Intel: Congress piles on the Pentagon over possible North Africa drawdown

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The top Republicans on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees today expressed concern over a possible Pentagon plan to draw down US troops in Africa, which could impact plans to fight terror in Tunisia and Morocco.

“Partner militaries are underfunded and ill-equipped to respond to this drastic increase in violence,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho and the ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul of Texas, said in a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. “That is why our limited, yet focused presence across Africa, is so important. US forces train and advise partner nations and support improved intelligence collection, building their capacity to ultimately defend their own countries.”

Why it matters: The Pentagon’s review of its posture, which aligns with Esper’s overall goal of sending more US troops to counter China’s rising influence in the Asia-Pacific, will eventually extend to Africa and the Middle East, where the United States has added 10,000 troops since the new year to deal with tensions with Iran. House and Senate leaders are pushing back hard, and are likely to use a Thursday posture hearing with US Africa Command chief Gen. Stephen Townsend to air their protests in public.

Rising tide: Risch and McCaul join a high-profile chorus of congressional voices that have already pushed back on whispers of troop cuts in Africa.

“A decrease in our investment now may result in the need for the United States to reinvest at many more times the cost down the road,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash, and the committee’s top Republican, Mac Thornberry of Texas, said in a letter to Esper earlier this month. Trump ally Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware are among other members of Congress to raise concerns.

What’s next: The Pentagon’s budget release is tentatively slated for Feb. 10, according to Defense News. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is slated to host the massive 2,500-troop African Lion exercise in Morocco in March.

Know more: Read Jack Detsch’s coverage of the Army’s struggles to handle training in Africa.

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Jack Detsch is Al-Monitor’s Pentagon correspondent. Based in Washington, Detsch examines US-Middle East relations through the lens of the Defense Department. Detsch previously covered cybersecurity for Passcode, the Christian Science Monitor’s project on security and privacy in the Digital Age. Detsch also served as editorial assistant at The Diplomat Magazine and worked for NPR-affiliated stations in San Francisco. On Twitter: @JackDetsch_ALM, Email: jdetsch@al-monitor.com.

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