As both a candidate and commander-in-chief, President Trump put an emphasis on ending America's involvement in conflicts overseas, especially in Syria and Afghanistan. But the reality has been more complicated; following the collapse of the ISIS caliphate, there are fears the terror group will spread instability to other areas, including Africa. And those fears have the Pentagon re-focusing on what has largely been a forgotten continent that's never gotten the lion's share of resources or funding for anti-terror operations.
General Thomas Waldhauser is the outgoing commander of U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, which is currently running 20 different anti-terror operations involving nearly 6,000 troops. He says there are no plans for a permanent U.S. military footprint on the continent, but says "we do need facilities, as I say, to allow us to mitigate the whole concept of time and space, to allow our forces to get closer to a problem as it develops. This will allow us to get there quicker."
The Pentagon is also warning not to expect a full-scale shift from deployments in Afghanistan to those in Africa, but they're now putting more of a focus on anti-terror operations in countries like Nigeria, Somalia, and Niger, where ongoing violence and a lack of resources have helped de-stabilize local governments. And some lawmakers are worried those conditions could create the perfect breeding ground for militant groups. On a recent trip to Ivory Coast, Senator Lindsey Graham encouraged investment in both infrastructure and security in Africa, saying "this continent has many challenges but many opportunities that are under threat. I fear what has happened in the Mideast is coming to Africa."
And anti-terror operations could already be ramping up - there have been 32 U.S. military drone strikes in Somalia so far this year, compared with 45 for all of 2018. Top generals also say the threat isn't limited to terror groups. The nominee to replace Waldhauser as head of AFRICOM, General Stephen Townsend, is warning about an increase in activity from Russian mercenaries throughout the continent. Ahead of possible new deployments, the Pentagon has been quietly taking steps to increase security for troops on the ground, adding drones, armored vehicles, and new facilities for use during crisis situations. "We've done a holistic review, top to bottom, of where we can improve," says Waldhauser, "and we've tried to implement those actions." And while current plans call for a 10 percent cut in the number of troops assigned to AFRICOM, top generals say all decisions will be based on conditions on the ground.