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Senators Raise Concerns With Nominees Over Africa Impact

FILE: Logo of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Taken 7.8.2020
FILE: Logo of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Taken 7.8.2020

U.S. senators holding confirmation hearings on two top military nominees said Thursday they worry that Russia's aggressive moves to engage and influence Africa jeopardizes U.S. efforts and priorities on the continent, and wanted to hear the nominees' plans to counter the Kremlin.

Lt. General Michael E. Langley, nominated by the White House to lead U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was questioned by the U.S. Senate's Armed Service Committee as to how he would counter or halt Russian moves to forge ties and spread its African influence.

Langley testified before the Senate committee along with Lt. Gen. Bryan Fenton, President Biden's pick to head U.S. Special Operations Command (SOC), which conducts operations alongside AFRICOM and other Pentagon elements.

Senators on the panel voiced strong worries about the presence of Russia-based mercenary outfit "Wagner Group" in Africa, most recently in Mali where the military coup government hired Wagner to bolster its own forces in the fight against al-Qaida, Islamic State, and other elements.

The lawmakers also said they wanted to find effective responses to Moscow's use of held-up grain shipments, especially to Africa, as leverage to get the continent's leaders to choose food access over standing with the West's strong sanctions in opposition to Russia's attack upon Ukraine. The lawmakers expressed alarm, too, over Russia’s recent success rallying support among African leaders against Western sanctions.

In June, African Union and Senegal President Macky Sall met with Russian President Vladimir Puting, at which time he called on western nations to lift its punitive sanctions against Moscow to get the grain moving again.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, stated at Thursday's hearing that "It pains me to see African leaders accepting disinformation about what’s causing this epidemic of hunger in Africa,” he added, saying it is imperative that U.S. leaders put more effort behind “winning the narrative war.”

AFRICOM nominee Langley agreed with Senators who said that Pentagon unit must mix diplomacy with military prowess to preserve and advance U.S. interests in Africa.

“The Wagner group, they have ill intentions,” Langley said, noting that the organization has helped to proliferate Russia’s already significant portfolio of arms sales in Africa.

As for the presence of Wagner Group both as fighters and as Russian proxies in Africa, as well as Moscow's aggressive arms sales on the continent, Langley told the committee "“It just brings on fragility, especially across fragile countries,” Langley said, promising that, if confirmed, “we will reengage, we will reset” and demonstrate that “we are still the partner of choice.”

If the nominations of the two generals receives a favorable committee vote, their names move to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.