US plans to cut troops, pare missions in Africa

Proposal is response to Trump govt strategy to focus more on threats from China, Russia

General Thomas Waldhauser said the Africa Command that he heads was the first to be asked to submit a drawdown plan.
General Thomas Waldhauser said the Africa Command that he heads was the first to be asked to submit a drawdown plan.

STUTTGART • Hundreds of American troops in Africa would be reassigned and the number of Special Operations missions on the continent would be wound down under plans submitted by a top US commander, a response to the Trump administration's strategy to increasingly focus on threats from China and Russia.

US Defence Department officials said they expected most of the troop cuts and scaled-back missions to come from Central and West Africa, where Special Operations missions have focused on training African militaries to combat the growing threat from Islamist militant groups.

The plan by General Thomas Waldhauser, head of the US Africa Command, follows an ambush in Niger last autumn that killed four American soldiers and an attack in south-western Somalia that killed another in June.

In an interview with The New York Times, Gen Waldhauser said his plan would help streamline the military's ability to combat threats around the world - but not retreat from Africa.

Africa has become an emerging battlefield for the United States in the fight against Islamist militant groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram and others across the continent that have sworn loyalty to Al-Qaeda.

Mr Carter Ham, a retired US Army general who once led the Africa Command, said he agreed "in principle" with paying more attention to Russia and China - the notion at the heart of a national defence strategy unveiled in January by Defence Secretary James Mattis.

But Mr Ham said: "My concern in Africa is that with an already very modest presence and level of engagement, reducing that will lessen the likelihood for good outcomes across the continent."

Gen Waldhauser said the Africa Command was the first to be asked to submit a drawdown plan. But he said he expected other American combatant commands around the world to do the same under the defence strategy to better position the US military against threats from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

As part of the plan, the Africa Command was asked how it would conduct its counterterrorism missions if the number of US commandos there was cut by 25 per cent over 18 months, and by 50 per cent over three years.

Ultimately, that would leave about 700 troops - roughly the same number as in 2014, according to data from the Africa Command's Special Operations branch.

Separately on Wednesday, the US Congress passed legislation that would force technology companies to disclose if they allowed countries like China and Russia to examine the inner workings of software sold to the US military.

The legislation, part of the Pentagon's spending Bill, was drafted after a Reuters investigation last year found software makers allowed a Russian defence agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software used by some agencies of the US government, including the Pentagon and intelligence services. The spending Bill is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2018, with the headline 'US plans to cut troops, pare missions in Africa'. Subscribe