U.S. shifts AFRICOM strategy as troops are ‘overmatched’ by militants

Feb. 12 (UPI) — U.S. Africa Command is shifting its strategy to focus on containing al-Qaida and Islamic State affiliates and other militant groups, according to reports and comments from Pentagon officials.

“The Secretary of Defense has been conducting a comprehensive review of DoD forces, programs and activities within each Combatant Command to ensure alignment with the National Defense Strategy’s priorities. U.S. Africa Command was the first to present their findings and recommendations,” Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in a Wednesday statement. “As part of this review and in order to better compete with China and Russia in Africa, the Secretary is directing the deployment of elements of the Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) to the continent to conduct train, advise, and assist missions in spotlight African countries.”

Farah’s comments come on the heels of a report released earlier this week by the Department of Defense’s lead inspector general on AFRICOM operations in the fourth quarter of 2019, and on comments from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who suggested in January that the United States might pull back on the counterterror mission in Africa to focus on threats from China and Russia.

“In West Africa, the U.S. military relies on French and African partner forces to execute most counterterrorism operations,” the report said. “VEOs continue to target civilians and military personnel there, and their attacks are intensifying. USAFRICOM told the DoD OIG that it has shifted its strategy from ‘degrading’ these VEOs to ‘containing’ them.”

In the report’s introduction, lead inspector general Glenn A. Fine reiterated the concern about threats from the two larger powers, but also wrote that “no final decisions have been made regarding resources for counterterrorism operations in Africa.”

About 800 U.S. troops are currently stationed in West Africa assisting 4,000 French troops.

According to the report, which describes U.S. forces as being “overmatched” in West Africa in particular, at least 230 soldiers were killed by extremist violence in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali during the quarter.

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