WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump has directed most U.S. military and intelligence forces to be evacuated from Somalia, where they have been performing operations against the terrorist group Al Shabaab, the Pentagon reported.
Trump’s latest move, after recently ordering massive troop cuts in Iraq and Afghanistan, represents his drive to disengage US troops from what he calls endless wars overseas, making good on a campaign promise in the final weeks of his presidency.
The Pentagon said in a statement that Trump “has ordered the Department of Defence and the United States Africa Command to reposition the majority of Somalia’s personnel and assets by early 2021.”
In the face of questions about a pullback from separate parts of the continent, the Defense Department emphasised that the United States was not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa.”
We will continue to degrade violent terrorist groups that may endanger our homeland while ensuring that in great power rivalry we retain our strategic advantage,” it said.”
About 700 soldiers, staff from other US military activities, and private security companies in Somalia have been retained by the US Africa Headquarters, both performing attacks on Al Shabaab and preparing Somali units.
Since the early 2000s, US soldiers have undertaken operations against militant groups in Somalia, killing hundreds in mostly conventional aircraft and drone attacks that have caused large civilian deaths.
Meanwhile, US staff have suffered some losses, including the death in late November of a CIA officer.
A week ago, Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller visited Somalia, where he “reaffirmed US resolve to see violent extremist organisations that threaten US interests, partners, and allies in the region degraded,” the Pentagon said.
Chairman General Mark Milley of the Joint Chiefs reported on Wednesday that the Defense Department was evaluating the scale of its posture in the world.
We understand that Al Shabaab in the Jubba Valley of the Lower River is a threat.
It’s a coordinated, competent criminal group, we realise. It’s an Al Qaeda extension, just as it was with ISIS,’ he added.
“He called the US presence relatively small, “relatively low cost in terms of staff numbers and resources.” “But he said, “it’s still high risk. Yet, he said, if US forces do not sustain pressure on Al Shabaab, they could try to assault US interests beyond the area of the Horn of Africa.
“Most people probably do not know what the small force was doing, but they have helped prevent Shabaab, a prolific Al Qaeda branch, from forming an Islamic Emirate and disrupting terrorist operations,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a think-tank expert on Islamic extremist groups at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The key aim of Shabaab, he said on Twitter, is to create an Islamic emirate in Somalia and export jihad across the region.” “The group has also experimented with sophisticated explosives to attack aeroplanes and it is not possible to rule out international plotting.”
The move came as Trump attempted to wind down overseas US military engagements to uphold a vow he made in the 2016 election.