President Joe Biden has approved a request by the Pentagon to redeploy US troops to Somalia in an effort to counter the terrorist group al-Shabaab, a senior administration official said on Monday.
The move reverses a decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw all US troops from the country in 2020.
The US will reposition US forces in east Africa and move to restore a US military presence in Somalia in consultation with the Somali government, the official told reporters on Monday. The official said “under 500” troops will be sent back into the country but declined to provide a precise number. He emphasized, however, that the Pentagon “will not be restoring the full contingent of operators present in Somalia before” the previous administration’s withdrawal, which was about 750 military personnel.
The official described the Trump administration’s withdrawal as “abrupt and sudden,” and said that al-Shabaab “has unfortunately only grown stronger” since then.
“We have seen, regrettably, clear evidence that al Shabaab has the intent and capability to target Americans,” the official said, noting that the group had killed over a dozen Americans in east Africa in recent years, including three at a US military base in Kenya in early 2020.
Trump’s decision in December 2020 to withdraw the US personnel from Somalia was part of a broader effort in the waning days of his administration to pull back US involvement in global conflicts, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the Biden administration believes that al-Shabaab remains “a notable priority given the threat it poses,” and that a “persistent” US presence there will be necessary to counter the group.
“This is a step that rationalizes what was essentially an irrational arrangement that we inherited,” the official said, referring to the Trump administration decision. “It was irrational because it created unnecessary and elevated risk to US forces as they moved in and out of the country on a rotational basis, and it gave us less pay-off for incurring that risk because it disrupted their efficacy and consistency of their work with partners.”
The official would not confirm whether Biden had authorized targeted strikes against specific al Shabaab leaders, but said that a US military presence is “not the only component” of the US’ counterterrorism strategy in Somalia.