With rumors that President Trump could pull most US troops from Somalia surfacing in the media, The New York Times published a story warning of the dangers of a US withdrawal from an African country.
The story titled, “Somalia Worries That a US Withdrawal Would be Disastrous” quotes a few analysts who say the Somali government would have a hard time fighting the Islamist group al-Shabab if US troops leave.
The only quote from a current Somali official is a tweet from Somalia’s president from October. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said a victory over al-Shabab could only be achieved through “continuous security partnership” with the US. The rest of the quotes are from think tank analysts, an anonymous EU official, and a former US military officer who all warn how a US withdrawal would be a win for al-Shabab.
President Trump significantly escalated the US war against al-Shabab during his time in office. There are approximately 700 US troops in the country, and most were sent there by President Trump. His administration also increased drone strikes to record numbers and loosened the rules of engagement for the drone war against al-Shabab.
The US bombed Somalia 63 times in 2019, the most US airstrikes on Somalia in a single year. The Trump administration carried out more airstrikes on Somalia in the first seven months of 2020 than were carried out under both the administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama combined.
Although President Trump is considering a troops withdrawal, it does not mean the drone war would come to an end. When the Times first reported the potential Somalia withdrawal, officials told the newspaper that the withdrawal would not affect US forces stationed in Kenya and Djibouti, where the US drones carrying out airstrikes on Somalia are based.
US troops in Somalia are mainly stationed there to train the local army. Officials told the Times that as per the Trump administration’s plans, these duties, as well as counterterrorism, would be shifted to the bases in Kenya and Djibouti.
Trump’s plan to pull out of Somalia was first reported by Bloomberg back in October. After the report was published, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was quick to hype the threat of al-Shabab. AFRICOM spokesman Col. Chris Karns told the Washington Examiner that the militant group “presents a future threat to America.”
Due to their al-Qaeda affiliation and size, al-Shabab is presented as the preeminent threat to the US homeland as a way to justify US intervention in Somalia. But like many groups the US is fighting, al-Shabab was born out of resisting a US-backed invasion and occupation and only pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda years later.
Al-Shabab began as the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a Muslim coalition that took control of Mogadishu from a group of warlords in 2006. After the ICU took power, the US-backed an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to depose the Islamist group.
In late 2006, al-Shabab split from the ICU and began operating as an independent group. The earliest recorded attack that al-Shabab claimed responsibility for was in March 2007 when a car bomb targeting Ethiopian soldiers occupying Mogadishu exploded, killing 73 people. It wasn’t until 2012, after years of fighting the US and its proxies, that al-Shabab announced it pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.