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12.02.2020 Europe

US switches strategy in Sahel stoking pullout fears

REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun
LISTEN FEB 12, 2020
REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

The US military has switched from trying to degrade or reduce the effectiveness of terror groups to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat rises, according to a new government report.

The US military's activities in Africa extend from the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert to Somalia.

However, limited resources and manpower have pushed the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to switch strategies from degrading terror groups to containment, a new government report says.

The news is likely to be a blow to France. French Defense Minister Florence Parly last month asked her US counterpart Mark Esper to keep supporting Paris' operations in the Sahel.

The US military largely supports the militaries of France and African countries in their fight against the extremists, including with “limited counterterrorism operations,” and carries out airborne intelligence and surveillance operations.

Competition and criticism
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters in January that American troops were not withdrawing from AFRICOM entirely, but he suggested the US might pull back on the counterterror mission in Africa to address competition from China and Russia elsewhere in the world.

About 6,000 US military personnel are deployed across the continent, the inspector general report adds, including 500 special operations forces in Somalia and about 800 personnel in West Africa.

However, America's military engagement in Africa is not without criticism. Last month, an unprecedented attack against US forces in Kenya left three soldiers dead, renewing doubts about the US' counter-terrorism strategy.

The attack, blamed on the al-Qaida-linked al-Sabab in Somalia, was the deadliest since an extremist ambush in Niger in 2017, which killed four US troops.

New strategy
In the course of three years, the security situation in West Africa has deteriorated, with Burkina Faso bearing the brunt, according to the new report, citing AFRICOM.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled.

Across the border in neighbouring Malli, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, announced this week that his government was now in contact with leaders of the most active extremist group, the al-Qaida-linked JNIM.

It is a sign that troubled West African countries are exploring various options, including negotiations, to curb the threat.

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