U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has a new leader, with U.S. Gen. Michael "Mike" Langley assuming command of U.S. military missions on a continent where the Pentagon says countering Chinese influence and threats from extremists remain paramount.
"I know I have a lot to do. We have a lot to do," Langley said during a ceremony at the command's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
Upon his promotion earlier this month, Langley became the first African American four-star general in the Marine Corps' 246-year history. Prior to this post, Langley served as commander of Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic and Marine Forces Command.
"He is the right leader at the right time with the right skill set to lead this critical command. He has the unique blend of character, competence, courage, experiences, and knowledge to lead AFRICOM in this challenging time," Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday.
Langley is the sixth AFRICOM commander since the command was established in 2008. Outgoing commander Gen. Stephen Townsend, who is retiring after 40 years of service in the military, warned at the ceremony that "America cannot afford to ignore Africa."
"The continent is full of potential but also full of challenges, and it's standing at a historic crossroads," said Townsend. "On one side is authoritarianism and foreign malign influence, along with the terrorism and food and economic insecurity that goes with it. On the other side is peace, security, democracy, development, and rule of law."
Townsend continued to sound the alarm on terror groups thriving in ungoverned spaces in Africa, telling Congress earlier this year that the United States "may be backsliding" in its fight against al-Shabab terrorists since former President Donald Trump decided to pull all U.S. troops from Somalia during his final days in office.
In January, Townsend told VOA in an exclusive interview that he thought there are "more effective and efficient ways" to fight al-Shabab than commuting in and out of the country for missions. Less than four months later, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signed an order to deploy hundreds of U.S. troops back to Somalia.
Austin, who presided over the ceremony, said Africa is on the front lines of many of this century's most pressing threats. He warned that "autocracy is on the march," with Russia and China "working to tighten their grip on the continent."
"Russia is peddling cheap weapons and backing mercenary forces. That's yet another reminder of Moscow's willingness to sow chaos and threaten the rules-based international order — and it goes far beyond [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's reckless invasion of Ukraine," he said.