Former UK Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood has warned of severe consequences from the possible withdrawal of US forces from West Africa.
The Times quoted the Conservative MP as saying on Friday, that the potential pullout of US troops would “have a knock-on effect to Britain’s ability to keep this part of Africa secure”.
It will also force the UK to “rethink the scale of our commitment and how we’re able to wield influence in a very unstable region”, Ellwood added.
He apparently was referring to current and planned British missions in the Sahel region to tackle Islamist terrorist groups and train local security forces.
Commenting on the Pentagon’s plan to focus on grappling with issues related to the growing clout of China and Russia, Ellwood called it a “strategic error”.
“The irony is they [the US] want to pivot, to stand up to a rising China and resurgent Russia, but these are the countries that will take advantage of its withdrawal from Africa”, he asserted.
British Armed Forces Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, for her part, said that “what the US does, won’t affect our military and other investment in Africa”.
Pentagon Considering Major US Troops Pullback From Africa - Report
The remarks come a few days after the New York Times cited unnamed sources as saying that the US Department of Defence is contemplating scaling down or completely withdrawing US troops from West Africa, as the first phase of US reallocating its forces to address the great power competition with China and Russia
The sources claimed that the pullback would include abandoning a recently built drone base in Niger and ending assistance to French forces battling militants in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
As far as the UK military is concerned, the Royal Air Force (RAF) has 100 personnel and three helicopters in Mali to support the French mission there. Additionally, 250 UK soldiers are due to be deployed to Mali to join the UN peacekeeping mission next summer.
In this context, The Times quoted Michael Clarke, former director of the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think tank, as saying that “Downing Street and the [UK] Ministry of Defence will “certainly” be concerned over reports about the US troops’ planned pullout from West Africa.
“The security situation in Mali has been steadily deteriorating as the Sahel region falls increasingly into fragmentation, tribalism and terrorist franchises […]. It is in danger of escalating to a full-blown counterinsurgency war”, Clarke claimed.
US Defence Secretary Esper, in turn, has repeatedly underscored his ultimate goal of reducing counterterrorism deployments throughout the world, so that thousands of US troops can be either return home for retraining or be dispatched to the Indo-Pacific region to confront the more significant challenges allegedly emanating from Moscow and Beijing.