Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R, Okla.), in op-ed published Wednesday in the Washington Post, called for an increased military presence on the African continent even as the Department of Defense is pondering a withdrawal from the region.
Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper is considering shifting troops out of Africa to better keep watch on China and Russia. As a result the 6,000 military personnel stationed throughout Africa may have to move, potentially creating a vacuum that could allow for more violence and an increase in influence from other world powers.
“The need to be involved in Africa is about more than just countering the terrorist threat. If we don’t maintain — or, frankly, even expand — our commitment there, we will cede influence and access across the continent to Russia and China,” read the piece by Inhofe.
Recently Secretary Esper has made comments that no plan has been made or finalized to remove troops from the United States Africa Command, or Africom. However, he has made it clear in the past that more availability of military resources is a goal.
“I'm looking -- asking for them to look where they can free up time, money and manpower to put into our top priorities as chartered by the National Defense Strategy: China, number one; Russia, number two,” said Esper during a joint press conference with Afghan officials in October 2019.
In addition to the potential of ceding influence and a rise in violence in the region, a U.S. troop withdrawal would mean less availability for military assistance, training and development for African nations facing terrorism. Other countries with a presence in the region, like France, also depend on U.S. military support, resources and logistics.
“Our current presence isn’t just critical for our African partners; it also serves as a force multiplier and provides assurance to our European allies for their own counterterrorism partnerships in the region,” wrote Inhofe.
U.S. Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the Africom commander, highlighted the strategic significance of the continent and the developing influencers at play before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 30.
“The men and women of U.S. Africa Command, our partners on the continent, and our broad collection of stakeholders understand how important Africa is to the global economy and security environment,” said Townsend. “Strategic access to Africa, its airspace, and its surrounding waters is vital to U.S. national security.”
Townsend also acknowledged that China is investing heavily in infrastructure in Africa as part of their Belt and Road initiative, which is an attempt to increase trade opportunity and influence throughout the eastern hemisphere. And, since 2012 China has sold over $2 billion in arms to African countries and added embassies on the continent now totaling 52, three more than the United States.
Additionally, Russia has increased arms sales to nearly $9 billion on the continent over the past seven years and Russian private military companies play a role in exerting influence and keeping a foothold in Africa.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping see what I see: the strategic importance of Africa. But as the United States is considering pulling back, Russia and China are surging in their investment,” wrote Inhofe.
“Our African partners’ capabilities are improving, but what has most impressed me is their commitment. They own the fight, but they want our help to ensure they win,” he wrote
Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.