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Out of Africa by Lina Knosh

Updated on February 8, 2020

During his visit to Brussels to attend the NATO meetings, the American Chief of Staff, Mark Millie, reaffirmed the intention of the United States to withdraw from some of its military deployment arenas, such as Africa and the Middle East. The decision to significantly reduce the number of these forces is in line with the new national defense strategy announced at the beginning of 2018, which is centered on "the challenges imposed by China and Russia", and the need to review Washington's priorities from them. But the decision to change the aforementioned American priorities, and the transition from the war on terror to rivalry between the superpowers, is problematic for the United States’s African partners benefiting from its military aid, and also to the French forces stationed in West Africa.

Since the start of Operation Serval in 2013, the American military presence has provided invaluable support to France (AFP)
Since the start of Operation Serval in 2013, the American military presence has provided invaluable support to France (AFP)

Since 2002, the United States has focused most of its efforts to combat terrorism in Niger and the Sahel region, in close cooperation with the Group of Five, as well as with Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Libya, Senegal and Tunisia. This cooperation allowed the preparation, organization and training of local military forces and the modernization of their capabilities, and made it easier for American agencies to develop their intelligence networks and obtain important sources of information and data. On the other hand, since the start of the "Serval" process in 2013, the American military presence has provided invaluable support to France, which plays the main role in what has been called the "Barkhan" operation. US-French cooperation includes US assistance in the area of ​​technical information, transportation, and air transportation. Decisive US support allowed some logistical gaps to be bridged during field operations. An article entitled "American aid devoted to combating terrorism to the Sahel states has doubled to $ 111 million", published on The Defense Post, the importance of financial support from Washington in this regard. The United States had promised to provide $ 111 million in direct aid to the joint force of the Sahel countries, allowing the preparation and training of a battalion in each of them. This assistance was supplemented with "additional support of 131 million dollars allocated to enhance security in each of the Group of Five, and to develop its military, judicial and law enforcement capabilities". But rethinking the US military deployment around the world, and withdrawing from the anti-terrorist battles linked to the growing strategic role of China and Russia internationally, will have negative repercussions for Washington's African partners and their capabilities to fight terrorism. The United States had promised to provide $ 111 million in direct aid to the joint force of the Sahel countries, allowing the preparation and training of a battalion in each of them. This assistance was supplemented with "additional support of 131 million dollars allocated to enhance security in each of the Group of Five, and to develop its military, judicial and law enforcement capabilities." But rethinking the US military deployment around the world, and withdrawing from the anti-terror battles, linked to the growing strategic role of China and Russia internationally, will have negative repercussions for Washington's African partners and their capabilities to fight terrorism. The United States had promised to provide $ 111 million in direct aid to the joint force of the Sahel countries, allowing the preparation and training of a battalion in each of them. This assistance was supplemented with "additional support of 131 million dollars allocated to enhance security in each of the Group of Five, and to develop its military, judicial and law enforcement capabilities." But rethinking the US military deployment around the world, and withdrawing from the anti-terror battles, linked to the growing strategic role of China and Russia internationally, will have negative repercussions for Washington's African partners and their capabilities to fight terrorism.

The decline in the US military presence on the continent is part of a rescheduling of strategic priorities

The US decision to reduce the military presence raises questions about its worth among some observers, in light of the expansion of Russian and Chinese influence in the African continent. If at first glance this decision appears to contradict the declared American goal of confronting these two international competitors, other data reveal that changing the approach towards Africa is closely related to an approach to curb the growing economic capabilities of China.

It is not yet possible to talk about Washington's abandonment of the security approach to Africa, because it can compensate for its official military presence by resorting to private security companies. The demand for the latter's intervention has risen within the framework of the "Akuta" program since 2004, and it is devoted to training and developing the military and command experiences of armies in several African countries. As Alain LeBeoufov pointed out in a study issued by the "French Center for International Relations" in August 2019, about strategic competition in Africa, retirees from non-African security services or private security companies, training and organizing the local armed forces, "can even plan for operations." And units of these forces carry out them, whether reconnaissance or attacks on targets are considered dangerous”. These private companies are likely to be considered a serious alternative to American forces.

The United States had tended to strengthen its economic cooperation with Africa, as a strategic response to the growing Chinese presence on the continent. In 2017, the total exchanges between Washington, the third trading partner for Africa, and the countries of the continent amounted to about $ 39 billion, while China ranked first with $ 170 billion. This fact prompted the former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, to announce, in December 2018, the launch of the American "Africa Boom" program, aimed at developing trade ties and scale of exchanges to prevent the continent's economic subjugation to China.

Reconsidering the American deployment will have negative repercussions for Washington's African partners

Under this program, $ 60 million was allocated to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to provide technical and advisory assistance to companies wishing to operate in Africa. The number of consumers on the continent will reach approximately 1.52 billion in 2025, or about 5 times the population of the United States, according to an article by The Washington Post on June 19, 2019. It reflected the convening of the AGOA Forum in Abidjan, which includes the United States and 39 countries Africa, the US strategy has shifted from an exclusive focus on security considerations to a priority to contain the rise of Chinese economic and political influence on the continent.

The decline in the US military presence on the continent comes as part of a rescheduling of the strategic priorities of the United States, aware of its inability to maintain a heavy military presence in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and to continue to actively participate in the fight against terrorism in Africa. The only appropriate strategy for Washington, based on these data, is to reorganize its military deployment, while moving forward with the intensifying economic competition in Africa.

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