According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon has begun withdrawing high-ranking military officials from US embassies in Africa, the Middle East, and other posts around the world, a move necessary to shift the military’s focus more on China and Russia.
The Journal reviewed a memo from August 24th signed by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper that ordered the position of defense attaché to be downgraded in rank in eight allied countries, including the UK and Saudi Arabia. The Journal said attachés have been withdrawn altogether from several embassies in West Africa.
The defense attaché is the senior military officer representing the US at diplomatic posts. Duties of the attachés include overseeing the training of foreign militaries, arranging weapons sales, and coordinating US military forces in the country.
According to Esper’s memo to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, the Pentagon ordered defense attaché positions to be downgraded from the rank of general or admiral to the rank of colonel or Navy captain in Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, and the UK.
“Options under review will continue to align our forces and our people with the National Defense Strategy, as well as maintain global partnerships and capabilities,” the Pentagon told the Journal in a statement on Esper’s memo.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy outlines the US military’s shift away from counter-terrorism in the Middle East and Africa towards so-called “great power competition” with China and Russia. Esper has made it clear since he was first appointed to his position in 2019 that China is the Pentagon’s “number one priority” and has called for an increase in military spending to counter Moscow and Beijing.