As the last US troops depart Niger, a troubling picture emerges – a continent increasingly vulnerable to the spread of extremism, with American eyes now dimmed.

The military drawdown in Africa, driven by recent coups and strained relations, coincides with a critical time: Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda affiliates are digging in, presenting a potential future threat to the US and its allies.

Numbers on the Rise, Capabilities Unclear

Intelligence gathered from the recently shuttered $100 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, previously provided a crucial window into the activities of extremist groups in West Africa.

General Michael Langley, head of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), acknowledges the challenge, telling reporters from Reuters: “Our ability to monitor the threat is degraded because of the loss of Agadez.

While ISIS numbers in Somalia hover around 200, the much larger al-Shabaab boasts an estimated 10,000-12,000 fighters.

The question haunting military officials is not just their size but their capabilities.

Have they been growing in capability where they can do what we call external ops attacks on the homeland and attacks on allies, whether we’re talking about Europe or anyone?ponders General Langley, highlighting the fear of future assaults on US soil or against allies.

“I’d say it has the potential as they grow in numbers,” he added.

General Michael Langley
General Langley speaking during a panel at African Chiefs of Defense Conference (ACHOD) 2024, in Gaborone, Botswana, June 25, 2024. (Image source: DVIDS)

Strategic Shift Needed

The US withdrawal from Niger is just one piece of a broader trend.

Strained relations with several African nations have led to similar pullouts, leaving intelligence gaps across the continent.

This strategic shift comes as Russia and China offer a more transactional approach to military cooperation, one that doesn’t involve harping on democracy and human rights – a source of frustration for some African leaders.

Collaboration, Not Just Withdrawal

The answer, according to military leaders like General C.Q. Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lies in collaboration, not just withdrawal.

During an address at the African Chiefs of Defense conference in Botswana on Tuesday (June 25), General Brown highlighted the importance of listening to African partners and pursuing solutions beyond military intervention.

“To achieve lasting, shared peace, prosperity, and security, it’s not about one country dominating or deciding what will work for another,” General Brown said. “It’s about using our shared insights, experiences, and perspectives.”

This new approach might prioritize building trust, understanding local perspectives, and potentially focusing on non-military solutions alongside intelligence-gathering efforts.

In May, Niger’s military junta has ordered the US to complete its withdrawal by September 15.

US service members
US service members bid farewell to their teammates as they board the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft departing Niamey, Niger, June 7, 2024. (Image source: DVIDS)

The future of US security in Africa hangs in the balance. Can the US adapt its strategy, forging stronger partnerships while addressing the continent’s needs? Only time will tell if America can prevent a blind retreat from becoming a strategic blunder.

Disclaimer: SOFREP utilizes AI for image generation and article research. Occasionally, it’s like handing a chimpanzee the keys to your liquor cabinet. It’s not always perfect, and if a mistake is made, we own up to it full stop. In a world where information comes at us in tidal waves, it is an important tool that helps us sift through the brass for live rounds.