US military defends Africa strategy in light of coups and trend towards Russia

AGADIR, Morocco (AP) — The head of the U.S. military in Africa forcefully defended the country’s counterterrorism strategy on the continent and vowed to press ahead despite a wave of criticism and a trend among African nations to seek help from Russia on security.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday at Africa Lion, a war exercise in Morocco, Gen. Michael Langley blamed a tide of Russian disinformation for anti-American sentiment in volatile regions. He said the military needed to reaffirm how its long-standing strategy can foster stability across the Sahel, the semi-arid region south of the Sahara Desert.

The 6,000 members of the US military stationed in Africa face new setbacks as the governments of Chad and Niger (two key regional allies) embrace Russian forces and paramilitaries and pressure them to abandon positions previously identified as critical to monitoring security challenges .

“There has been negative sentiment in recent years against one of our most valuable allies, France, looking at all of social media and all of the media in general,” Langley said. “Much of that negative sentiment was fueled by disinformation and disinformation from the Russian Federation.”

“We need to spread our narrative,” he added.

More than 11,000 deaths last year in the Sahel were linked to Islamist militant violence, continuing a trajectory that has seen them gradually increase since 2021, according to an analysis by the African Center for Strategic Studies of reports compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data. Project.

Since 2020, military officers disillusioned with their government’s record in curbing violence have overthrown democratically elected governments across the region. Later, countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger They began to distance themselves from Western powers and deepen their partnerships with Russia.

Last November, in northern Mali, soldiers accompanied by mercenaries from the Russian military contractor Wagner took back the territory the rebels had controlled it for the last decade. The military junta that governs Burkina Faso it overthrew French forces last year and turned to Russia and Wagner for security support. And similarly in NigerThe Russian military trainers arrived weeks after the junta that took power last year tidy American troops will withdraw from the country.

Instead of soul-searching or a broad rethinking of strategy, Langley said the United States planned to “double down and reengage with these countries,” referencing its non-combat work addressing climate change and poor harvests and the management of tribal conflicts and displacements.

Langley said the United States would maintain its whole-of-government approach that emphasizes good governance and institution-building beyond military power. He insisted that the military support African countries in the way they see fit rather than imposing their ideas. But he argued that military junta would not combat terrorism or ensure long-term stability.

“I don’t want to criticize any of these countries, but they are military regimes,” Langley said.

That fine line has differentiated the United States from other great powers that are deepening their involvement in Africa. Russia imposes few stipulations on the countries it offers security assistance to, regardless of whether they are governed by military junta or democratically elected leaders. Similarly, China emphasizes non-interference in making investments or loans to finance mines, ports, roads and railways.

Of the U.S. personnel stationed in Africa, approximately 1,000 assigned to Niger and 100 to Chad are in the process of leaving. Both countries have been integral to military efforts to counter violent extremist organizations across the region, particularly in Niger, which hosts the continent’s largest surveillance drone base.

Langley said U.S. forces were in the midst of a safe and orderly withdrawal from Niger and planned to determine future security partnerships later. He said the status of U.S. forces in Chad would be discussed once the country finishes establishing a new government based on elections earlier this month.

Langley did not say whether the United States plans to relocate bases elsewhere in Africa, but said its strategy would depend largely on the guidance of West African countries on their security threats. In countries along the Atlantic coastLangley said officials are increasingly concerned about violent extremism and want to make sure they can monitor developments in dangerous border regions.

“What the United States wants is what countries are asking for,” he said. “We are not prescribing anything.”

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