Despite French calls to not withdraw from Sahel anti-terror force, the U.S. military's Africa Command (Africom) has switched from trying to degrade militant groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat increases, according to a new U.S. government report.
The quarterly report by the inspectors general for the Pentagon, State Department and USAID released this week is the first to be unclassified as interest surges in the U.S. military’s activities in Africa.
Security allies are worried as the U.S. considers cutting troops on the continent to counter China and Russia elsewhere in the world. Top concerns in Africa include the fast-growing threat from multiple militant groups in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert and the enduring threat by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab in Somalia, which killed three Americans in an unprecedented attack against U.S. forces in Kenya last month.
Numerous armed groups are active in the Sahel zone, which stretches from the Atlantic coast south of the Sahara to the Red Sea, and some of the groups have pledged to support Daesh and al-Qaida. Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, in particular, have suffered attacks in recent months.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly last month asked her U.S. counterpart Mark Esper to keep supporting France's operations in the Sahel. Last week, Parly said she would be sending an extra 600 troops would be sent to reinforce France's 4,500-strong Sahel force, based in Mali, Chad and Niger.
There are approximately 6,000 U.S. military personnel deployed to Africa, including about 800 personnel in West Africa. The U.S. reportedly provides intelligence, logistics and midair refueling support to the French mission.