French Military Leader Presses US to Keep Presence in Africa

The head of France’s military used her visit to Washington to press the Pentagon to maintain its operations in the Sahel region.

“The US support is critical to our operation,” French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly said during a Jan. 27 press briefing alongside Defense Secretary Mark Esper. “Any reduction would limit our effectiveness against terrorists.”

The visit comes as the Pentagon reviews the US military’s global force structure, with the overall goal of reducing personnel deployments in certain areas and realigning focus to the Indo-Pacific or bringing units home for training. The Africa review is ongoing, and a review of US Southern Command began last week. There’s “no decision made, and in due course we will make them,” Esper said Jan. 27.

France has an ongoing fight against terror groups in the Sahel region of Western Africa, largely focused on Mali. US forces have provided support of this fight for years, including an ongoing tanker deployment called Operation Juniper Micron, along with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and logistics support.

Esper would not comment on possible plans to close the newly built Niger Air Base 201 near Agadez, the largest USAF-led construction effort in the service’s history.

US lawmakers have recently written to Esper with concerns about the possible reduction in Africa, saying the American presence is critical to the fight against extremist groups.

There are about 7,000 US personnel on the continent. Esper said that if any reduction is made, European allies should deploy more personnel to “offset” the cuts.