The Trump administration will shoot practically everything of some 700 US troops in Somalia outside the country just five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The pullout, announced by the Pentagon on Friday, ostensibly marks President Donald Trump’s latest attempt to reduce the US presence abroad in what he has described as costly and ineffective military operations in regions like the Middle East.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced in November that the United States plans to reduce US troops from 4,500 to 2,500 in Afghanistan and from 3,000 to 2,500 in Iraq. But the change in strategy in Somalia appears to be something different.
Rather than a case of repatriation of troops, many forces will be repositioned in neighboring Kenya, according to an official of the Ministry of Defense, although it is not known so far what percentage of troops based in Somalia will be reassigned there.
“As a result of this decision, some forces may be reassigned outside of East Africa,” Pentagon said said in a press release Friday. “However, the remaining forces will be repositioned from Somalia to neighboring countries to allow for cross-border operations by US and partner forces.”
What the United States was doing in Somalia
The US forces stationed in Somalia were largely tasked with counterterrorism missions, with particular emphasis on combating the presence of al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group linked to Al-Qaeda. And American troops have also work on training Somali forces to conduct raids and capture al-Shabaab leaders.
According to the Pentagon, the mission against al-Shabaab will not end – instead, troops once stationed in the country “will keep the pressure on the violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia” from bases in Kenya and elsewhere.
The Pentagon also said that the military “will retain the ability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the country.”
The success of the United States in Somalia on this mission is not entirely clear. And the United States’ methods of doing its work against al-Shabaab have come under heavy criticism from watchdogs, who argue that counterterrorism operations in East Africa have been conducted without an appropriate level of responsibility.
One of the main tools the United States has against al-Shabaab has been the drone strikes, which it has carried out in Somalia since 2007. The frequency of these strikes significantly increased under the Trump administration, with 47 strikes carried out in 2018 and 63 in 2019, according to the New York Times. In total, the Trump administration has carried out at least 192 drone strikes in Somalia, an analysis of New America found.
Under Trump’s tenure, guidelines for monitoring strikes in Somalia, some of which are aimed at minimizing civilian casualties, have also been relaxed.
In the first seven months of the Trump administration, Trump oversaw more drone strikes than under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. combined, and human rights groups have accused US officials recognizing a fraction of the known civilian casualties of these strikes. Amnesty International accused the administration of passing off the killings of civilians as successful al-Shabaab raids and refusing to offer compensation when innocent people are accidentally killed.
Al-Shabaab appears resilient in the face of US intervention. A Defense Department Inspector General report this year found Somali security forces still appear to be overwhelmed by the militant group.
“Despite many years of counterterrorism pressure backed by Somalia, the United States and the international community, the terrorist threat in East Africa is not degraded: al-Shabaab retains freedom of movement in many parts of the country. southern Somalia and has demonstrated its ability and country intent, including targeting US interests, ” the report states.
And this ability has been exposed recently. Recently a CIA contractor killed in action in Somalia, and al-Shabaab organized a January attack on US installation in Kenya This resulted in the deaths of an American soldier, two contractors, and the destruction of expensive military equipment – including an American surveillance device.
Particularly in light of the January attack, US military officials in East Africa would have started to push for more flexibility launch airstrikes from Kenya, and President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta also reportedly asked Trump for more aid to counter al-Shabaab earlier this year. The redeployment of troops appears to achieve both of these goals.
And indeed, while the US training of security forces should end, airstrikes against militants in Somalia will continue, as the air bases housing US drones carrying out strikes in Somalia are currently based outside the country.