President Joe Biden has accepted a Pentagon request to redeploy several hundred American troops to Somalia for what the National Security Council deems “a consistent US military presence” there as part of counterterrorism activities, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump.
The move will re-establish an open-ended mission in Somalia to help the country battle al-Shabab, a local al-Qaida branch.
The gang dominated Somalia for a time and is now attempting to reclaim territory in the country. It has committed out terrorist acts in Kenya, including three Americans killed in an attack on a US facility in January 2020.
According to National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, the action will “allow our allies to undertake a more effective campaign against al-Shabab, which is al-largest, Qaida’s wealthiest, and deadliest offshoot and poses a heightened threat to Americans in East Africa.”
Later Monday, a senior administration official told reporters that the number of American troops returning to Somalia would be “around 500,” and that they would continue to train Somalia’s military and help local forces on counterterrorism missions. “Our soldiers are not now and will not be immediately engaged in combat operations,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday afternoon.
In cooperation with the Somali government, the Pentagon is still determining when forces will return.
“This is a repositioning of forces currently in theatre who have journeyed in and out of Somalia on an intermittent basis since the previous administration took the hasty decision to withdraw by the end of 2020,” said Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.
“The decision to reintroduce a persistent presence was decided to improve our forces’ safety and effectiveness, allowing them to provide more efficient support to our allies,” Watson continued.
Trump ordered the removal of about 750 US troops from Somalia in December 2020, near the conclusion of his presidential term, as part of a broader policy to reduce force presence in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Trump promised to put an end to what he called “forever wars.”
His decision to pull out U.S. special operations troops who had been aiding the Somali military in the fight against al-Shabab came to an end. Since then, American troops have been rotating into Somalia on short-term training missions.
According to the administration, President Biden’s decision to recommit forces there will allow troops to resume an open-ended fight against al-Shabab. According to a senior Biden official, the increased presence will cease the “in and out” cycle that began after Trump’s decision.
The official compared the troop deployment to President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops, calling the previous pullback “irrational” since it “added unneeded and escalated risk to soldiers as they rotated in and out of the country.”
“It provided us less benefit for taking that risk,” the source continued, “since it interrupted their efficacy and regularity of work with partners.”
The move is part of the administration’s worldwide counterterrorism campaign, which also prioritises limited resources on “the most dangerous and ascendant threats,” according to the senior official.
“In a world where we must prioritise how we handle global counterterrorism, al-Shabab is a particular priority given the threat it poses,” the person said, referring to the threat it poses both in Somalia and internationally. Authorities claim a Somali man was receiving flight lessons in the Philippines in preparation for a 9/11-style attack on an American city, according to the official. Cholo Abdi Abdullah, the suspect, has pleaded not guilty.
“”Withdrawing forces in 2020 was a mistake,” Mick Mulroy, an ABC News contributor who served as a deputy assistant secretary of defence and is a veteran of Somalia operations, told ABC News.
“Remote training was not realistic enough to stop Al Shabaab’s expansion or collect threats from this terrorist group,” he said.
“The choice to deploy special operations personnel back into the nation today to work with our important allies and the newly elected president, who is quite familiar with our operations from his previous term as president, was the right one,” Mulroy added.