US adjusts military layout in Africa

China Military Online
Lin Congyi
2024-05-24 21:23:24

By Chen Hanghui and Guan Ying

People in Niger hold demonstrations demanding withdrawal of US troops.

In March of this year, the Nigerien transitional government announced the termination of its military cooperation agreement with the US and requested the withdrawal of US troops stationed in Niger. Currently, the withdrawal process has begun, and according to the agreement reached between the US Department of Defense and the Nigerien Ministry of Defense, the withdrawal has to be completed by September 15, 2024.

Coincidentally, the Chadian military demanded the withdrawal of US troops in early April, citing a lack of legitimacy for their presence. As more African countries choose to part ways with the US, the US military may be forced to fully withdraw from the Sahel region, fundamentally weakening its military presence there. Some high-ranking US military officials admitted that these withdrawals will significantly impact the overall US military layout in Africa.

The US military presence in Niger began in 2013 and it now has two permanent military bases and four temporary operational bases, housing over one thousand troops. According to the US Department of Defense, the purpose of establishing these bases in Niger is to combat terrorism and extremist groups in the Sahel region. Although this parlance might seem to align with Niger's security interests, Niger still issued an "expulsion order". There are multiple underlying factors behind this.

First, the ineffectiveness in combating terrorism has led to a continuous erosion of US credibility. Following the upheavals in North Africa in 2011, terrorist organizations like ISIS took the opportunity to expand in the Sahel region. In 2013, the US military entered Niger under the guise of counterterrorism. However, their presence did not improve Niger's security situation. According to a United Nations report, the Sahel region, including Niger, remains one of the most terrorism-stricken areas globally.

Second, increasing public awareness has prompted African nations to resist Western military presence. Many African countries believe that Western countries including the US are pursuing their narrow geopolitical interests under the pretext of counterterrorism and other reasons. Particularly since the new century, as Western countries have intensified their military deployments in Africa, concerns about "neocolonialism" and the erosion of national sovereignty have grown. Furthermore, the US' condescending attitude and hegemonic actions of its troops are also significant factors behind the request for the withdrawal of US troops.

Third, competition between major powers provides Niger with more security options. Due to effective counterterrorism actions in Syria and other factors, Russia has become a preferred security partner for some African countries. Since 2021, countries in the Sahel region like Mali and Burkina Faso have ended their cooperation with French troops and turned to Russia. Niger is also establishing cooperative relations with Russia. Reports suggest that after issuing the "expulsion order," Russian military personnel have already moved into an airbase in Niger.

Despite the US military's reluctant withdrawal from Niger, it will not completely leave Africa. From the US military's perspective, West Africa is one of the most important regions on the continent. Therefore, as early as January of this year, US Africa Command began engaging with countries like Benin, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire to discuss the possibility of establishing US bases. In March, after the Nigerien transitional government announced the termination of its military cooperation agreement with the US, the US Department of State sent diplomatic notes to several West African countries, promising to shift military assistance and forces to the coastal nations of West Africa in an attempt to pave the way for the establishment of new military bases with military aid.

It is worth noting that the current US military layout in Africa includes various deployments, security cooperation, joint exercises and training, high-level military interactions, and other types of military exchanges. As the US shifts its strategic focus in Africa towards major power competition, its military layout in Africa will also be adjusted accordingly.

For the US' military deployments in Africa, the importance of political and diplomatic factors outweighs that of operational ones. Countries with regional influence, relatively stable relations with the US, and significant geopolitical locations will be prioritized.

Although the US is constantly adjusting its military strategy in Africa, its attempts to seek hegemony and engage in expansionism remain unchanged. Given its notorious record of instigating conflicts worldwide and promoting proxy wars, these actions are bound to raise high vigilance among African nations and strong opposition from the public.

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