US Defense Secretary Mark Esper suggested on Thursday he could be ready to start a highly anticipated global force repositioning in accordance with what he called a “defense-wide review,” which is expected to trigger a refocus in troop movements.
Esper told reporters during a trip to Miami as he began a review of military missions in Latin America that he did not want to establish a firm timeline, yet indicated that the repositioning could start as soon as October.
“If I had to put an end-date (on the review), I want to make sure we are in some type of better posture by the beginning of the next fiscal year,” Esper said. “So I want to move fairly quickly.”
The review comes as a part of a global examination of deployments that he hopes will allow him to redirect more forces to Asia and send others back to the United States from overseas, as over the past two decades the US was focusing on counter-terrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, growing its military presence. Latin America and Africa remain two of the worst-resourced regions for the US military, according to Reuters.
The Africa review sessions, another of which is scheduled for Friday, are already triggering expectations within the Pentagon of at least a modest reduction in US troops in West Africa, where many US officials are concerned about the activities of Islamist militants. At the same time, the Southern Command seems to be concerned about the lack of the US deployments for training in Latin America.
Mark Esper tried to address concerns during his Thursday visit to the Miami-based Southern Command headquarters.
“Everybody always assumes that when we talk reviews, it means reduction. Not necessarily,” he said. “That’s one of the notions I’ve been trying to dispel … While it may mean right-sizing, it also could mean the addition of forces into a region, if we need them.”
A US official, speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said, however, that there had been other rounds of cuts and reprioritizations at Southern Command.
“Just anecdotally, 10 years ago, if you came here, for intel, we had a Colombia (intelligence) division. A division of analysts working Colombia. Right now, we’ve got two analysts working Colombia,” the official said.
According to the official, the shifting aims to focus on growing challenges from Russia and China, “assuming risk in a number of areas in order to meet the present challenge.”