The Pentagon announced on Friday that President Trump ordered the withdrawal of the “majority” of US troops from Somalia.
“The President of the United States has ordered the Department of Defense and the United States Africa Command to reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The statement said “some forces may be reassigned outside of East Africa,” but the remaining troops will be reassigned to neighboring countries to “allow cross-border operations.”
The US currently has approximately 700 troops in Somalia. The majority of them were sent by the Trump administration. The US operations in the country consist of training local forces, covert raids, and a drone war against al-Shabab.
In November, The New York Times reported on the plan and said the troops would be repositioned to neighboring Djibouti and Kenya, where the US drones that carry out airstrikes in Somalia are based.
President Trump dramatically escalated the air war against al-Shabab by loosening the rules of engagement when he first came into office. In 2019, the Trump administration conducted 63 airstrikes in Somalia, the most US airstrikes on the country in a single year.
The first seven months of 2020 saw more US airstrikes in Somalia than were conducted during both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined.
Due to its size and al-Qaeda affiliation, al-Shabab is sold as a global threat by the US military to justify intervention in Somalia. But the group was born out of resisting a US-backed occupation and only pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda after years of fighting the US and its proxies.
In 2006, the US backed an Ethiopian invasion to oust the Islamic Courts Union, a Muslim coalition that took control of Mogadishu from a group of warlords.
The first recorded attack that al-Shabab claimed responsibility for was in 2007 when the group targeted Ethiopian soldiers who were occupying Mogadishu in a car bombing. It wasn’t until 2012 that al-Shabab announced its loyalty to al-Qaeda.