Milley Says Operation of Africa Command Under Review, Denies US Pulling Out

January 18, 2020 Updated: January 18, 2020
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Mark A. Milley, U.S. Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the operation of U.S. Africa Command, also known as U.S. Africom, is under review as part of the National Defense Strategy, but denied that U.S. forces would pull out of Africa.

The review of U.S. Africa Command is part of an appraisal of various combatant commands directed by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.

“We are doing a broad review … of U.S. military resources matching our broader national defense strategy,” Milley said. “In Africa, we’re doing that review.”

He made the remarks this week after meeting with his French counterpart, army Gen. Francois Lecointre, during NATO’s Military Committee meeting in Brussels.

“The question we’re working with the French on is the level of effort. Is it too much, too little, about right? And is it the right capabilities?” he said.

Milley said the goal of the review is to use the least amount of force and resources, and shot down speculation that the U.S. would pull out of Africa.

He expects the review to be take no more than two months.

Mark Milley NATO meeting
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (C) poses with U.S. service members and civilians who work at the NATO headquarters, following the NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels on Jan. 15, 2020. (Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden via DoD)

There are approximately 7,000 Department of Defense personnel (pdf) assigned to the African continent at present. In November 2018, the Pentagon reportedly planned to reduce forces by about 10 percent in the coming years.

U.S. Africom, which started to operate on Oct. 1, 2007, has around 2,000 assigned personnel, including military, U.S. federal civilian employees, and U.S. contractor employees. About 1,500 of them work at the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, while others are deployed to command units at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida and RAF Molesworth in the United Kingdom.

The command coordinates through the Offices of Security Cooperation and Defense Attaché Offices in about 38 nations and has liaison officers at key African posts, including the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping and Training Center in Ghana.

In West Africa, the U.S. military provides logistic, aviation, and sensing capabilities to French forces, British forces, and local forces to contain the terror threat from the ISIS terrorist group.

The French, which have more than 4,500 service members in West Africa, are leading the counter-terrorism efforts.

Africom Djibouti
Sailors and Coast Guardsmen from around the globe participate in a simulated visit, board, search, and seizure exercise during Cutlass Express 2019 in Djibouti on Jan. 31, 2018. (Air Force Staff Sgt. Amy Picard vid DoD)

In the National Defense Strategy (pdf) released in October 2018, the Pentagon identified the “reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” by revisionist powers as the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security.

“It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions,” the Pentagon said.

According to the National Defense Strategy, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command should have the lions share of defense resources, followed by the U.S. European Command, as the main effort is directed at the Indo-Pacific region to deter China, followed by Europe and Russia. North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations are listed as other threats.

The shift of the military’s focus from Africa to Asia has happened as China is expanding its security footprint in Africa after the opening of its first overseas military base in Djibouti in East Africa in 2017.

In a January 2019 report, the African Center for Strategic Studies, a Pentagon-backed institution funded by the U.S. Congress, detailed strategies and tactics China employed to expand militarily in Africa including holding military drills, controlling strategic ports, and peacekeeping.