Donald Trump promised in 2016 when running for president that he would put a halt to the perpetual wars that America had been committed to under previous administrations. In the last few months, he has been making good on that promise, almost totally withdrawing American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and pulling our assets from other hot spots around the world.
Yesterday, the Pentagon said in a statement that most of the 700 U.S. forces in Somalia would be “repositioned.” They claim it is not a change in policy, and that the troops will “continue our efforts in East Africa.” Those efforts include helping the Somali military fight the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group al-Shabab and a resurgent ISIS.
The withdrawal is part of Trump’s makeover of the Pentagon, which continues apace despite his dwindling legal chances to overturn the election.
The Somalia announcement is Trump’s most recent major change at the Pentagon, where he has jettisoned much of the civilian leadership in recent weeks, replacing officials with a slew of political loyalists as his administration winds to a close. Since firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet November 9, the President has ousted at least three other top officials and replaced them with perceived loyalists and targeted two advisory boards.
The President’s directive on Somalia comes a week after the Pentagon inspector general that the terrorist threat in East Africa is not degraded and that Somali forces are not able to confront the threat without US support.
Somalia has been a basket case since the early 1990s when civil war led to a devastating famine and the country became the poster child for a failed state. It’s not much better today. The U.S. troops in Somalia were mostly special operators who were training Somali troops in anti-terrorism tactics, as well as some logistical support, mostly military transport. There had also been several air strikes on al-Shabab targets in southern Somalia.
The repositioned troops will still be involved in cross-border operations and occasionally carry out joint anti-terror operations with an elite Somali force being trained by the U.S., the Danab Brigade.
Obviously, not everyone agrees with the decision, especially in Somalia.
“The U.S. decision to pull troops out of Somalia at this critical stage in the successful fight against al-Shabaab and their global terrorist network is extremely regrettable,” Senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf told Reuters in a statement, referring to the al Qaida-linked al Shabaab insurgency.
“U.S. troops have made a huge contribution and had great impact on the training and operational effectiveness of Somali soldiers,” said Yusuf, a member of Somalia’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
Somalia is a failed state and the few U.S. troops involved are not enough to make a decisive difference in the conflict. Terrorism in Somalia is part of a regional problem in East Africa and demands a regional solution. Time for nations like Somalia, Ethiopa, Uganda, and Kenya to come together and fight the common foe, leaving America out of it.