NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – No country is as affected by Somalia’s future as the United States. Now the Trump administration is thinking of withdrawing hundreds of U.S. soldiers from the Horn of Africa nation, which some experts call the worst possible.
Three decades of chaos, from warlords to al-Shabab, which joined al-Qaeda, to the emergence of a group linked to the Islamic State, have torn the country apart, which has only begun to establish itself in recent years. The U.S. Embassy returned to Somalia just last year, 28 years after diplomats and staff fled.
Somalia is facing a tense election season that will begin in the coming weeks to decide the presidency and parliament. UN experts say al-Shabab, which supports 5,000 to 10,000 fighters in a rich diet of blackmailing businesses and civilians, is developing its bomb-making capabilities. And the growing military force, the 19,000-strong AMISOM of the African Union, has begun its own withdrawal from a country whose forces widely believe they are not taking full responsibility for security.
It is unclear whether President Donald Trump will order the withdrawal of some 700 U.S. military forces from Somalia after instructing Afghanistan and Iraq, or whether the reported urge will pass before he leaves office in January. But the idea is taken seriously, even as U.S. drones are expected to continue in Somalia against al-Shabab and IS fighters in neighboring Djibouti and Kenya – where al-Shabab carried out a deadly attack on U.S. forces earlier this year.
U.S. Headquarters in Africa has seen a “definitive shift” in al-Shabab’s focus to attack U.S. interests in the region, the Department of Defense’s chief inspector said in a new report on Wednesday, and al-Shabab Africa’s largest “dangerous” ”And“ immediate ”threat.
The stakes are as follows:
“The first thing … it’s catastrophic for Somalia’s security sector, it’s just the first panic reaction: Do you know why now?” said Samira Gaid, a Somali national security expert who was the Prime Minister’s Chief Security Adviser and Special Adviser to the Head of AMISOM. “Especially because over the past three and a half years, the security sector in particular has improved and we have tried to work closely together,” the Associated Press told the United States.
Recent progress includes a “war council” between the U.S. and Somali governments, according to which the U.S. will help develop military plans. “We call them Somali-led operations, but in fact the United States will hold us in our hands.”
The U.S. military also forms part of Somalia’s elite Danab special forces, which currently number about 1,000 and provide air coverage and intelligence to Danab, Gaid said.
“Danab has expanded, which is why it’s so shocking,” he said. – Is it possible to move forward with this plan now?
Danab units now operate in four of Somalia’s five member states, the U.S. military says. About 80% of the Somali National Army’s offensive forces were carried out in the quarter ending Sept. 30 and “almost all” operations against al-Shabab.
The Danab forces also serve as a model for how other Somali military forces can evolve into “greater meritocracy and less clan-centricism,” said Omar Mahmood, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.
The loss of U.S. forces is widely seen as a gain in the much smaller presence of hundreds of al-Shabab and IS fighters in northern Somalia. “From the point of view of al-Shabab, they just have to persevere,” Mahmood said, and they may even ask themselves what is needed for any possible Taliban-style trial.
Al-Shabab’s messaging has always emphasized the retaining power of the extremist group, said national security expert Gaid: “These outside forces will always leave.” The withdrawal of the United States plays a role in this narrative.
Gaid said he sees no other country to join the U.S. military, although the withdrawal would open up space for powers like Russia and China. Somalia also has about 1,500 special forces trained by Turkish troops, he said, but “they do not benefit from Turkish advisers on the ground.”
Without U.S. forces, al-Shabab will “more easily outdo AMISOM, let alone the Somali National Army,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, co-chair of the Brookings Institution’s African Security Initiative, said at an online event this week. And as the conflict in neighboring Ethiopia puts increasing pressure to withdraw additional Ethiopian forces from Somalia, the withdrawal of U.S. troops is “actually just the worst time”.
The support provided by U.S. forces to AMISOM is “huge,” Gaid said, including one of Somalia’s key interlocutors. And since AMISOM will call it out by the end of next year, “it’s a tricky time.”
The United States says the implementation of a plan to take over Somali forces to take security of the country next year is “on the wrong track,” a new report from the Department of Defense’s chief inspector said.
According to the report, Somali forces are unable to curb the al-Shabab threat on their own. They continue to rely on the international community for their financial support, and yet they “sometimes pay for months”.
A U.S. withdrawal may prompt AMISOM to “realistically” change its own withdrawal schedule, “Mahmood said.
The United States was the most committed security partner in Somalia, “willing to bow down and get dirty,” he added. But no country seems willing to make up for what U.S. forces are doing on the ground
And the withdrawal of the United States and AMISOM could give the impression that “Somalia can rely less and less on external security partners,” Mahmood said.
Somalia is on the brink of elections, with a parliamentary vote scheduled for December and a presidential vote scheduled for February. What has meant the country’s first one-person and one-vote election in decades is instead still limited in disputes between the federal government and regional governments – which the U.S. says also weaken the command and control of Somali forces.
At least after the election, keep U.S. forces in Somalia, Felbab-Brown wrote this week, warning of possible post-election violence or al-Shabab, taking advantage of the potential chaos.
Even though U.S. forces don’t provide election security, “our problem with the U.S. focusing on calling troops wouldn’t be focusing on how the election is going politically,” Gaid said.
The United States was one of the loudest actors in Somalia’s electoral process, he said. “We all expected after November that the United States would be aware of many things. Now it seems we have to wait. “