The Visit of the Minister of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper to Malta and North African countries highlighted America’s long-term involvement in the region and the importance the United States places on its relationship with the nations.
Esper visited Malta, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco during his travels.
“The focus of the trip will be to strengthen our current alliance and partnerships in the region, as well as reaffirm the US ‘lasting military commitment to the African continent,” said a senior DOD official who spoke on the background.
The Secretary will discuss various issues with state leaders. The official noted it was very much a conversation among friends. “The United States is committed to lasting partnerships with African countries based on relationships of mutual respect and shared values,” said the senior official.
Security in the Mediterranean will clearly dominate the discussion, but Esper will also look at enhancing bilateral defense and security cooperation more broadly and addressing the national security risks posed by foreign investment in critical infrastructure.
He will spend more time listening to the perspectives of these countries. What he learns will inform discussions in Washington.
Libya has been in turmoil since the fall of the Qaddafi regime and the country’s volatile and violent situation has affected the region and beyond. Russia is trying to build a military base in Libya. If successful, any solution to the war in Libya will be more difficult to negotiate, officials said.
All countries that Esper will visit have concerns about Libya and the secretary hopes to understand the issue. Officials noted the situation looked different in the region than when inspecting it from Washington.
But the trip was more than just a consultation on an imminent crisis. It is intended to highlight US commitment to Africa. DOD officials have made hundreds of trips to the continent over the past year.
Even though Esper had a message for the region, he really wanted to tackle the continent. Africa is the second largest continent in the world. It is very diverse and complex and is endowed with natural resources. The continent is the fastest growing continent by population.
This is a problem. There are more non-governmental or “unregulated” areas in Africa than anywhere else in the world. These areas drew a fierce influence. Violent extremist organizations are a real threat to Africa’s shaky national government. West Africa’s Boko Haram and Somalia-based al Shabaab are the two biggest terror groups but there are many more.
The United States is committed to forging long-term relationships with like-minded African countries, and this separates the United States from China and Russia. America is the “partner of choice” throughout the world. DOD has a part in this by helping partners build capacities and capacities to provide stability and security to their people.
In Tunisia, Esper will visit the Battle of America’s World War II Memorial Cemetery. Tens of thousands of American soldiers died in North Africa starting November 8, 1942 when amphibious landings began in Morocco and Algeria as part of Operation Torch.
The American Grave is a clear example of US commitment to Africa. “It is important for us to highlight the fact that we have not only worked with them for many years, we continue to work with them today,” said the senior defense official. “We have a lasting commitment.”
US Africa Command has troops in many countries on the continent. US troops assist by training, equipping and strengthening the militaries of African countries. The DOD effort is only part of a broader US interagency engagement.
The visit will also highlight that the United States is part of a broader coalition working to help African countries prosper. This includes Great Britain, France and others. “This is different from China and Russia, which are trying to disrupt the rules-based order that Africa has developed,” the official said.
Esper was scheduled to travel to the region in April, but was forced to postpone it due to the pandemic. Yet US engagement remains strong as US military exercises with North and West African partners continue. Conferences – virtual and real life – also go according to plan.
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