Pentagon Sends Security Force Assistance Brigades to Africa

By Victor Westerkamp

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that it would pull back elements of an infantry brigade from the 101st Airborne Division in favor of the more specialized Security Force Assistance Brigade.

The move is an initiative to be more in line with the 2018 National Defense Strategy by redirecting its attention from counter-terrorism to being more competitive with China and Russia.

“As part of this review and in order to better compete with China and Russia in Africa, the Secretary is directing the deployment of elements of the Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) to the continent to conduct train, advise, and assist missions in spotlight African countries. This is the first of many decisions regarding U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM’s) mission,” the Pentagon said in a statement per spokeswoman Alyssa Farrah.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks onstage at Mar a Lago, Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec. 29, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

“Army SFABs are manned, trained, and equipped specifically for the train, advise, and assist mission.  This allows them to perform this important ‘great power competition’ role more effectively and more efficiently than conventional units,” the statement further read, adding that the SFAB will focus on security force assistance operations, thus relieving brigade combat teams of that task.

“The purpose is to make sure that what we’re doing is aligned with the National Defense Strategy, so I get the force sizing right, that the activities, the actions, and tasks right in each theater of command,” Defense Secretary mark Esper said while en route to a NATO meeting in Europe, Stars and Stripes reported.

“This is a good sign from @DeptofDefense,” Elridge Colby Former Pentagon, National Defense Strategist, commented. “It’s a brigade deploying to Africa, but it’s a Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB): a smaller, tailored unit for this kind of mission. It’ll free up parts of @101stAASLTDIV for high-end training.”

Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, the commander of U.S. Army Africa, said Wednesday according to the outlet, “competition with Russia and China on the continent is critically important. We think we have a competitive edge there.” Cloutier said he believed the United States has a natural advantage over its competitors because the United States has shown to be a trustworthy partner in the past.

“So the competitive advantage that we have on the African continent, I think, is the professional nature of our military, the discipline of our soldiers, the great training that we can provide, and the fact that we believe we’re the partner of choice. So that’s how we compete head-to-head with them,” he said.

“The deployment of the SFAB allows the Army to return elements of an infantry brigade from the 101st Airborne Division back to its home base of Ft. Campbell, KY, allowing it to train and prepare for high-intensity conflict operations,” Farrah’s statement finalized, adding that the operation will start in the coming weeks.

However, all parties stressed that AFRICOM is not walking out of Africa. “The message I’m relaying to my partners is that we’re not walking away. We are still engaged,” Cloutier said.

The announcement did not provide any specifics as to which African counties would be involved, how many SFAB agents will be deployed, or how many troops would return.