Africa may be quickly becoming the international nexus of violent extremist groups, but the head of U.S. Africa Command doesn’t foresee much ramping up of the American presence there.
Since the beginning of the Biden administration, Army Gen. Stephen Townsend and his AFRICOM colleagues have been very publicly making the case for reinstating U.S. rotations to Somalia. With that achieved, he isn’t predicting any big moves after his planned change of command later this summer.
“I would say you’re not going to see a very significant change,” he told Military Times on Thursday during a Defense Writers Group event. “We’re still what our department refers to as the ‘economy-of-force theater’ ―also in the current lexicon, a ‘posture-limited theater,’ which means we’re still not going to get very many resources, right?”
The current national defense strategy puts counterterrorism below the more militarily advanced threats of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, prioritizing funding for Indo-Pacific, Central and European commands.
At the same time, training and exercising with African partner forces isn’t a particularly expensive undertaking.
“And I don’t actually think we need a lot of resources to do our job to protect America’s interest here in Africa, and advance our objectives,” Townsend said.
Al-Shabab in eastern Africa will continue to be a focus, he said, but recent coups in western African countries like Mali, Burkino Faso and Guinea are forcing governments to reevaluate how to keep extremist organizations at bay.
“So because of all these things, all of our partners ― African and international partners ― are recalibrating,” Townsend said. “I think we’ll probably keep about the same number of troops engaged there. We’re going to try to enhance and improve the way we’re engaging with all of our partners.”
For now, he added, AFRICOM’s priority is one of containment.
“And I think that our job is to provide indications of warning and disrupt those threats, so they don’t become a problem to Western interests or U.S. interests, globally, and in the homeland,” Townsend said. “So I think we have the resources about right to do that. Would I like to have more resources to do that? Absolutely.”
Townsend’s presumptive replacement, Marine Lt. Gen. Michael Langley, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his July 21 confirmation hearing that he sees terrorism in Africa as “more of a problem today” that it ever has been previously.
His nomination was approved by SASC on Tuesday and sent to the Senate for a full vote. He is expected to be confirmed without issue.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.