Tillerson plans Africa trip for early 2018


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures before the 10th Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting, part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional security forum in Manila on August 6, 2017.

RAMSTEIN - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met US military officers on Wednesday to prepare for a trip to better coordinate American security and diplomatic strategy in Africa.

Tillerson plans to make the trip in the first quarter of 2018, the State Department said, after he dismissed reports that the White House wants him to resign within weeks.

Washington&39;s top diplomat touched down at Ramstein air base in Germany to be briefed by officers of the US European and African commands to prepare for the journey.

"The secretary will set an agenda of priorities that the Department of State and Department of Defense will work on prior to the trip," senior Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond said.

"The goal is to align the two departments&39; efforts in the region," he told reporters travelling with Tillerson.

The US military footprint in Africa has grown rapidly in recent years, with missions training local troops and fighting Islamist militants in several countries.

But some critics have argued that the American civilian diplomatic effort to support partner countries has not kept pace with what has become a Pentagon-led strategy.

With political and media attention focused on the fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the build-up had not until recently gained a lot of attention in Washington.

But the dangers of the campaign were thrown into sharp relief in October when insurgents ambushed a US special forces patrol in Niger and four soldiers were killed. 

Tillerson stopped off at Ramstein for a little under two hours while travelling to Vienna from Brussels, where he had attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

Before leaving, he angrily dismissed reports that members of US President Donald Trump&39;s White House team want him to resign and be replaced by CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

Media reports citing anonymous White House officials suggest Tillerson may be gone before he has time to lead his planned African trip.

But Tillerson retorted: "This is a narrative that keeps coming up every six weeks, and I would say you all need to get some new sources, because your story keeps being wrong."