The U.S. Army will deploy elements of a newly-formed advisory unit to train local security forces in Africa, the Defense Department said in a Wednesday, February 12 statement.
Deploying units from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to “spotlight African countries” will free up elements of the 101st Airborne infantry brigade to return to the U.S. and train for combat missions, the statement said.
“The deployment of the SFAB will help improve Army readiness by reducing the demand for brigade combat teams to conduct security force assistance operations there.”
A spokesperson for the 1st SFAB declined to specify which units would deploy, or to which countries, citing operational security reasons.
The deployment “will commence in the coming weeks,” the statement said.
The decision comes amid a “blank slate review” of U.S. Africa Command’s posture in light priorities set forth by President Donald Trump’s administration to counter emerging military capabilities of Russia and China. Esper has previously said he was considering removing some of the 6,000 of U.S. troops on the continent.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed the deployment “in order to better compete with China and Russia in Africa,” according to the statement.
AFRICOM’s commander, U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, argued to Congress last month that training African troops builds relationships with local governments, in turn offering Washington a strategic opportunity to counter Russian and Chinese influence.
The command is now looking to increase the number of training exercises with local forces this year, U.S. Army Africa commander Major General Roger Cloutier told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
U.S. forces train local security forces and support multinational counter-insurgency missions, such as Operation Barkhane in west Africa’s Sahel region and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
France, which leads the soon-to-be 5,100-strong Barkhane counter-terrorism mission, has urged the Trump administration not to cut its support.
The U.S. provides airlift, mid-air refueling, and crucial intelligence support for Barkhane. Esper said Tuesday that he would continue to push for increased European support for the mission as the U.S. weighs its role.
The U.S. also renewed limited “direct assistance” to an unspecified element of the Somali National Armed Forces to combat al-Shabaab Islamist militants in southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, the State Department said Wednesday.
Around 500 U.S. special operations forces in Somalia train and assist the SNA’s Danab forces to combat the al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab, which controls areas of the country’s south and continue to stage attacks in the capital. A Pentagon inspector general report released Tuesday said Somali National Army forces are not yet ready on their own to hold territory captured from Shabaab south of Mogadishu.
Established in 2017, the U.S. Army Security Force Assistance Brigades consist primarily of officers and non-commissioned officers with additional training as military advisors.
Their primary purpose is to support “local security operations to build partner security capacity and capability and achieve regional security in support of U.S. national interests,” according to the U.S. Army.
“That’s our only mission,” 1st SFAB spokesperson Major Matthew Fontaine told The Defense Post.
The 1st SFAB completed its first deployment to Afghanistan in November 2018.
A spokesperson for U.S. AFRICOM was not immediately available for comment.