“The message I’m relaying to my [African] partners is we’re not walking away,” Cloutier told reporters Feb. 12. “We are still engaged.”
To back this up, Cloutier cited the upcoming African Land Forces Summit that kicks off on Feb. 18 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There, the U.S. will meet with land force chiefs from various African countries and other allies to “talk about issues and let them know that the United States and the U.S. military is still committed to being great partners,” Cloutier said.
Additionally, Cloutier said another demonstration of U.S. engagement on the continent is African Lion, a multinational exercise U.S. Army Africa leads that involves forces from countries including Senegal and Tunisia.
The exercise is slated for the spring and will involve a total of 9,000 troops, including more than 4,000 U.S. service members the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Cloutier said.
“It’s the largest exercise that we’re doing and so we are showing commitment in that regard,” Cloutier said.
Cloutier’s remarks come as the Pentagon is conducting a review of combatant commands to determine if troops need to be redistributed around the globe. Although Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Jan. 30 that the U.S. would not completely withdraw U.S. troops from the continent, he didn’t rule out some changes to troop presence in the region.
“I know the inclination is whenever someone says ‘review,’ the word that automatically pops up in their head is ‘reduction,’” Esper said. “It is a rebalancing.”
“In some cases we will increase, in some cases we won’t change, and in some cases we will decrease,” Esper said.
Esper also said the top priority — after ensuring commands are well equipped to carry out their missions — is to devote attention to near-peer adversaries like Russia and China and guarantee the U.S. is “well-postured to deal with them” if necessary.
Cloutier also signaled any troop adjustments resulting from the Pentagon’s review are designed to best implement the National Defense Strategy
“I think this whole review is to make sure that our resources are aligned with the National Defense Strategy,” Cloutier said.
Although no decisions have been finalized about troop adjustments, AFRICOM Commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said he anticipates the Pentagon review could mean some reductions for the tasks AFRICOM conducts, along with some other modifications.
But regardless, Townsend said now is not the time to put Africa on the back burner.
“I think in the past maybe we’ve been able to pay less attention to Africa and it be OK for America," Townsend told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 30 . "I don’t believe that’s the case for the future.”
The Department of Defense has approximately 6,000 personnel in Africa.