Uncertainty regarding the United States’ position on its troop presence in Africa was clarified somewhat in a statement by the Pentagon on Wednesday, February 12, that it is rotating military personnel in Africa in favor of a leaner force presence. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will be sending a portion of the Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to Africa in the coming weeks, which “allows the Army to return elements of an infantry brigade from the 101st Airborne Division back to its home base of Fort Campbell, Kentucky”, said Pentagon spokesperson Alyssah Farah.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday in Brussels while attending a NATO summit, Esper explained that the move is designed to “get the force sizing right, that the activities, the actions and tasks [are] right in each theater of command”. The New York Times reported in December that the Pentagon was considering troop reductions across the world in an effort to move combat operations away from counterterrorism and towards counterbalancing the growing strength of “great power competitors” Russia and China.
Fears of a full withdrawal sparked intense bipartisan pushback and concern from European allies and African partners on the frontlines against various rebel groups and jihadist groups threatening state security. Esper and other defense officials have stated they want to pressure European powers to contribute more to military efforts on the continent, but clarified that they are not abandoning Africa. “We’re not walking away. We are still engaged,” AFRICOM commander Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr. told reporters on Wednesday.