US plans to cut troops and airstrikes in Somalia
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon plans to curtail its military role in Somalia and lessen airstrikes against al-Shabab militants in the region, NBC News reported Friday.
Two senior U.S. officials told the outlet that the administration has assessed that al-Shabab does not pose a direct danger to the United States as American forces have killed many of the group’s senior operatives.
The group, which controls parts of southern and central Somalia and has carried out numerous deadly attacks in the country, is still a threat to the Somali government and neighboring countries, according to current and former officials.
The move to diminish Washington’s role in Somalia comes weeks after President Trump unexpectedly announced that he will pull U.S. forces from Syria. The move is widely credited with prompting the resignation of former Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Trump reportedly is also seeking a possible troop drawdown in Afghanistan.
The soon-to-be diminished U.S. military footprint in Africa, in addition to Syria and possibly Afghanistan, indicates the administration's pivot away from counterterrorism operations.
Under Trump, the Pentagon increased airstrikes and ground troops in Somalia, where approximately 500 U.S. personnel are based, including troops, civilians, and contractors. The president also gave commanders more authority in ordering air strikes.
But the Pentagon announced in November that it will cut the number of U.S. troops deployed to Africa by hundreds on counterterrorism missions over the next several years.
The reduction, which would be less than 10 percent of the 7,200 military forces serving in U.S. Africa Command, is part of the Pentagon’s plan to refocus efforts toward so-called great power competitions with Russia and China.
One senior official told NBC that the military “is narrowing its mission a bit” in Somalia under Mattis’s direction. The request was reportedly given before he resigned.
The U.S. military in 2018 carried out 47 airstrikes, up from 35 airstrikes in 2017 against al-Shabaab, Africa's most active Islamic extremist group.
The Pentagon most recently said that a Wednesday airstrike killed an estimated 10 militants.
With the administration’s new plan, responsibility for bombing militants in Somalia would go to the CIA. The agency would likely conduct fewer strikes as it is not able to deploy the necessary number of personnel on the ground to direct such air bombings.