In a reversal of former President Trump’s December 2020 order to withdraw U.S. forces from Somalia, American troops will be repositioned from neighboring countries to help establish a “small, persistent U.S. military presence in Somalia,” a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.
Some background: The U.S. had 750 troops stationed in Somalia in 2020 when Trump made his decision, a move he framed as his effort to end “forever wars.” Those troops had been repositioned to neighboring countries and would move in and out to try to help with counterterrorism operations.
But the move allowed Al-Shabaab — al Qaeda’s largest and best-financed global affiliate — to grow stronger and increase the tempo of its attacks in the region, including on U.S. personnel, the senior administration official told reporters.
Other issues: Having U.S. forces rotate through Somalia created a “very real force protection risk,” the official said. It also created efficiency challenges by transporting and unpacking equipment back and forth when operators could have been working.
“This is a step that rationalizes what was essentially an irrational arrangement that we inherited,” the official said.
More on the move: The move won’t reestablish the full U.S. military presence prior to the withdrawal and won’t “significantly change” the Pentagon’s overall posture and resource dedication in East Africa, the official said.
The official acknowledged that the U.S. military presence is only part of the administration’s approach to Somalia, which also includes diplomacy, security assistance and stabilization programming to counter al-Shabaab.
The Pentagon’s response: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that the American forces won’t directly fight in combat operations, and will instead train, advise and equip Somali forces.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's view “was that the episodic engagement model was inefficient and increasingly unsustainable,” Kirby said.
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