President Biden has approved a request from the Pentagon to reestablish a persistent presence of U.S. troops in Somalia, reversing a decision made late in the Trump administration.
Fewer than 500 U.S. troops will have a permanent presence in Somalia, below the 750 troops the Trump administration withdrew in January 2021, according to a senior administration official.
The threat of al Shabab, the largest affiliate of al Qaeda, played into the administration’s decision to switch from rotational deployments to a more permanent presence in Somalia.
“Al Shabab remains a threat, and that threat we assess not only continues but is increasing,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a press briefing on Monday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended to Mr. Biden that a better way to tackle the threat of al Shabab would be to have a more persistent military presence in Somalia, Kirby said. Biden approved the plan, and now the Pentagon is working on implementation timing.
Whenever the plan is implemented, the presence will consist mostly of U.S. troops who are already in East Africa and will not require a significant change in resources, according to Kirby.
Since January 2021, U.S. troops have moved in and out of Somalia on a rotational basis to assist with counterterrorism efforts, and Kirby said the Pentagon, after assessing this approach for several months, concluded that this model was “inefficient” and “increasingly unsustainable.”
He said the decision will help U.S. troops better advise and assist Somali partners in their fight against al Shabab.U.S. troops themselves will not participate in combat operations against al Shabab.
“We believe this is the best way for us to continue what has remained a very valuable advise and assist training mission – it’s just this is a better way to do it,” Kirby said.
Former President Barack Obamain 2014, the first time there had been boots on the ground there since the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993. In the final days of the Obama administration, the former president expanded the war against the perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks to include al Shabab, according to The New York Times.
After taking office,in the region but in December 2020, he ordered a drawdown of troops in the region. At the time, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said the future of the military presence in Somalia was being debated.
The U.S.’ only permanent military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, is in neighboring Djibouti.