President Donald Trump has ordered most U.S. forces to leave Somalia by early 2021, the Pentagon said, saying the move can be done without undermining the fight against terrorism.
“While a change in force posture, this action is not a change in U.S. policy,” the Defense Department said in a statement on Friday. “We will continue to degrade violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition.
About 700 U.S. troops are in Somalia on what is largely a counterterrorism mission, targeting regional terrorist groups such as al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaida. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller visited those troops last month, and The New York Times reported that a veteran CIA officer was recently killed in the country.
Although some U.S. forces will be reassigned outside of East Africa, “remaining forces” will be sent to neighboring countries, according to the Pentagon statement. That most likely means Djibouti, where the U.S. maintains a military base.
Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on a pledge to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars,” also has sought to put in motion drawdowns of forces from Iraq, Afghanistan and even Germany before President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.
In October, Bloomberg News reported that Trump told top advisers he wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia.
Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi said in an interview at the time that he wanted U.S. forces to stay, adding that he believes his country, with U.S. assistance, is on the brink of defeating the al-Shabab insurgents.
“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.
Many Americans may be surprised to learn that U.S. forces are in Somalia, after a high-profile withdrawal in 1994. That followed a deployment to help the nation deal with a famine but ended with more than two dozen Americans killed, some in an infamous Mogadishu battle that was featured in a book and movie called “Black Hawk Down.”
Trump began sending more forces to Somalia by mid-2017 as part of counterterrorism efforts. Adding to Somalia’s potential security challenges if U.S. troops leave again, an African Union peacekeeping mission is scheduled to withdraw by the end of next year.
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