Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, with French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
UPDATED 3:05 PM PT — Thursday, January 30, 2020
Defense Secretary Mark Esper is contemplating withdrawing thousands of troops from West Africa. During a press conference with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, Esper clarified this claim by saying the move would not be restricted to a reduction in personnel.
“(We are) adjusting numbers and how we allocate the personnel more toward global great power competition,” he said.
The decision would be part of Esper’s worldwide review as he tries to refocus military priorities on Russia and China. He said his goal is to free up time and money around the world while pinpointing where the U.S. needs to redirect attention.
“I want to make sure that we compete, first and foremost, when it comes to the (National Defense Strategy) NDS in the respective theaters, but it’s also a global competition with Russia and China,” stated Esper. “We need to make sure that we’re well postured to deal with them as appropriate, wherever we may find that presence.”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper shake hands with French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly, at news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The defense secretary also met with French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly this week to discuss a possible reduction in U.S. troops who are currently assisting in French military operations. However, Esper emphasized the U.S. does not intend to leave France on its own.
“I think it’s time for other European allies to assist as well in the region,” he said. “That could offset whatever changes we make as we consider next steps in Africa.”
As of now, there are up to 7,000 troops in Africa. The proposed cut would most likely focus on the several hundred troops stationed in Niger, Chad and Mali.
It is unclear the effect a reduction would have on the recently built, multimillion-dollar drone base in Niger. Esper reiterated no decisions have been made.
“This is a process,” he said. “I had Africom in last week, and what they presented with me raised many other questions that have been tasked out.”
The defense secretary is expected to hold another meeting with the U.S. Africa Command soon to talk about potential adjustments.
FILE – In this photo taken Monday, April 16, 2018, a U.S. and Niger flag are raised side by side at the base camp for air forces and other personnel supporting the construction of Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger. (AP Photo/Carley Petesch, File)