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U.S., French Military Leaders Discuss Terror Threat in West Africa

Jan. 17, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley discussed the terror threat in West Africa with French Army Gen. Francois Lecointre during meetings this week and will present the French view of operations in that area as the Defense Department reviews the resources and personnel assigned to U.S. Africa Command.

About 30 people stand in three lines posing for a photograph.
NATO Pose
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, center, poses with U.S. service members and civilians who work at the NATO headquarters, following the NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels, Jan. 15, 2020.
Photo By: Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden, DOD
VIRIN: 200115-D-HD608-3342

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Lecointre, his French counterpart, as part of NATO's Military Committee meeting in Brussels. 

The French are leading efforts in West Africa and have more than 4,500 service members in the region, according to the French military. 

Two men wearing military uniforms are deep in conversation.
NATO Discussion
Gen. Francois Lecointre, the French defense chief, speaks with Gen. Eberhard Zorn, the German defense chief, during a short break in the NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels, Jan 14, 2020.
Photo By: NATO photo
VIRIN: 200114-O-ZZ999-001

U.S. personnel in West Africa work closely with French, British and local forces to contain the terror threat. 

There is a danger from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the region, and ISIS claims the terror groups in the area of Mali, Niger and Burkino Faso constitute a "province" of the caliphate. "There's a variety of terrorist organizations that are operating in the area that have declared allegiance to ISIS and al-Qaida," Milley told reporters. 

The U.S. military provides crucial logistic, aviation and sensing capabilities to local and partner forces, and French officials have said they need those capabilities to meet the challenges of the mission. 

A forklift waits at the back bay of a transport aircraft on a starry night as troops unload cargo.
Starlit Herc
U.S. service members unload cargo from an Air Force C-130J Hercules in East Africa, May 4, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben
VIRIN: 190504-F-PS957-0982

DOD is working to ensure the National Defense Strategy is resourced correctly, so Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper has directed reviews of manning at the various combatant commands. 

According to the National Defense Strategy, the main effort is directed at the Indo-Pacific region to deter China, followed by Europe and Russia. North Korea, Iran; violent extremist organizations are the other threats.

For a strategy to have any meaning, resources must back up the words. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command should have the lion's share of DOD resources, followed by U.S. European Command.

Africom, U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Central Command have economy of force missions — meaning they have a lesser claim on U.S. military resources.

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African Lion
Army Spc. Cameron Farris trains with a member of the Moroccan special operations forces on the grenade machine gun during a live-fire portion of exercise African Lion 2019 in Tifnit, Morocco, March 26, 2019.
Photo By: Lance Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh
VIRIN: 190326-M-EZ505-1001

"We are doing a broad review … of U.S. military resources matching our broader national defense strategy," Milley said. "In Africa, we're doing that review. The question we’re working with the French on is the level of effort. Is it too much, too little, about right? And is it the right capabilities?"

An economy of force mission means to use the least amount of force and resources to achieve objectives. "But economy of force doesn't mean zero, and that's important," Milley said. "A lot of people think that we are pulling out of Africa." 

Soldiers in a loose formation.
Instructor Calls
A French marine instructor calls out scores to U.S. service members and French marines after their completion of the mountain obstacle during the French Desert Commando Course in Arta, Djibouti, Nov. 30, 2018. The course exposed troops to the fundamentals of desert combat, desert survival, weapons training, troop movements, and obstacle courses based on mountain and water environments. The U.S. service members, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, participated in the obstacle course alongside French marines to earn a French desert commando badge.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Amy Picard
VIRIN: 181130-F-EY126-0029E

What the review will do is recommend the capabilities needed to support the economy of force mission in Africom and then size it to the tasks and the threats, and level of effort that's appropriate to achieve your objectives, Milley said.

The Africom review should be completed in six weeks to two months, he said.