- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2020

French Defense Minister Florence Parlay came to the Pentagon Monday to press France’s case for continuing U.S. support for their combat operations in the Sahel, a semiarid belt of land in Africa south of the Sahara.

“Our friends in the Sahel are in a situation where our assistance is critical. I have expressed the hope that both the United States and France will keep on supporting them,” Minister Parley said during a short press briefing at the Pentagon.

France says it relies on the United States for intelligence and logistics support for its 4,500-strong mission in the Sahel. Even “limited” U.S. support will leverage an “immense” effort from France, she said.

“It’s a classic case of burden-sharing,” Minister Parlay said. “We actually thank the United States for all the support it has been providing for our operations.”

But U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper seemed to hold out little hope that the U.S. will continue to maintain a significant footprint in the region, even while honoring France for their leadership there.

“I give France great credit for what they’ve done. I think it’s time for other European allies to assist as well,” Mr. Esper said. “That could offset whatever changes we make as we consider next steps in Africa.”

The Pentagon’s top priority is to implement the National Defense Strategy which is focused on “Great Power Competition” with China and then Russia, Mr. Esper said.

The Defense Department is in the middle of a review of U.S. Africa Command to determine what role the military should continue to play there going forward. Similar reviews are expected for the other U.S. combatant commands. The goal, he said, is to free up any time or manpower and either shift them to face Russia and China or return to the United States to improve readiness.

“No decisions have yet been made,” Mr. Esper said.

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