A planned reduction to the US military’s footprint in Africa will not affect its operations across the continent, the head of the US Army in Africa said on Tuesday.
The Pentagon announced in November it will trim about 10% of the 7,200 US troops in Africa as part of a broader shift in focus towards “Great Power” competitors such as China and Russia.
Maj-Gen Roger Cloutier, whose command oversees about 2,000 soldiers working in about 40 African nations, said some partner militaries have expressed concerns when they learnt of what the Pentagon calls “optimisation”.
“They’re concerned, when [they] hear that,” Cloutier said.
“It could be confused as somehow the United States is withdrawing from Africa, and that’s not the case. I can tell you that we are more involved than we’ve ever been.”
Unlike special operations forces that sometimes see combat against jihadist groups, such as in Somalia, soldiers from Cloutier’s command work across Africa to provide training and assistance to partner nations, as well as other forces such as UN peacekeepers and the French in Mali.
Cloutier, who started his job about three months ago and was previously chief of staff at Africa Command, garnered international attention in 2018 when he led a probe into the deaths of four American soldiers and four members of Nigerien partner forces who were killed in a jihadist ambush on October 4, 2017.
The ambush claimed the largest loss of American lives in combat in Africa since the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia in 1993.
Cloutier said he has incorporated lessons learnt from the Niger incident, in which the US troops and Nigerians were fatally exposed without back-up, into every operation under his command.
“I can tell you that there’s been significant improvement in the way operations are done,” he said.
“Every time you know our personnel are operating on the continent, there’s a much more thorough review of where you’re going, what you’re doing, who are you taking with you, what are the contingency plans associated, so a lot more focus on that.”
With extremist organisations including Islamic State group and al-Qaeda affiliates cropping up across various African nations, the US military hopes its training and insights will bolster local armies to fend off a growing threat.
“We’re there in a preventative capacity,” Cloutier said, “trying to get left of the crisis and trying to build those capacities in the African armies so they can resolve their own issues.”
Cloutier said such relationship building is “a generational approach”.
“It’s consistent engagement over time,” he said.
US Army Africa is headquartered in Vicenza, Italy.