President Joe Biden will deploy up to 500 U.S. troops over a period of time to Somalia to once again establish a “persistent presence” in the country, essentially reversing a withdrawal ordered by former President Donald Trump in January 2021.
On a background call attended by American Military News on Monday, a senior administration official confirmed Biden had approved a request made by the Department of Defense to reposition U.S. forces in East Africa to counter increasing terrorist activity – including against U.S. forces – by Al-Shabaab, a top branch of Al Qaeda.
“Fewer than 500” U.S. troops already stationed in neighboring countries will be moved into Somalia over time as conditions allow for intelligent and secure implementation, the senior administration official said, adding that the scope of the counterterrorism mission will remain unchanged.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had proposed that the U.S. reestablish a persistent presence in Somalia as a result of its growth and “increased tempo of attacks, including against U.S. personnel” over the past year since 750 U.S. troops were withdrawn to a rotational presence.
The rotational presence has “created a very real force protection risk” with efficiency challenges, including time wasted on transferring equipment instead of addressing terrorist threats, the senior administration official said.
The senior administration official said Al-Shabaab is now a notable priority for the U.S. counterterrorism mission and has now grown to be Al Qaeda’s “largest and wealthiest global affiliate.” The terror group has demonstrated its “ability and intent to target Americans in the region,” the official added.
Though the official would not say what branch of special operators will comprise the Somalia presence, the official did say the operators were those experienced in building up partner capacity, assisting in training, turning intelligence into operations, and helping in operations to dislodge terrorists from claimed territory.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters during a Monday press briefing that the permanent presence is the best option to counter the persistent threat from Al-Shabaab because it eliminates the training disruption and time expended on “constant coming and going.”
Kirby emphasized the move was “not a deployment with an end date,” instead calling it simply a “change of posture.”
“It will allow us to do a better, more consistent job,” Kirby added.