Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) led a group of U.S. congressmen in challenging Defense Secretary Mark Esper over the Trump administration’s Africa policy on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, NBC reported Tuesday.
Graham and the other lawmakers, including Senator Chris Coons (D., Del.), expressed concern over a possible directive to withdraw U.S. troops from Africa’s Sahel region. Graham told Esper he could “make your life hell” if the directive were followed, while an aide to Graham told NBC the senator emphasized “bipartisan agreement and support in the meeting in support of the mission.”
Esper is currently conducting a review of all U.S. troop commitments abroad in a bid to return as many soldiers as possible back to the U.S. Currently there are about 1,000 U.S. troops in the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to Eritrea on the Red Sea.
Lawmakers including Graham want to keep the troop presence in part because the group of 1,000 is small and at $50 million is comparatively inexpensive to maintain. The soldiers largely support a French troop presence that combats offshoots of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, including Nigerian terror group Boko Haram.
“The secretary conveyed that the review of AFRICOM’s mission and force presence is still ongoing and he encouraged members of Congress to not prejudge the outcome,” a defense official told NBC. “He also spent the week discussing with our European allies how they could have a stronger role in the region, and stressed that a full-scale withdrawal is not under consideration.”
Graham has previously challenged the Trump administration after its withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria, in preparation for a Turkish assault on the Kurdish region of the country.
“This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos, Iran is licking their chops, and if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life,” Graham said in October.