According to defence officials, President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all Americans which is around 700 U.S. troops in Somalia by early 2021. It is part of a global pullback by the Republican president before he leaves office next month he is also said to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The United States troops in Somalia are focused on helping local forces to defeat the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab insurgency. The mission has received little attention in the United States, but has been considered a cornerstone of the Pentagon’s global efforts to combat Al Oaeda.
As reported by The Washington Post, a U.S. defense official has said that the troops will be reassigned to other parts of East Africa for counterterrorism operations. Many of the forces will be redeployed to neighboring nation Kenya, which hosts a contingent of U.S. forces, he added.
The United States has already pulled out of Somalia’s cities of Bossaso and Galkayo earlier this year. As of last month, U.S. troops were still in the southern port city of Kismayo, Baledogle airbase in the Lower Shabelle region, and in the capital Mogadishu.
“While a change in force posture, this action is not a change in U.S. policy,” the Pentagon said. “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 institution added.
Somalia has been in civil war since the early 1990s, but over the past decade an African Union-backed peacekeeping force and U.S. troops have clawed back control of Mogadishu and large swathes of the country from Al Shabaab.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed had appeared to be lobbying in public against the drawdown, writing on Twitter in October that U.S. support “has enabled us to effectively combat Al-Shabab and secure the Horn of Africa.”
The United States also conducts airstrike and surveillance missions from airstrips in the region. In January, a U.S. soldier and two American contractors were killed by Al Shabab militants in a brazen predawn attack on an air base on the Kenyan coast. About 200 U.S. troops and 100 contractors were in Kenya at the beginning of the year, as reported by The Washington Post.
Army Gen Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, said in a statement, “The U.S. military is not withdrawing from East Africa.” “Our presence in Somalia will decrease significantly but U.S. forces will remain in the region and our tasks and commitment to partners remain unchanged.”
Al Shabab, which has fought for more than a decade to establish rule based on its strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law, often carries out gun assaults and bombings on both military and civilian targets and has also attacked regional targets, especially in Kenya.
Many of the U.S. forces in Somalia train and support Danab, the Somali special forces at the core of a mission to kill Al Shabaab leaders. Danab, which has around 850 soldiers but had planned to grow to around 3,000, has been Somalia’s most effective fighting force.
The U.S. defense official said the withdrawal was ordered to be completed by January 15 the same deadlines for Afghanistan and Iraq. They are said to reduce troop levels from about 5,000 to 2,500 in Afghanistan and from about 3,000 to 2,500 in Iraq.