WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon announced Friday that it was withdrawing most U.S. troops from Somalia on the orders of President Donald Trump, continuing Trump’s post-election pressure to reduce U.S. involvement in counterterrorism missions.
Without giving details, the Pentagon said in a brief statement that a “majority” of U.S. troops and assets in Somalia would be withdrawn in early 2021. There are currently about 700 soldiers stationed in the country of the Horn of Africa who are training local forces and advising on an extended fight against al-Qaeda’s subsidiary, the al-Shabab extremist group.
Trump recently ordered the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and was expected to withdraw all or all of the troops from Somalia. General Mark Milley, the joint chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that the future structure of the U.S. military presence in Somalia is still under discussion.
Adjusted U.S. presence, Milley said, “means relatively small floor space, relatively low cost in terms of staff numbers and money”. He did not provide specifics, but stressed that the United States remains concerned about the threat posed by al-Shabab, which he called an “al-Qaeda extension.” The extremist group that planned September 11, 2001, launched attacks on the United States. Afghanistan.
“They have some access, and if they were left unattended in the region, the interests of the United States, but also against the homeland,” he said. – So they need attention. Noting that Somalia remains a dangerous place for Americans, he said a CIA officer was recently murdered there.
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller paid a short visit to Somalia last week and met with U.S. troops.
Depending on what remains of the U.S. presence in Somalia when it takes office on Jan. 20, President-elect Joe Biden may reverse Trump’s call or make other adjustments in light of counter-terrorism priorities. The U.S. military is also present in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, in neighboring Djibouti.
Stephen Townsend, the army’s general, the head of the U.S. Africa Command, said in a written statement that the U.S. contingent in Somalia was “significantly reduced,” but did not offer specifics. “U.S. forces will remain in the region, and our commitment to our responsibilities and partners will remain the same,” he said.
“This action is not a withdrawal and end of our efforts, but a relocation of the continuation of our efforts in East Africa,” he added.
Jim Langevin, a Democrat in Rhode Island, has criticized the withdrawal of Trump in Somalia as a “surrender to al-Qaeda and a gift from China”. Langevin is chairman of the House’s Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
“When U.S. forces leave Somalia in response to today’s order, it is becoming increasingly difficult for diplomats and aid workers to help people resolve conflicts without violence and loss of life,” Langevin said. “Due to the upcoming elections in Somalia and the raging conflicts in neighboring Ethiopia, leaving partners cannot happen at a worse time.”
Langevin said China will live the time to build influence in the Horn of Africa.
According to the Pentagon, the Somali takeover is not the end of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
“As a result of this decision, some forces may be reassigned outside East Africa,” he said. “However, the remaining forces will be transferred from Somalia to neighboring countries so that cross-border operations by the United States and partners will allow it to maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia.”
He added: “The United States will continue to be able to conduct targeted counter-terrorism operations in Somalia and to collect early warnings and indicators of threats to the country.”
The nature of the threat posed by al-Shabab and the appropriate response from the United States have been the subject of increasing debate in the Pentagon, seeking opportunities to place more emphasis on China than a greater long-term challenge.
A report by a Department of Defense guard last week said U.S. Africa headquarters saw a “final shift” this year in al-Shabab’s focus to attack U.S. interests in the region. According to the African Command, al-Shabab is Africa’s most dangerous and “immediate” threat.