US Troops Pulling Out of Somalia
Is the US Abandoning Somalia to Al-Shabaab Extremists?
The United States is pulling hundreds of troops deployed to Somalia to battle al-Shabaab terrorists even as military commanders admit the threat from the al-Qaeda-linked terror group has not been eliminated.
“A threat remains,” Africa Command spokesman Colonel Chris Karns told VOA following the announcement late Friday that President Donald Trump had ordered U.S. forces to leave Somalia.
But Karns said that despite al-Shabaab’s enduring presence, “it is contained.”
“It is contained via continued pressure on the network,” he added.
For months, U.S. defense officials have been raising concerns about the growing confidence and capabilities exhibited by al-Shabaab commanders, and a recent report by the Defense Department inspector general warned that despite ongoing efforts, al-Shabaab has not been degraded.
Africom also is saying that some U.S. forces are going to stay in the East African country. “A limited presence will still remain in Somalia,” Karns said.
Trump’s order is part of an effort to draw down U.S. forces globally, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, before he leaves office on January 20.
Some 700 U.S. troops are in Somalia, helping local forces in the fight against the al-Shabab insurgency. The mission has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S., but it has been a key component of the Pentagon’s campaign to combat al-Qaeda worldwide.
The U.S. withdrew some troops earlier this year from the Somali cities of Bossaso and Galkayo. As of last month, American troops remained in the capital, Mogadishu, in the port city of Kismayo and at the Baledogle airbase, 96 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.
The Pentagon said in an unsigned statement Friday that an unspecified number of U.S. troops would be moved to neighbouring countries, while others would be reassigned outside East Africa.
In November, reports came out that a CIA officer had been killed in combat in Somalia. The veteran officer was a member of the CIA’s Special Activities Center, a paramilitary branch that carries out some of the US intelligence agency’s most dangerous tasks. The officer died of injuries suffered during an operation.
Trump’s order to withdraw from Somalia comes as the country prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections, and weeks before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Somalia has been torn by a nearly 20-year civil war. United Nations experts say al-Shabaab, supporting its 5,000 to 10,000 fighters by extorting businesses and civilians, is improving its bombmaking skills. An African Union-supported peacekeeping force and U.S. troops have regained control of Mogadishu and large parts of the country over the last decade. However, the African Union’s 19,000-strong AMISOM, has also begun its own withdrawal from a country whose forces are widely considered unready to assume full responsibility for security.
The loss of U.S. forces is widely seen as a gain for al-Shabaab, and for the far smaller presence of hundreds of Islamic State-affiliated fighters in Somalia’s north.
Further Reading on Conflict in Africa
Image: Somalia, Somali National Army, 3rd DANAB (US Navy Photo by Patrick W. Mullen III, 2019).