Inside Pentagon's decision to redeploy US Special Forces to Somalia

The move reverses a decision by Trump to withdrawal in 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas M. Byers)

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Rising Al-Shabaab attacks within Somalia and the need to train more local security forces informed the US decision to reinstate troops to the Horn of Africa nation, a year after an unceremonious exit occasioned by an order signed by former President Donald Trump.

Last year, Trump signed an order authorizing the repositioning of US troops as part of a "cost-saving" strategy, a move which was repelled by senior members of the Pentagon and senators, who have since convinced President Joe Biden to reverse the decision.

On Monday, Biden authorized the deployment of fewer than 500 troops to the East African nation to "reestablish a small, persistent U.S military presence in Somalia" in order to better target al-Shabab and its leaders, a senior administration official told reporters, VOA reports.

The decision, the official noted, was occasioned by the growing Al-Shabaab threat which could further destabilize the country. Throughout the elections period, the Al-Qaida associate has managed to wage deadly attacks, mainly targeting security forces, senior government officials and innocent civilians.

"Since then, al-Shabab … has unfortunately only grown stronger," the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the new authorization.

The President of the Federal Republic of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud thanked and appreciates Biden for authorizing the deployment of American troops to Somalia. He said the US has always been a reliable partner in our quest for stability and the fight against terrorism.

Al-Shabab "has increased the tempo of its attacks, including against U.S. personnel," the official said. "We're concerned about the potential for al-Shabab's upward battlefield and financial trajectory to generate more space for the group to plan and ultimately to execute external attacks," the official told VOA.

The US Africa Command under the leadership of General Stephen Townsend has often described Al-Shabaab as one of the largest, wealthiest and deadliest Al-Qaida affiliates in the world. The group is known for extortion syndicate targeting businesses.

Since the exit of US Africa Command troops from Somalia, Al-Shabaab's attacks have increased especially in the central and southern parts of the country. A fortnight ago, the militants raided a Burundian AU forces Forward Operating Base in Middle Shabelle, killing over 30 soldiers.

Due to the surging attacks, sources told VOA, the African Union Transition Mission [ATMIS] is planning to reduce the number of bases following an increased attack targeting its soldiers. Previously, the US troops used to assist the mission troops by providing aerial protection during operations.

The U.S. is "aligning our global counterterrorism efforts with where the threat to Americans is most acute," the White House official told reporters. "Al-Shabab in Somalia simply has to be among our highest priorities on that score."

Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, the commander of elite Danab Special Forces who is trained by the US, welcomed the decision by Biden to redeploy soldiers back to the country, adding that their presence will further neutralize the group.

"This is a welcome step because al-Shabab has been emboldened," Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh told VOA.

"Just recently, we saw al-Shabab bring out their technicals and other vehicles we haven't seen earlier in similar attacks," he said. "They don't fear the strikes and the U.S. capabilities as they used to do previously."

Sheikh further described the U.S. decision to again keep troops in Somalia as "timely," with the country electing Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as its new president on Sunday.

"It's a very positive start for our new president-elect when he starts his first day in office that he has that support he can count on," the Somali colonel said.

Since the official exit of the US Africa Command from Somalia, a number of soldiers have been commuting to the country from Kenya and Djibouti. And now, they will have to establish a base in the country for swift actions and training.

"Since that time, we have been commuting to work," General Stephen Townsend, head of United States Africa Command, told lawmakers in April 2021. "There's no denying the reposition of forces outside Somalia has introduced new layers of complexity and risk."

Pentagon has since defended the decision-making process to again position some U.S. troops in Somalia. The plan has been in place following pressure from the US Senate and other stakeholders.

"This isn't about a tipping point," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters, in response to a question from VOA. "This was an outgrowth of a very deliberate, mature, reasonable policy process here at the Pentagon to come up with a recommendation, again, based on the advice and counsel of General Townsend."

He added, "This is the best way for us to continue what has remained a very valuable advise-and-assist and training mission."

Al-Shabaab has over 5000 active fighters but the group has been degraded significantly following collaborative military actions. The country elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president on Sunday, and the US now wants to focus on the fight against Al-Shabaab.


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