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US Hosts African Chiefs of Defense to Discuss Russia

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By   AGNES HELOU/Breaking Defense

Against a backdrop of Pentagon forces being withdrawn from Niger and Chad, the US this week will cohost with Botswana the 2024 African Chiefs of Defense Conference.

With over 30 participant countries, the conference, which kicks off Tuesday, will be held for “the first time […] on the continent of Africa,” US Africa Command Commander Gen. Michael Langley told reporters today in a press briefing.

The conference will address shared African security and stability challenges, as well as Russia’s presence in the continent, according to Langley.

“I’m pretty sure that some of the representation from West Africa will bring it up [Russia moving into some African countries] because they all have been affected by Russia’s activities,” he said. “Of course, a couple of years ago it was Wagner, but now Russian MoD is moving in from as far north as Libya, as far south as Central African Republic.”

He added that there are “disinformation campaigns brought by the Russian Federation, and now they’re following up with what they call the Africa Corps.

They’re trying to match what we do very well across our partnering with African countries in our security force assistance brigades, our state partnership programs, and our exercises. We still have convening power, we still have convening authority that has been very successful at deepening our partnership with African countries.”

In May this year, the US announced that it would be withdrawing its troops from Niger by Sept. 15. Similarly, US troops are withdrawing from Chad. In both cases, the local governments requested that the US remove forces, leading to concerns in Washington about America losing on-the-ground capabilities needed to counter terrorism.

“As far as Chad, we have a few troops there advising and assisting with the successes. There was a Multinational Joint Task Force, which is a collection of some of our allies to include France in especially in the Lake Chad Basin where a lot of instability has been in the last few years,” Langley said.

In addition to Russian expansion into Africa, China has also increased its presence on the continent.

“PRC [People’s Republic of China] is very active on the African continent. Of course we all know that the precursor was through the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Langley. “But now they have a naval base in Djibouti, I know they’re actively seeking and engaging with a number of other countries on the periphery of the coastal West Africa, both in the east and the west.”

He added that AFRICOM is watching “and trying to determine what their overall objectives are. Is it power projection, is it air denial, anti access? And we’ll watch that all the time to determine what China’s overall intentions are engaging with these other countries.”

The AFRICOM commander said the conference will express “the highest levels of transparency and also [to] be able to partner with countries that have common values, shared values, and responsive governments in the name of stability and security and prosperity for their people and their populations.”

He further stated that there are numerous challenges to be discussed, as for every country “there are layered threats especially across the Sahel. Every country has their different type challenges, drivers of instability. That’s what we’re going to the table for discussion.”

Langley said that AFRICOM is now assessing the need to continue the counterterrorism fight.

“Our overall strategy is to deter threats and crisis response,” he said, pointing out that the US maintains a “positive influence in a number of countries across the Sahel and coastal West Africa, because we see what direction the threat is going.

So we’ll be able to assess what an added type capability we need to do to be able to produce indications and warnings or threats against US interests, or the US homeland.”

This assessment comes in parallel to bolstering the capability of “African partners who have a shared interest and shared threats that they’d like to counter themselves, so building up their capability by, with and through is when it’s going to be our primary objective.

It is not measured in how much ISR that we have, but collectively, how much capability capacity our partners have to fight terrorism, and then we’ll determine what added the type by squishing capabilities we do. To be able to give an overall advantage of being able to identify indications of warnings against the threat.”


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