September 22, 2023

The Big Picture: Inside U.S. military involvement in Africa under President Biden

President Joe Biden greets members of the military at a FEMA COVID-19 vaccination site Friday
President Joe Biden greets members of the military at a FEMA COVID-19 vaccination site Friday

The Biden administration and members of the United States military have asserted that U.S. military involvement in Africa is crucial in the continued fight against insurgent groups and violent extremism.

Throughout Africa, particularly the Sahel, jihadist extremist groups such as Boko Haram have clashed with security forces and have threatened regional stability, leaving countless civilians in humanitarian crises.

“Boko Haram killed hundreds of civilians and carried out abductions which targeted women and girls. Government forces carried out indiscriminate attacks against villages and continued to detain thousands in inhumane conditions,” said Amnesty International in its annual report of human rights in Nigeria.

The United States’ direct involvement with armed conflicts in Africa is fairly limited as U.S. presence in the Sahel is primarily aimed at providing exercises and training opportunities so that African forces are better equipped to respond to extremist threats and attacks.

“We have introduced security force assistance teams to several countries across the continent that are providing persistent presence with our key partner nations on the continent, and they are training with those armies to help improve their capabilities and capacity,” said Major General Rohling during Thursday’s U.S. Department of State briefing.

While violent extremism and armed groups are a practical challenge and pressing issue that must be delt with, many believe that there are deeper causes behind them that must also be addressed.

As many African regions face economic instability and immense poverty, some assert that the existence of armed insurgent groups is in part a consequence of these chronic issues. With so many Africans facing hunger and poverty, some end up turning to extremism for their own financial benefit.

“Some people join these groups because they promise to give them money. If we could deal with the poverty issue, this would end naturally,” said one African Soldier.

The issue of terrorism in the Sahel region is not just a military issue but also a political and economic one. While the proper training and equipping of troops on the ground is crucial in overcoming the danger, there are additional ways in which the larger issues must be addressed to create change in the long run.

The United States federal budget request for fiscal year 2022 designates $715 billion for the entire Department of Defense, $554 million of which is intended to “support the exercise and engagement requirements of the eleven CCMDs, increase joint context in Service exercises, train individuals in key joint skills, and provide joint training enablers to the CE2T2 Enterprise.”

The United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM, is just one of these 11 Combatant Commands, meaning that its budget likely makes up a small fraction of that $554 million.

While American troops on the ground in Africa know how crucial their support is in the fight against terrorism, decisions about the extent to which the United States military and its resources are involved are left up to the President and his administration.

Contrary to the position of the Trump administration, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has not indicated any intention to withdraw troops or military support from the African continent. With Biden in office, the United States is no longer trying to pull troops out of the Sahel but instead his administration has reaffirmed the importance of U.S. support abroad- including in Africa.

President Biden has repeatedly emphasized the importance of establishing the United States as a force for good and agent of positive sociopolitical change in the world.

“We’re based on an idea: that we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal,” said the President at Sunday’s Memorial Day Service in Delaware. “We’re Americans… And it’s time we remind everybody who we are,” he asserted.

Sharing this idea and vision with the world, practically, includes standing up for human rights in Africa and supporting the fight against poverty, instability, and injustice.

While the creation of AFRICOM was initially controversial, many African leaders have grown more receptive to U.S. military presence on the continent as the security situation has continued to worsen. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari even requested that the U.S. African Command headquarters be moved from Germany to Africa.

If the United States is to be a defender of human rights and promoter of stability around the world, the security situation in Africa is a legitimate threat that cannot go unaddressed. Many conjecture that the United States’ involvement in the Sahel with President Biden as commander-in-chief will look substantially different than it has in the last few years. However, time will tell whether the President’s rhetoric will be substantiated by actions and policies.

Most observers argue that if the United States is to be impactful in combatting the threat of terrorism in the Sahel, it will have to work cooperatively with regional diplomats and military leaders. In order to legitimately overcome the threat and address the crises it has created, all the underlying causes behind the phenomenon must be strategically addressed.

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