Recently, we have been seeing a push to remove troops from combat zones. Although the spotlight has been on Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa has also been a point of discussion.
According to a Military Times article, at the end of last year, there were reports that the Department of Defense was considering the idea of decreasing the number of troops in Africa. This is because firstly DoD wants to cut spending and secondly since it believes that troops could be better used somewhere else. The idea was met with resistance from U.S. and African representatives.
This past week, the Commander of Special Operations Command Africa, Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, echoed the same sentiment, claiming that U.S. military presence on the ground is crucial. According to Anderson, al-Qaeda is becoming a growing threat in the region. Al-Qaeda has begun building stronger ties to the locally well-known extremist group, al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab has been getting more attention recently as they clash with American troops and allies. Just last week, a U.S. soldier was wounded and four Somali soldiers were killed in an al-Shabaab attack in Somalia.
Maj. Gen. Anderson said that al-Qaeda is building a stronghold in Western Africa, in countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso.
“I think that’s an issue that we need to address, both with our policymakers and our leadership, to understand why strategically it’s important in Africa but also to our local communities and our populace: why does Africa matter? People understand why Europe and Asia matter, but they don’t fully understand why Africa matters,” Anderson said.
Niger specifically, has become a place of contention and an area where U.S. Special Operations forces have spent a lot of time training local forces.
Additionally, U.S. Army Civilian Affairs units have been conducting welfare and humanity projects in countries like Cameroon, where the Boko Haram presence is strong.
To increase the U.S.’s presence and training capabilities in Africa, the Army has deployed its Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB). This unit’s role is to train allied large-scale conventional forces.
According to Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, “Special Forces is very good at training tactical-type units; they’re very good at accompanying tactical-type units, But SFABs build a professional military force, which is different. How do you do logistics? How do you maintain vehicles? How do you build a professional military that will provide security?”
In comparison to the large French presence in Africa, Anderson acknowledged that the U.S. military is packing a big punch and making a difference saying, “We’re having great effect [sic] with our small investment.”