The senior US commander for Africa met France’s top general on Thursday to discuss the fight against militant groups in the region, as uncertainty persists over whether President Donald Trump will maintain American troop levels on the continent.
General Stephen Townsend, head of the US Africa Command, met with France’s armed forces chief of staff General Francois Lecointre for a working lunch on their “continued US-French cooperation in Africa,” according to a US statement.
The US has provided aerial refuelling, intelligence and other crucial support for France’s anti-terrorism campaign in West Africa, where a disparate Islamist insurgency has taken root in recent years.
The US statement noted that US intelligence collection had “helped facilitate” the French operation that resulted in the killing of the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abdelmalek Droukdel, in June.
But the Trump administration insists it must focus on containing Russia and China, with Africa seen as less of a direct threat — and one that should be left to France and the European Union.
US officials indicated early this year that a troop drawdown was under consideration, though no concrete moves have been announced since.
“We share common threats, mutual concerns, and a commitment to fighting violent extremist organizations,” Townsend said.
He added, however, that “continued French leadership and increased support from their European neighbours is key to helping the Africans change the trajectory and prevent the spread of violence in West Africa.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has been pressing EU allies to step up their contributions to the fight.
France has more than 5,000 soldiers as part of Operation Barkhane, its anti-jihadist force in the Sahel.
.”The situation in the Sahel was discussed,” the French defence ministry confirmed in a statement, as well as “the necessary mobilisation of European countries to fight the terrorist threat in the region.”
Regarding a potential US withdrawal, “nothing has been officialised one way or the other,” a military source told AFP on Thursday.