Pen­tagon may cut forces in Africa in mil­i­tary re­view

The East African - - NEWS - New York Times News Ser­vice

A SWEEP­ING Pen­tagon re­view of elite US com­mando mis­sions is likely to re­sult in a sharp cut — by as much as half over the next three years — in Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions forces in Africa, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

Or­dered by De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis in re­cent weeks, the as­sess­ment of Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions units world­wide fol­lows an am­bush in Niger that killed four US soldiers last year. The re­view is an out­growth of a De­fence De­part­ment strat­egy that fo­cuses on com­bat­ing ris­ing threats from Rus­sia and China.

More than 7,300 Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions troops are work­ing around the world, many of them con­duct­ing shadow wars against ter­ror­ists in Yemen, Libya, So­ma­lia and other hot spots. The Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand in Tampa, Florida, has as­sumed im­por­tant new mis­sions in re­cent years, as well, like tak­ing the lead on com­bat­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

Spread too thin

Pen­tagon of­fi­cials said Mat­tis and Gen­eral Joseph F Dun­ford Jr, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are wor­ried that the com­man­dos are spread too thin. The two lead­ers have or­dered the mil­i­tary’s Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions and Africa com­mands to present a range of op­tions by mid-june to bal­ance ris­ing se­cu­rity chal­lenges — which in­clude North Korea and Iran — with vi­tal coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions.

A Pen­tagon in­ves­ti­ga­tion last month into the deadly at­tack in Niger ex­posed a risk-tak­ing cul­ture among com­man­dos. That ac­cel­er­ated Mat­tis’s de­ci­sion to aban­don some coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions in Africa to fo­cus on global pow­ers, ac­cord­ing to two De­fence De­part­ment of­fi­cials who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The tran­si­tion to the fo­cus on Rus­sia and China was out­lined in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­tional de­fence strat­egy re­leased in Jan­uary.

Of the 7,300 Amer­i­can com­man­dos now op­er­at­ing in 92 coun­tries, roughly half are posted out­side the Mid­dle East and South Asia, ac­cord­ing to the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand.

About 1,200 of those troops are on mis­sions in Africa, and they face the most im­me­di­ate like­li­hood of re­duc­tions. The Africa Com­mand has been asked how it would con­duct its coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions if the num­ber of com­man­dos there were cut by 25 per cent over 18 months, and by 50 per cent over three years.

That would leave about 700 troops — roughly the same num­ber as in 2014, ac­cord­ing to data from the Africa Com­mand’s Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions branch. By comparison, there were 70 Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions troops on the con­ti­nent in 2006. By Thomas Gib­bons Neff and Eric Sch­mitt

Pic­ture: File

About 1,200 Amer­i­can com­man­dos are on mis­sions in Africa. This num­ber could be re­duced by 50pc over the next three years.

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