducing the force size.
“We have no intention of cutting back one bit on that support,” Mattis said during a press conference in Paris with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.
Mattis is in Europe to meet with NATO defense ministers. He stopped in Paris to hold private meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Parly en route to Brussels, where the NATO meeting is being held.
The Pentagon provides the French with intelligence, surveillance, and logistics such as refueling and transportation, primarily in its operations in Mali. The support costs about $46 million, Pentagon officials said.
French operations in Africa are centered in Mail, in a battle against regional Qaeda and ISIS offshoots. The French forces in Mali were those who came to support U.S. troops in Niger during the deadly 2017 ambush one year ago this week. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in that ambush.
That ambush has prompted reviews and discussion about changes in U.S. operations in Africa. Mattis made it clear any changes would not impact the support of the French.
“We will maintain the intelligence support and logistics support, and we fully embrace the French mission there, as do a number of other of our allies,” Mattis said.
The press conference was televised to Pentagon reporters via a link from Paris. It was held under the portrait of Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau, who led the French Expedition Corps during the U.S. revolution.
Parly said that “such gestures and such cohesion also are telling terrorists that they will have no safe haven and that we are resolved to crush them.”
In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said the meetings were to “reaffirm the long-standing defense relationship between the United States and France.
“Secretary Mattis thanked President Macron and Minister Parly for their leadership and contributions to the fight against terror in the Levant and Sahel,” White said. “Both nations agreed NATO remains the cornerstone of European military security.”