Biden to send US Special Forces to Somalia in war against Al-Shabaab
WASHINGTON, US - A contingent of Special Forces from the United States army could be sent to Somalia in coming weeks, it has now emerged, just weeks after former President Donald Trump withdrew soldiers serving in the war-torn nation.
A proposal by President Joe Biden, which was seen by The New York Times, suggests deployment of dozens of soldiers to Somalia, which has faced increasing challenges in the fight against Al-Shabaab, a group that still controls large swathes of rural Central and Southern Somalia.
But so far, the plan is yet to be presented formally to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, The New York Times reported. The top tabloid in the US cited anonymous sources within the Pentagon, who are said to have worked towards the realization of the strategy in efforts to counterpart Al-Shabaab.
Since the withdrawal of close to 700 US Africa Command troops from Somalia earlier this year, local forces have struggled to contain the militants, who can still wage small to large scale sporadic attacks. They only depend on backup from the African Union Mission Forces.
Somali politicians both from government and opposition had opposed Trump's move, arguing that "such move would give Al-Shabaab ground, thus eroding gains made so far". The US troops were essential in both training Somali soldiers besides giving aerial surveillance and assistance during raids.
The Stuttgart-based U.S. Africa Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposal. Although the troops left Somalia, US Africa Command continues to send surveillance teams to Somalia on a rotational basis to monitor the situation.
Ever since the US troops withdrew, there has been no notable airstrike in Somalia but the US Africa Command has released two quarterly reports. It's these airstrikes, around 50 of them in 2020, which destroyed Al-Shabaab bases in Jilib besides killing notorious terrorists like Bashir Qorgab.
Still, despite years of strikes and U.S. advisers supporting Somali forces, al-Shabab has maintained a fighting force of several thousand guerrillas and was able to mount high-profile attacks against partner and U.S. troops. In January 2020, one U.S. soldier and two defense contractors were killed when the militants stormed a military compound in Kenya that was used for carrying out missions in neighboring Somalia.
In Somalia on Tuesday, Al-Shabaab militants claimed responsibility for the attack at Gen Abdikarim Yusuf's military base in Mogadishu, which left over 20 SNA recruits dead and dozens of others injured. But despite the continued onslaught by Al-Shabaab, SNA troops have also killed close to 300 terrorists in Middle and Lower Shabelle in the last four weeks.
Kenya gets the same favor
Of Somalia's neighbors who've borne the brunt of the Al-Shabaab attack, Kenya is on top of the list. In fact, on January 5, 2020, Al-Shabaab attacked a US Naval Base at Manda in Kenya, where two contractors and one soldier died on the spot.
And in line with fighting Al-Shabaab from across Somalia borders, Biden has also sanctioned sending of Special Forces to Kenya, a letter to Congress seen by Sunday Nation revealed, and the soldiers will collaborate with their Kenyan counterparts. Their exact number is not known.
The US deployment is expected to be a security boost for Kenya, which has in recent years suffered deadly gun and bomb attacks from Al-Shabaab. The Somalia-based group is known to have sympathizers in Kenya.
Al-Shabaab has been attacking Somali government and military targets but occasionally launches high-profile assaults in neighboring states, including Kenya. North Eastern Kenya and parts of the Coast have particularly been targeted by the terrorists, but there have previously been high-profile attacks in Nairobi, including at Westgate Mall in 2013 and the DusitD2 Complex in 2019.
Al-Shabaab has publicly declared intent to conduct attacks in retaliation to Kenya’s counter-terrorism operations in Somalia, which it conducts as part of the African Union Mission [Amisom] and maybe emboldened following the announced US withdrawal of forces from Somalia last year.
After the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia, most of them were repositioned to Kenya and Djibouti, where the US has a vast of interests. In fact, the main training center by the US troops in Africa is domiciled in Djibouti, just like other emerging superpowers like China.
The new Biden administration, which has publicly maintained it considers Kenya a "strategic" partner in the fight against terrorism, has embarked on the reversal of many policies that had been rolled out by Mr. Trump.
"In furtherance of counter-terrorism efforts, the United States continues to work with partners around the globe, with a particular focus on the United States Central and Africa Commands’ areas of responsibility," explained President Biden in his letter to the US Congress on Tuesday.
"In this context, the United States has deployed forces to conduct counter-terrorism operations and to advise, assist, and accompany security forces of select foreign partners on counter-terrorism operations....The United States Armed Forces are deployed to Kenya to support counter-terrorism operations in East Africa."
Although Al-Shabaab's presence is still huge in East Africa, the group has been struggling with dwindling financial fortunes besides losing fighters either to operations by security forces or through defections. The group wants to topple the fragile UN-backed Somalia administration.