Trump Administration Withdraws U.S Troops from Somalia

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The Trump administration is set to reduce most U.S troops in Somalia by January 15, five days before President-elect Biden assumes office. About 700 U.S troops under the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) are in Africa’s horn helping to combat the Islamic extremist group, al-Shabab.

Through a statement released on Friday, the Pentagon has stated that the withdrawn troops will be deployed in neighboring countries for cross border operations. The Virginia-based military headquarters went on to clarify that the move did not in any way alter the U.S policy.

“We will continue to degrade violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition,” Pentagon said

Untimely Move

The move is mistimed considering that parliamentary and presidential elections are to be held this month and February next year, respectively.

The US troops were expected to engage the local military in long-term training to counterterrorism. They have so far trained an elite force of Somali commandos, Lighting Brigade (Danab), which has played a major role in combating the militia group.

Upon the announcement of the drawdown, a Somali senator, Ayub Ismail Yusuf, through a tweet urged the Trump administration “not to give up on the successes” achieved close to over a decade. He added that “we must still win this for battle and peace to prevail.”

Experts have warned that the drawdown would hearten the militants in the region. The speculation results from the fact that the US troops have played a significant role alongside the African Union troops in the reclamation of certain areas previously under al-Shabab control, including the capital, Mogadishu.

From Washington-based American University, William Lawrence warned the move would make the US lose its ability to “Americanise on the ground and have interaction with Somali troops.”

Trump’s Post-Election Military Decisions

In the past, President Trump has vouched for the US troops to come back home, citing that the military interventions are costly and ineffective. However, he has recently increased military action against al-Shabab in the form of airstrikes.

Mark Esper, former US defense secretary, who favored retention of US forces in Somalia, was sacked last month and replaced with the National Counterterrorism Center director, Christopher Miller.

Just a week later after Miller’s appointment, in mid-November, Pentagon announced a drawdown of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan will reduce close to half, from 5,000 to 2,500, while Iraq troops will be reduced from 3,000 to 2,500.

The recent drawdown comes after Miller made a stopover in Somalia for a Thanksgiving visit with the US troops. It also follows the Pentagon’s inspector general report, released less than a fortnight ago, where the U.S. Africa Command warns of the al-Shabab’s resiliency and adaptiveness, making them capable of attacking “western and partner interests in Somalia and East Africa.”

What Next?

The Pentagon said that the remaining US troops would be based in the capital Mogadishu.

Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, former Danab’s commander for three years, warned that it would heavily impact the counterterrorism efforts if the withdrawal was permanent.

Sheikh says the US plan to increase Danab composition to 3,000 men by 2027 is uncertain following the planned withdrawal.

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