On the heels of a national report that the U.S. military lacks the global resources to meet China or Russia in a potential future conflict, the Pentagon began some belt-tightening, announcing a long-anticipated reduction in forces for U.S. Africa Command.
“As the department implements the [National Defense Strategy] to maintain our global military advantage, we are moving to a more resource-sustainable approach with our counter violent extremist organization campaign,” Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch said in a statement.
The military has about 7,200 forces deployed in Africa, and will cut about 10 percent of those forces over the next few years, Tresch said.
On Wednesday the National Defense Strategy Commission — a congressionally mandated, bi-partisan review ― released its in-depth findings on the military’s current state. It found that the global demands on the force and the impact of 17 years of wartime deployments meant that in the next major conflict, the U.S. may lose.
“If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” the report found.
The cuts, however, are the exact opposite of what U.S. Africa Command’s leadership has called for. Even before the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, AFRICOM had called for more U.S. military resources there, especially air support, to be able to counter rising levels of violent extremist organization capabilities and secondly to counter a vast investment by Russia and China throughout the continent.
Five years later, a lack of resources also played a role in the deaths of Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, Sgt. La David Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, when their outmanned and outgunned unit was overrun by militants in Niger. An investigation into the attacks found that soldiers responding ran out of ammunition and did not have armor-protected vehicles.
In 2017 China built its own major military base just miles from the U.S.-operated Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. In May, two airmen flying a mission out of Djibouti suffered minor injuries after they were hit by Chinese-operated lasers, DoD said at the time.
The cuts to DoD’s Africa presence were based on “clear guidance on how the department will prioritize efforts and resources for long-term competition with China and Russia," Tresch said.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."