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        ArgumentAbandoning West Africa Carries Risks for U.S.

        Published 10 January 2020

        News that the U.S. Department of Defense is contemplating a major drawdown in West Africa—potentially cutting support to France’s 4,500-strong combat mission in the Sahel as well—comes as the region is in crisis. France has been leading the fight against Islamist terrorism in the Sahel region since early 2013. “Not caring about Ghana’s fate is deplorable but understandable; not caring about France is at best reckless,” Michael Shurkin writes. “Leaving France in the lurch in the middle of the war could significantly damage that relationship. It would also signal to the world that the United States is not committed to helping even one of its closest and most important allies.”

        News that the U.S. Department of Defense is contemplating a major drawdown in West Africa—potentially cutting support to France’s 4,500-strong combat mission in the Sahel as well—comes as the region is in crisis. Islamist groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Islamic State have spread violence across central Mali, northern Nigeria, and throughout Burkina Faso. Michael Shurkin writes for RAND Blog thatWest Africa’s much more heavily populated coastal nations, such as Benin, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, could be next.

        He adds:

        For Americans, who are much less directly involved, the Sahel crisis raises a fundamental question: Beyond basic humanitarian concern, if the Sahel falls apart, why should Americans care?

        Yes, the Sahel and surrounding countries could get a lot worse. But rather than thinking in terms of falling dominos, a better metaphor might be a spreading airborne virus that ravages organs and limbs without fully killing the patient. International aid may keep capital cities alive, but a complete recovery is hard to imagine. Life will become more difficult for growing populations, who will become more susceptible to radicalization. Radical Islamist groups could consolidate power and end up governing large areas with significant populations. Such African emirates might bring order, but also bloodshed, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, and cruelty of the sort exhibited by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

        Shurkin notes that the two main dangers of the Islamists finding a safe haven in the Sahel – terrorist attacks and population displacement – are more of an immediate concern for North and West African countries or for France and its European coalition partners than for Americans.

        France has been leading the fight against Islamist terrorism in the Sahel region since early 2013.

        “Not caring about Ghana’s fate is deplorable but understandable; not caring about France is at best reckless,” Shurkin writes. “Leaving France in the lurch in the middle of the war could significantly damage that relationship. It would also signal to the world that the United States is not committed to helping even one of its closest and most important allies.”

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