US presence in Somalia. The Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, announced during a briefing this past Monday, the change in the presence of US troops in the Horn of Africa, from entering Somalia on an ad hoc basis and only when necessary, to establish a small persistent presence in the country.
For the past 16 months, US military personnel in the US Africa Command area of responsibility have provided advisory and assistive support to forces in Somalia on an ad hoc basis, traveling to the country when needed and then withdrawing. (…) But the ad hoc model will soon change to one of persistent presence in the country.
This decision, based on a formal request from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, is motivated to strengthen the country’s security against terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab, which continue to attack the country.
John F. Kirby, while acknowledging that plans are still being made for how and when this decision will be implemented, specified that the mission of the US forces involved will remain the same: they will provide advice and assistance, but will not be directly involved in the conflict.
It should be noted that approximately 450 soldiers are expected to be installed in the country, compared to the 750 that were installed in 2021, before Trump ordered their withdrawal. This new order is striking, as it contrasts with Biden’s recent decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, a move that is also controversial.
US Africa Command has said it killed 12 al-Shabaab fighters in a remote area of Somalia on Friday in support of that country’s federal government and army.
No civilians were injured or killed, AFRICOM said in a statement Sunday, given the remote location of the strike, about 472 kilometers northeast of the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
“Rooting out extremism requires intervention beyond traditional military means,” the command said.
The US has provided ongoing support to the Somali government since President Joe Biden last year approved a Pentagon request to redeploy US troops the area in an attempt to counter the al-Shabaab terrorist group. The approval to send fewer than 500 troops was a reversal of former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all US troops from the country in 2020.
In recent months, US forces have conducted numerous strikes in the region that have resulted in dozens of al-Shabaab casualties.
Last month, the US carried out a strike in Somalia that killed approximately 30 al-Shabaab fighters, AFRICOM said. A US strike in October killed two members of the terrorist group and a subsequent November strike killed 17 fighters. And in late December, a US strike killed six al-Shabaab militants near the city of Cadale.
Somalia has been experiencing a situation of conflict and chaos since the overthrow in 1991 of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, which left the country without an effective government and in the hands of warlords and Islamist militias, which has led this country to be popularly known as a failed state case.
The following year, up to 300,000 deaths were recorded in Somalia, generating an internal displacement that reached the figure of 1.5 million and the same number of refugees, due to the great famine, the civil war, the total fall of the State and the weakening of the institutions.
Currently, the situation in the country has not improved much. Al-Shabaab, a group that splintered from the al Qaeda terror network in 2012, continues to carry out frequent bloody attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, with the aim of overthrowing the unstable central government and forcibly establishing a Wahhabi-style Islamic state. .
Without going any further, an African Union mission base located in the center of the country – which had already been attacked two weeks ago, leaving a dozen victims – was attacked with projectiles by the terrorist group.
On the other hand, Al Shabaab, taking advantage of the fact that the country is suffering a famine and drought of historic proportions, is seeking to strengthen its ranks and guarantee the sympathy of the population. Sheikh Ali Dhere, spokesman for the terrorist group, has announced that they have formed a special committee made up of seven of its main figures, which has already traveled to several of the regions of Somalia most affected by drought to deliver food and aid to the population.
Sheikh Ali Dhere has said that “We call on Muslims around the world to work with the committee and be part of efforts to help drought-stricken populations.”
In this way, the group has achieved a territorial advance against the Somali federal government in months, reversing the gains of the African Union peacekeepers who once expelled the militants to remote areas of the country. Relying on that reason, it is why the United States has announced its return to the country.
But, the US presence in Somalia is not something new. In 2007, as part of the “War on Terror,” the United States increased cooperation with military leaders in Africa through various peacekeeping programs and the creation of AFRICOM, the United States command in Africa, which was created with the aim of using the broad-based approach of diplomacy, development and advocacy to foster inter-agency efforts and help neutralize the causes of conflict and extremism in Africa.
In this way, the United States especially increased the military presence in Somalia, focusing on supporting the Somali Armed Forces in their fight against Al-Shabaab, through airstrikes and some other special forces operations.
The region where Somalia is located is particularly strategic, given the geographic proximity that the Horn of Africa has with respect to many countries in the Middle East, which were labeled as terrorists by then-President Bush.
President George W. Bush launched a long-running and controversial campaign against Islamist terrorists in Somalia in 2007 that has continued for the past few years. The goal is to end terrorism in the region, both the US military and the CIA carried out drone strikes and other actions. However, although more than a thousand suspected combatants of the three main terrorist networks that have operated in Somalia in the last 15 years have been eliminated: Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and ISIS; A large number of dead civilians and victims of terrorist organizations are also reported, which represents a great challenge.
By the time President Trump’s term ended in 2020 and the withdrawal of troops from the country had been announced, local communities had reported the deaths of some 330 non-combatants as a result of US actions in Somalia since 2007.
In short, given that the US currently has the support of the Somali central government and that US troops have continued in the last year to enter and leave the country to operate on the ground, their entry again cannot be classified as an invasion. However, despite the fact that this decision most likely marks a change in US policy in the region, it is not surprising that this move could unsettle the local population, and it remains to be seen how often these troops will carry out offensive operations.