WASHINGTON — Pentagon strategists are preparing recommendations for Defense Secretary James Mattis that could reduce the already small U.S. force in Africa as part of a larger shift of resources to fuel the new focus on Russia and China, officials said Tuesday.
Under the microscope are about 1,700 U.S. special forces elements that are part of the larger 7,200 strong U.S. deployment to Africa, Pentagon officials told TMN.
Mattis is already considering possible shifts in troop strengths, even though he has not received formal recommendations, the officials said. There is no timetable for the formal delivery of the recommendations, they said.
A cutback in the already modest U.S. military footprint in Africa would be a gift to Russian and Chinese elements in their expansion efforts in Africa, analysts have said.
U.S. special forces operate in Niger, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya and Tunisia, among other locations. U.S. military garrisons in Africa include Camp Cisse in Dakar, Senegal, Air Base 101 in Niamey, Niger, and Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
Following a deadly ambush in Niger last fall, the Pentagon began acceleration of the use of drone as opposed to land forces. The U.S. has permission to carry out drone strikes in Libya and Somalia, and earlier this year started arming drones in Niger. The U.S. is building is a $110 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, the largest project in Air Force history.
“This is alignment of priorities as outlined by the National Defense Strategy,” Major Sheryl Klinkel, a Pentagon spokesperson, told TMN. “It’s being discussed and no formal decision made yet.”
In August, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said the first cuts may come from the 300 troops now in Cameroon, a nation under scrutiny by human rights activists.
The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was launched October 2008 and is headquartered in Germany. Its jurisdiction is all of Africa except Egypt. AFRICOM also includes Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
Unlike other combatant commands, AFRICOM does not have assigned forces. Because African hosts are politically sensitive to any U.S. military presence, there are very limited physical facilities.
At his August press conference, Mattis said “as far as our — our continued operations there, we continue in support of the French-led trans-Sahel effort down there. And in building our — our partner nations’ capacity to fight this enemy.
“Our efforts include developing security forces in Somalia, countering ISIS in Libya and supporting partners in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions,” he said then.