The Pentagon is considering withdrawing nearly all American commandos from Niger in the wake of a deadly October ambush against a Green Beret team that killed four United States soldiers.
Three Defense Department officials said the plans, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, would also close military outposts in Tunisia, Cameroon, Libya and Kenya, as well as seven of the eight American elite counterterrorism units operating in Africa.
The shift in forces is part of the Pentagon’s defense strategy to focus on threats from China and Russia. But they represent a more severe cut of Special Operations forces in Africa than initially expected, leaving a lasting, robust military presence primarily in Somalia and Nigeria.
The proposal does not say that any additional troops would return to Africa even as Special Operations units gradually draw down. Officials said that could reverse progress that has been made against Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates, while diminishing alliances across Africa as both Russia and China move to increase their influence.
With the reassignment of the counterterrorism teams, American troops could also lose the ability to partner with local forces who act as surrogates to help track and hunt down insurgents. It could also strip those local forces of some of the more advanced American gear they are given when teamed up with American troops.
The Pentagon’s defense strategy, issued in January, represents a renewed shift from fighting the insurgent wars of the last 16 years to large state-on-state conflicts..
Under the new plans, American forces would most likely work on limited missions in certain countries in Africa for what are called Joint Combined Exchange Training programs. The missions, conducted in nonhostile environments, last 30 to 60 days.
Many American commandos in Africa are currently on six-month deployments that seek to forge relationships and provide training that has a lasting impact on local troops.
There are about 1,200 Special Operations forces in Africa. The proposal calls for cutting them — and supporting troops — by 50 percent over the next three years.