Threats of Terrorism in West Africa Increase as U.S. Considers Troop Reduction

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Analysts suspect the Trump administration is divided over how to combat terrorists, support allies, and thwart global competitors in West Africa.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently concluded a major trip to Africa, including a stop in Senegal, pledging more security support and warning against growing Chinese influence.

However, back in Washington, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is weighing deep U.S. troop cuts on the continent, closing a new $110 million drone base and ending assistance to French forces battling militants who are surging in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. At the same time, skyrocketing waves of terrorism and violence have seized Africa’s Sahel region, and is threatening to spread.

Reduction in American aid could open the door to China and Russia, which are ready to seize any foothold the United States cedes on the continent. “The U.S. is losing the competition in Africa against China, Russia, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State,” said Katherine Zimmerman, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “It’s not losing militarily, but in the soft-power space.” African troops are voicing concern about a reduced American commitment to fighting violent extremism.

European allies and President Trump’s own advisers have advocated continuing current American security measures on the continent, arguing that this relatively small investment has an outsize effect in helping keep terrorists and global competitors at bay.

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