On Dec. 4, President Donald Trump ordered a January withdrawal of nearly all U.S. troops in Somalia. The move corresponds to a larger initiative to reduce forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Just under 700 troops in Somalia will be reassigned to other posts or returned home to the United States.
The Somalian mission has focused on helping local forces defeat al Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-linked insurgency that follows an extreme interpretation of Muslim Sharia law. The initiative has been a cornerstone of the Pentagon’s global efforts to defeat the long-standing Al-Qaeda terrorist group.
The Inspector Generals of the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State published a November report stating that conflict in the region surrounding al Shabaab remains intense. “Despite many years of sustained Somali, U.S. and international counterterrorism pressure, the terrorist threat in East Africa is not degraded.”
“Shabab retains freedom of movement in many parts of southern Somalia and has demonstrated an ability and intent to attack outside of the country, including targeting U.S. interests,” concluded the report.
Al Shabaab often carries out armed assaults and bombings on civilian and military targets in both Somalia and neighboring Kenya.
However, in an unsigned statement, the Pentagon refuted the critique that troop withdrawals could undermine security in Somalia. “While a change in force posture, this action is not a change in U.S. policy.
“The U.S. will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland.”
The statement also noted that some forces would be redeployed outside of Eastern Africa, while others would be assigned to neighboring countries as the U.S. continues to conduct cross-border operations in the region.
An anonymous U.S. defense official told Reuters that nearly all U.S. forces would leave Somalia, with a small portion remaining in Mogadishu.
In October, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed lobbied publicly on Twitter against the drawdown of U.S. troops in the region. He tweeted: “The United States military support to Somalia has enabled us to effectively combat Al-Shabab and secure the Horn of Africa.
“A victory through this journey and for Somali-US partnership can only be achieved through continuous security partnership and capacity building support.”
Many of the U.S. forces trained and supported Danab, a Somali special forces unit approximately 850-men strong tasked to kill al Shabaab’s leaders.
Reuters also cited an unspecified U.S. official who claimed that the Somali mission was a point of contention between President Trump and former Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. The official claims Trump pushed for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the region, while Esper was unwilling to give ground. Trump fired him in November.
It is the third major military withdrawal by the Trump administration since Esper was replaced by Christopher Miller, a former Green Beret and intelligence official.
Trump has ordered the drawdown out of Somalia to be completed by January 15, 2021, the same timeline to move troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq.