Senior US general warns about Russia’s growing influence in Africa

The head of US Africa Command warned Congress on Thursday that Russia is aggressively working to expand its footing among African countries, leaving several “at the tipping point” of falling under its influence.

“[A] number of countries are at the tipping point of actually being captured by the Russian Federation as they are spreading some of their false narratives across Libya and from a strategic answer piece, access and influence across the whole Maghreb,” Marine Corps Gen. Michael Langley told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “That is NATO’s southern flank. We need to be able to have — maintain access and influence across the Mahgreb, from Morocco all the way to Libya.”

There are hundreds of US service members in Africa, according to AFRICOM. US officials have warned for years now that both Russia and China are working to tighten their grips on the continent. The former head of US Africa Command, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, said in 2019 that Russia was using mercenaries and arms sales to gain access to natural resources in Africa.

“They want to have influence on the continent,” Waldhauser told Congress at the time. Langley said Thursday that the US has been “drowned out” by Russian disinformation in previous years, leading to Russia’s success in stoking “a lot of the instability across the Sahel.”

“I would say the Russian Federation’s narrative drowned out the US government’s in the past years. They were excelling,” Langley said. “The Russian Federation — not just through Wagner — stoked a lot of the instability across the Sahel. They did this through misinformation, disinformation campaigns.”

Langley called for more resources to combat Russia’s narrative, particularly more resources for US information operations. But it wasn’t just Russia Langley warned of; both Russia and China, he said, have “long-range plans” on the continent.

“They want that ground. They want power projection capabilities. … But I think at accelerated pace, the Russian Federation is really trying to take over central Africa as well as the Sahel,” he said.

Langley also made the case on Thursday for more seats for African military partners in US military education programs, saying leaders in Morocco, for example, “keep asking us for more seats because the United States doesn’t offer enough.”

“That is also competing with the Russian Federation. They’re beating us 12-to-1,” Langley said.

Langley emphasized that the US maintains a significant advantage over both countries with its state partnership program, which pairs US state National Guard units with foreign militaries. There are currently National Guard partnerships with 18 African countries, according to AFRICOM, including Kenya, Niger, Liberia, Djbouti, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Tunisia.

That program is “unrivaled,” Langley said Thursday, and is a significant advantage over Russia and China on the continent. He and the National Guard Bureau Chief, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, have been laying out a plan into “the rest of the decade” that would develop “more strategic partner programs across the continent.”

“Here’s how it helps: In our overall competition with the PRC and Russian Federation, they can’t match that,” Langley said. “The way we build and partner with our countries, build with our African partners, builds capacity and capabilities, and it also gives them an appreciation for the rule of law, law of armed conflict, in working with their partners and makes them even more resilient.”

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