Despite U.S. withdrawal from Somalia, Pentagon warns al-Shabab: ‘They should not test us’December 21, 2020
Pentagon leaders over the weekend warned that a U.S. exit from Somalia should not be viewed as a victory by the al-Shabab terror network, and they stressed that American forces will still be fully capable of striking the extremist group “at the time and place of our choosing.”
In a statement, Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said the roughly 700 American troops currently in Somalia will be repositioned to other bases in east Africa. The move comes amid a broader push by President Trump during his final weeks in office to pull American forces from war zones in the Middle East and Africa such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
The U.S. troop presence in Somalia is relatively low when compared to other hot spots around the world. American forces mostly train and advise Somali government forces and provide logistical support for the U.S. drone campaign against al-Shabab fighters, an effort that has ramped up considerably during Mr. Trump’s time in office.
That air campaign, Gen. Townsend said, will continue even as ground troops leave the country.
“To be clear, the U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from east Africa,” he said. “We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future. We also remain capable of striking al-Shabaab at the time and place of our choosing — they should not test us.”
Al-Shabab, an al Qaeda affiliate, is estimated to control 25% of Somali territory. The U.S. air campaign, along with the support of ground troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia, has mostly kept the group in check.
But specialists warn that current U.S. efforts are not enough to fully defeat al-Shabab, and some foreign policy observers have advocated direct diplomacy with the group as the only realistic path toward peace in the historically unstable country.