Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller made an unexpected visit to Somalia on Friday amid rumors of a possible troop withdrawal from the country. Prior to his Somalia trip, Miller visited US military installations in Djibouti, Bahrain, and Qatar.
The Pentagon said the purpose of Miller’s trip to the region was to thank US troops for their service during the Thanksgiving season and made no mention of a withdrawal. But Pentagon officials told CNN that major reductions are expected to take place in the coming days.
There are an estimated 700 US troops in Somalia. All or most of the soldiers were sent there by the Trump administration. The troops in Somalia are there mainly to train the local army to fight against al-Shabab.
The US campaign against al-Shabab is mostly waged by drone strikes and covert raids. On Wednesday, a CIA paramilitary officer was reported to have been killed in combat in Somalia.
According to The New York Times, the Pentagon plan to withdraw from Somalia would not affect troop presence in neighboring Kenya and Djibouti, where the US drones that carry out airstrikes in Somalia are based. There are an estimated 3,500 US troops stationed in Djibouti.
President Trump dramatically escalated the drone war against al-Shabab by loosening the rules of engagement in Somalia. In 2019, the US conducted 63 airstrikes in Somalia, the most in a single year. More bombs fell on Somalia in the first seven months of 2020 than during the entire administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama combined.