Trump plans withdraw US troops from Somalia


WASHINGTON, Somalia - US President Donald Trump wants the country to withdraw her troops from Somalia, Bloomberg reports, in a dramatic move that could change the strategy for the fight against Al-Shabaab militants, but which is part of the president's pre-election pledges delivered in 2016 before taking over from Barack Obama.

The US has close to 7,000 servicemen in Africa who operate under the US Africa Command, and of these, close to 600 were posted to Somalia, where they have been assisting the country's army in training and conducting airstrikes against the Al-Shabaab militants in central and southern Somalia.

The Pentagon has begun drafting plans for the president, and discussions have involved National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.

Most of these soldiers were dispatched to Somalia when Trump took over and are mainly based at Balligodle Army Base. They have been training the Danab Special Forces, who are responsible for search and rescue missions in the country, besides steering special operations against the Al-Shabaab.

President Mohamed Abdullahi of Somalia said in an interview that he’d like U.S. forces to stay, adding that he believes his country, with U.S. assistance, is on the brink of defeating the al Shabaab insurgents.

“We really appreciate the U.S. support, and we are grateful for what the U.S. has done, and we would like to see the troops remain until the work is 100% accomplished,” Abdullahi told Bloomberg by phone from Mogadishu.

Trump’s desire to get out of Somalia has provoked unease internally from officials who warn that it could leave a vacuum for the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab to fill, one of the people said. The group continues to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks in the eastern African country despite being the target of frequent U.S. drone strikes, and the Somali government retains a weak grip on power.

Kelly Cahalan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Africa Command, declined to discuss future force posture but said the U.S. “remains committed to working with Somalia and international partners to enhance long-term regional stability” in the country. She said the U.S. partnership in Somalia prevents al-Shabaab from “achieving their long-term ambitions, which includes exporting violence more broadly and attacking the U.S.”

Since January, the US has conducted 46 airstrikes in Somalia specifically targeting the militants in Jubba and Shebelle regions. The airstrikes have left top Al-Shabaab commanders among them Abdulkadir Commandos, Yusuf His and Bashir Qorab dead, a milestone US Africa Command says would significantly help in degrading Al-Shabaab.

During Somalia's civil war, the US deployed troops to the Horn of Africa nation but would withdraw a good number in 1994. That followed a deployment to help the nation deal with famine but ended with more than two dozen Americans killed, some in an infamous Mogadishu battle that was featured in a book and movie called “Black Hawk Down.”

And Trump began sending more forces to Somalia by mid-2017 as part of counterterrorism efforts. Adding to Somalia’s potential security challenges if U.S. troops leave again, an African Union peacekeeping mission is scheduled to withdraw by the end of next year.

‘Military Footprint’

“If the U.S. significantly withdraws its military footprint in Somalia, the government’s already tenuous hold on security in the country will be significantly weakened,” said Colin Thomas Jensen, a senior adviser with WestExec Advisors and former Africa policy adviser to ex-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. “Al Shabaab will look to take advantage.”

A U.S. pullout would also upend recent U.S. commitments to Somalia. Last month, senior Africa Command and special operations commanders visited Somalia on a trip meant to highlight “the unique role of the U.S. as the partner of choice in providing security training to East and West African partner nations,” Africom said in a statement.

Despite the government’s dependence on the U.S. troops, withdrawing them would allow Trump to say he’s fulfilling a 2016 campaign promise to end overseas wars and bring soldiers home, adding to previous moves in Afghanistan, Syria, and Germany.

The president provoked confusion when he tweeted last week that the U.S. should bring all American troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas. The Christmas target contradicted a statement by O’Brien that the U.S. intends to reduce its troop level in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early 2021.

“We’re in all these different sites, fighting in countries that nobody ever heard of,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business. “And it hurts us -- because you wear out your military. And we have to be always prepared for China and Russia and these other places. We have to be prepared.”

There is a proposal by the US Africa Command to conduct airstrikes in northeastern Kenya but such reports were dismissed by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, who insisted that Al-Shabaab's hideouts are in Somalia. Besides the US troops, the African Union also has close to 22,000 soldiers in Somalia who are expected to pull out by 2021 under the Somali Transition Plan [STP].


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