U.S. Army Spc. Preston Seach, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, participates in an emergency deployment response exercise, East Africa, May 17, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that U.S. strategic goals could include drawing down troops in Africa despite French pleas that American support is "critical" to countering the growing strength of terror groups in the region with links to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

"My aim is to adjust our footprint in many places," including Africa, to free up forces for a "great power competition" against China and Russia, he said at a joint Pentagon news conference with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

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Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct shooting drills at a Mauritanian range during Flintlock 2019, Feb. 15, 2019 in Atar, Mauritania. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Steven Lewis)

The United States plans on ramping up counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region of Africa in response to an alarming rise in violent extremism there, Foreign Policy reports.

The Sahel includes Niger, where four U.S. Army Special Forces personnel were killed in a deadly October 2017 ambush carried out by Islamic extremists.

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U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

A commander of the ISIS affiliate in West Africa responsible for the October 2017 ambush that left four U.S. service members dead was killed in a French military operation in Mali on Sunday, French officials announced on Monday.

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