United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been weighing options for global force redeployment, which is part of an effort to more aggressively counter China and Russia on the world stage. One of the options Esper has been considering is a significant drawdown—if not a complete withdrawal—of American forces in Africa, including intelligence assets and defense attachés.
Esper’s deliberations were leaked to the press, creating a rare moment of bipartisan support as various congressmen called on Esper to maintain US military presence in Africa, particularly in its efforts to combat terrorism. The US has six to seven thousand troops stationed in Africa, the largest number of them in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa. US forces are aiding West Africa and France in their counterterrorism efforts against Boko Haram, Al-Qaida, and the Islamic State in the Sahara Desert and the border regions of Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. The Horn of Africa has become a battleground involving the Somalian group Al-Shabab, which operates mainly along the Kenyan–Somali border.
The United States has also been operating a drone base in Niger, which has provided life-saving air cover during terrorist attacks against military outposts manned by West African armies. A full withdrawal would prolong the fight, potentially even giving terror groups time to regroup and push West African and French forces out of the border territory. It would also reduce the ability of American intelligence to monitor jihadist terrorist movement as well as Russian and Chinese involvement on the continent.