WASHINGTON – President Trump will continue to withdraw troops from conflicts around the world and withdraw American troops from Somalia, where they have been trying to reverse the progress of Islamist insurgents in the Horn of Africa.
The Pentagon announced Friday that virtually all of Somalia’s 700 or so troops – most of the special operations forces that have conducted training and counter-terrorism missions – will depart by January 15, five days before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is to be inaugurated.
Many of the troops will be “repositioned” in nearby Kenya, a Defense Department official said Friday. It was not immediately clear whether other parts of the American presence in Somalia – such as CIA officials, the ambassadors and other State Department diplomats stationed in a heavily fortified bunker at the airport in Mogadishu, the Somali capital – were also from Somali will withdraw territory along with the military.
The withdrawal from Somalia followed Mr Trump’s orders to reduce the American presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and reflected the president’s longstanding desire to end longstanding military engagements against Islamist uprisings in failed and fragile countries in Africa and the Middle East has spread since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The Pentagon promised to continue efforts to safeguard American interests.
“The US is not withdrawing from Africa or withdrawing from Africa,” it said in a statement. “We remain committed to our African partners and support them on a permanent basis with a nationwide approach.”
The United States will continue to be able to conduct counter-terrorism activities in Somalia, particularly drone strikes, and to gather early warnings and indicators regarding the threat to the United States and its allies from militant forces in the country.
The Somalia mission has been in the spotlight in recent days after current and former American officials reported that a CIA veteran officer was killed in action in Somalia. Death has already rekindled the American secret service’s counter-terrorism debate in Africa. The officer was a member of the CIA’s paramilitary division, the Special Activities Center, and a former member of the Navy’s Elite SEAL Team 6.
The withdrawal from Somalia comes just two weeks after Mr Trump ordered the military to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, halving the number there to just over 2,000. The presence of American troops in Iraq will also be reduced.
Also this week, the Pentagon official overseeing the military’s efforts to combat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was sacked after a White House official told him that the United States had won the war and dissolved be. The fall of officer Christopher P. Maier, head of the Pentagon’s Penteat Defeat ISIS Task Force since March 2017, came just three weeks after Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and three other Pentagon officials and replaced them with loyalists.
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller, who has been running Mr Trump’s purging at the Pentagon since he replaced Mr Esper last month, described the moves as an expression of the success of America-led efforts to crush the terrorist state, the Islamic State at large Parts of Iraq and Syria created.
Defense Department officials, familiar with internal considerations, said Somalia’s withdrawal would not apply to American forces stationed in nearby Kenya and Djibouti, where American drones are stationed carrying out air strikes in Somalia.
Maintaining these airbases would mean maintaining the military’s ability to use drones to attack militants with the Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group – at least those seen as a threat to American interests.
Ending foreign conflicts has been a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda since he ran for office in 2016. This appeal has particularly revitalized its populist base, including many veterans who have grown tired of their roles in long-running wars. The President considers his record on the matter important to any political future that he might pursue.
Most American troops in Somalia, the war-torn nation in the Horn of Africa, are special forces based in a small number of bases across the country. Her missions include training and advising Somali army and counter-terrorism forces, as well as carrying out kill-or-capture raids on their own Shabab fighters.
The Pentagon has long argued that if local governments can protect their own territory, the United States can safely exit militant-contested areas. Mr Trump’s order means that direct training efforts with Somali security forces would end.
Mr Trump’s move to leave Somalia before the end of his term comes at a sensitive time: Somalia is preparing for next month’s general election and a presidential election in early February. The withdrawal of American troops could make it more difficult to protect election campaigns and votes from Shabab bombers. It also comes at a time of political unrest in neighboring Ethiopia, whose army has also fought the Shabab.
Somalia has been exposed to civil war, droughts and violence by Islamist extremists for years. The United States intervened in the country as a peacekeeping force, but gave up not long after the 1993 Black Hawk Down battle, which killed 18 Americans and hundreds of militia fighters.
The Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group whose name means “the youth”, emerged around 2007 and have fought violently for control of Somalia, with occasional attacks outside its borders, including an attack on Westgate shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013 , which killed more than five dozen civilians and a fatal attack on a US air force base in Manda Bay, Kenya, in January.
The leaders of the Shabab committed themselves to al-Qaeda in 2012. In 2016, shortly before she left office, the Obama administration viewed her as part of the Congressional-sanctioned war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Under the Trump administration, the military stepped up air strikes on Shabab fighters.