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Mattis Cuts US Troop Numbers in Africa by 10 Percent

FILE - A C-130 U.S. Air Force plane taxis as Nigerien soldiers stand in formation during a military exercise in Diffa, Niger, March 8, 2014.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is cutting hundreds of U.S. troops from Africa so he can use those resources for potential future conflicts with Russia and China.

Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch told VOA the move will cut roughly 700 counterterrorism troops and their enablers from West Africa. That is about 10 percent of U.S. Africa Command's presence on the continent.

"Operations in Libya, Somalia and Djibouti remain largely unchanged," she said.

The Pentagon's new National Defense Strategy (NDS) emphasizes near-peer competition over counterterrorism.

When asked whether the reduction was a result of the October 2017 attack in Niger that killed four U.S. troops, one military official said the deadly incident did not play a role in the decision.

"Discussions about this shift were under way before that incident occurred," the official said.

The military's "adjusted approach" to West Africa will decrease emphasis on tactical-level advice and assistance. Instead, the U.S. will rely more heavily on regional-level advising, assisting and sharing of intelligence, Tresch said.

As Mattis rolled out the NDS in January, he said the United States was losing its competitive military advantage over China and Russia.

"Great-power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security," Mattis said.