Moving troops between Africa and Europe more efficiently during a crisis is expected to be streamlined and allow better synchronisation between European NATO allies and Africa, US generals said on Tuesday (23 February).
Last November, the Pentagon merged the commands responsible for operations in Africa and Europe into a single new combined command, headed by a four-star general.
The seat of the new command (USAREUR-AF) will be located in Wiesbaden, Germany where the US European Command was previously located; the troops who served in the US Africa Command in Vicenza, Italy, formed the Southern European Task Force-Africa (SETAF-AF).
The consolidation is an acknowledgement that the security situation between the two continents is “inextricably linked,” Christopher Cavoli, US Army Europe and Africa commander, told reporters in a briefing.
“This will allow the US Army to expand its focus and to enhance its commitment to both European and African security issues,” Cavoli, who previously led US Army Europe from his Wiesbaden, Germany, said.
“This consolidation is an example of how we’re posturing ourselves to be able to think regionally, and in this case across an entire hemisphere, rather than sort of artificially dividing up problem sets by our administrative boundaries,” Cavoli added.
“The close geography and economic ties between the two continents mean that regional security issues, left unchecked, quickly spread from one area to another,” Cavoli said.
“This consolidation enables greater synchronisation of operations in Africa with our NATO allies here in Europe, many of whom have very important security concerns and security interests in Africa,” Cavoli added.
“So this is a very big advance, both north of the Mediterranean and south of the Mediterranean,” he added.
Cavoli stressed the US Department of Defense would be coordinating very closely with its partners in different countries, including in Mali, where the US military is providing support to French-led peacekeeping operation Operation Barhkane.
France has repeatedly expressed the regret that it is almost alone preventing Sahel to become a major threat to world security.
“The United States is very eager to see our European allies lead in that fashion,” he said, recalling that the involvement of the US military in Africa consists, on the one hand, in supporting anti-terrorism forces and, on the other, in building capacity with partner countries.
His deputy commander, Andrew Rohling, pointed to training in preventing attacks with the use of improvised explosives conducted throughout Africa, as well as medical, logistic, sapper and command training.
“The violence in this region has increased precipitously,” Rohling said. “Terrorist attacks in the tri-border region of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger doubled from 2018 to 2019 (…) and violent extremist organizations such as Ash-Shabab, Boko Haram and others are still a threat.”
“Those are violent, powerful enemies who has planned and carried out numerous attacks against African citizens, US military members, international forces and civilians such as Ambassador Attanasio,” Rohling added, referring to the attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in which an Italian diplomat and accompanying soldier were killed.
Earlier this year, French troops in Operation Barhkane in the Sahel lost their lives in extremist attacks.
Speed of response in crisis situations has been an area of concern for US Africa Command since the 2012 attack on a diplomatic site in Benghazi, Libya.
Since then, Washington for example had also added a marine rapid reaction force based in Spain.
Cavoli also noted that Russia would be using diplomatic, economic and in some cases military opportunities to expand its presence and influence in the region.
Asked whether the US Army’s plans in Africa are influenced by Russia’s growing military presence in Africa, especially in Libya, Russia and Sudan, Cavoli said: “The US Army’s activities, operations and investments in Africa are about US interests and interests, which we share with our security partners. It is about us and about Africa, it is not about anyone else.”
“We offer a different model. We offer stability, counter-violent extremist organisations activity, and we offer the promise of democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” he said.
US troop withdrawal plans
The Pentagon had been carrying out a review of US forces globally before former US President Donald Trump’s long-running dispute with Germany bubbled over.
Last summer, US President Donald Trump announced his intention to cut the number of US troops in Germany to 25,000, faulting Berlin for failing to meet the military alliance’s 2% GDP defence spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of America on trade.
That decision is now under review by the Biden administration.
However, all plans related to the Trump administration’s troop withdrawal from Germany had been put on hold until new Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin would review the move, US European Command chief General Tod Wolters had announced in February.
New Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to make force movements as early as June that may affect the US presence on the continent.
In December, Trump had ordered some 800 US troops out of Somalia, in part to fulfil a campaign promise to bring back American soldiers from far-flung conflicts.
“Our repositioning from Somalia does not change our commitment to maintaining the pressure on the violent extremists and those that support them in that region,” Rohling said, adding that the US continues to train the elite Somali Danab Brigade.