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Washington seeks new military partners in Africa

The US is co-hosting a defense conference in Botswana, where it plans to discuss cooperation with the continent’s security experts

Top US military officials have traveled to Botswana to attend a meeting of African defense chiefs as Washington seeks ways to maintain its presence on a continent where it has been forced to withdraw troops, including from Niger and Chad.

Before arriving in Botswana on Monday, American Air Force General Charles Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he planned to speak with several partners in the West African region. Brown announced that the US intends to strengthen ties with countries it already works with in West Africa, which could “provide opportunities for us [the Pentagon] to posture some of the capability” it had in Niger in other locations.

While he declined to name the countries being considered, Reuters cited an anonymous US official as saying that Washington has had preliminary discussions with Niger’s neighbors, including Benin, Ivory Coast, and Ghana.

The Pentagon began the process of withdrawing troops from Niger earlier this month, after the former French colony’s authorities terminated defense cooperation with Washington. The military leadership cited the local US contingent’s failure to combat jihadist insurgencies that have plagued the Sahel region for decades as the reason for the decision in March. Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine stated that the US had also threatened the country sanctions and warned it against deepening relations with Iran and Russia.

The US intends to exit Niger by mid-September, following France. The new government, in power since July after ousting pro-Western President Mohamed Bazoum, told the French to leave last December. Niger, along with its allies Burkina Faso and Mali, have moved to develop security ties with Russia as part of the Alliance of Sahel States, stating that they will only work with partners who respect the sovereignty of their countries.

Despite the pushback, the US is seeking ways to keep American troops in the region, claiming that their presence in Niger is critical for monitoring extremist organizations’ activities and potential threats to Washington’s interests.

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In a statement on Monday, General Michael Langley said that African nations, including Libya, consider the US an “enabler” who can assist partners in achieving their own security objectives. “We’re working through diplomatic means and also defense means with Libya,” he said.

Langley added that security threats in “every country,” particularly in the Sahel, will be discussed at the Africa Chiefs of Defense Conference in Botswana on Tuesday, which AFRICOM is co-hosting with the southern African nation.

The two-day meeting in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, will bring together defense leaders from dozens of African nations, according to the Pentagon. It is the first time the conference is taking place in Africa since its launch by AFRICOM in 2017.

June 25, 2024 at 03:24PM
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