President Donald Trump has asked his advisors to draft plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with Bloomberg.
Bloomberg reported the Pentagon has already begun drafting plans for the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia, where between 650 and 800 U.S. troops are currently deployed. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley have also reportedly been involved in the discussions around the potential troop drawdown in Somalia.
According to Bloomberg, all or nearly all of the U.S. troops in Somalia have been deployed during Trump’s presidency. Trump began authorizing the deployment of more troops to Somalia in mid-2017. Trump’s reported request for plans to bring troops back from Somalia now comes with weeks to go before the November 3rd presidential election.
Those U.S. troops, deployed under the leadership of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) have been involved in combatting the Al Shabaab terror group, which has links to Al Qaeda. AFRICOM has carried out at least 46 airstrikes against Al Shabaab targets in 2020, according to an Aug. 28 AFRICOM press release. AFRICOM has stated in various press releases throughout 2020, that its missions are coordinated with the Federal Government of Somalia and that AFRICOM “continues to work with its Somali partners to transfer the responsibility for long-term security in Somalia to the Federal Government of Somalia and its Member States.”
Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi said in a recent interview, reported by Bloomberg, that he would like U.S. forces to stay and said he believes Somalia is close to defeating Al Shabaab.
“We really appreciate the U.S. support, and we are grateful for what the U.S. has done, and we would like to see the troops remain until the work is 100% accomplished,” Abdullahi said.
Trump’s reported call for plans to withdraw troops from Somalia could also be complicated by the African Union’s planned withdrawal from the country by the end of the year. The African Union peacekeeping forces, organized under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has also been participating in peacekeeping efforts in partnership with the Somali government.
One source close to the discussions about the Somalia drawdown said Trump’s request has caused unease over concerns a premature U.S. troop withdrawal could leave Somalia vulnerable to a power vacuum and a resurgence by Al Shabaab. The terror group has continued to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks in Somalia in recent months. In September, a U.S. service member sustained non-life-threatening injuries from an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. U.S. forces were reportedly conducting a routine advise, assist and accompany mission alongside Somali partner forces when Al Shabaab attacked, using a vehicle employed as an IED. At least one Al Shabaab terrorist was killed in the attack. A report by Reuters, citing a Somali official, said that two Somali special forces troops were also killed and two more were injured.
“If the U.S. significantly withdraws its military footprint in Somalia, the government’s already tenuous hold on security in the country will be significantly weakened,” Colin Thomas Jensen, a senior adviser with WestExec Advisors told Bloomberg.
The report of the potential troop withdrawal from Somalia comes a week after Trump tweeted, “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
Trump’s call for a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Christmas suggested a faster timeline for the withdrawal than was put forth by O’Brien that same day. On Wednesday of last week, during an event at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, O’Brien said, “As of today, there are under 5,000 [U.S. troops in Afghanistan], and that will go to 2,500 by early next year.”
Trump has repeatedly called for an end to long, drawn-out conflicts, and in a recent interview with Fox Business, Trump said, We’re in all these different sites, fighting in countries that nobody ever heard of, and it hurts us because you wear out your military. And we have to be always prepared for China and Russia and these other places. We have to be prepared.”