Times-Herald (Vallejo)

Reversing Trump, Biden acts to deploy US troops to Somalia

- By Ben Fox and Aamer Madhani

President Joe Biden signed an order Monday to redeploy hundreds of U.S. troops to Somalia to counter the Islamic extremist rebel group al-Shabab, an effort that American military leaders said had been hampered by President Donald Trump's late-term decision to withdraw forces from the country.

U.S. troops will be reposition­ed from elsewhere in Africa to train and provide other support to Somali forces in their fight against al-Shabab, which is considered the largest and wealthiest affiliate of the al-Qaida extremist organizati­on.

“Our forces are not now, nor will they be, directly engaged in combat operations,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. “The purpose here is to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabab by local forces.”

It's a reminder that the U.S. remains engaged in the long fight against Islamic extremists around the world, even if the effort has been eclipsed by the war in Ukraine and other matters.

The decision to station forces again in Somalia, rather than rotate them in and out, is intended “to maximize the safety and effectiven­ess of our forces and enable them to provide more efficient support to our partners,” National Security Council spokespers­on Adrienne Watson said in announcing the redeployme­nt.

U.S. troops in Somalia will total “under 500” according to a senior Biden administra­tion official who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief journalist­s on the decision.

In addition to training Somali forces, American troops will also provide security to personnel from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for Internatio­nal Developmen­t as they work with the government to emerge from years of turmoil, the official said.

Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of approximat­ely 700 troops from Somalia at the end of his term in January 2021, an extension of a broader policy of seeking to pull the U.S. out of what he derisively referred to as “endless wars” around the world.

But military leaders said that came at a cost, wasting time, money and momentum as troops had to rotate in and out of the country.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command, told Congress in March that the rotations, which he called “commuting to work,” were not efficient or effective and put American troops at greater risk.

“In my view, we are marching in place at best. We may be backslidin­g,” Townsend told the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested the deployment “to reestablis­h a persistent U.S. military presence in Somalia to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabaab, which has increased in strength and poses a heightened threat,” said an administra­tion official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan before the White House announceme­nt.

The group has killed more than a dozen Americans in East Africa, including three in a January 2020 attack on a base used by U.S. counterter­rorism forces in Kenya. Later that year, the U.S. charged a Kenyan who had been taking flight lessons in the Philippine­s with planning a 9/11-style hijacking attack on behalf of al-Shabab.

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