Gen. Stephen Townsend, the head of US Africa Command, complained to Congress on Thursday about the Trump administration’s withdrawal of about 700 US troops from Somalia that were repositioned in the region.
“There’s no denying that the repositioning of forces out of Somalia has introduced new layers of complexity and risk,” Townsend told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the US maintains a “small footprint” of about 100 troops in Mogadishu and that other US forces have been “commuting” to Somalia.
“We have been commuting to work,” he said. “We work virtually with our partners from our bases in the region, and then we fly in to conduct training and to advise and assist our partners.”
While President Trump pulled most US troops out of Somalia, he was the one who sent them there as part of a significant escalation in the US war against al-Shabab. In 2017, the US sent regular US troops to Somalia for the first time in decades. The Trump administration also loosened the rules of engagement for the drone war and bombed the country more than the Obama and Bush administrations combined.
The Biden administration is currently reviewing its counterterrorism policies. So far, AFRICOM has not reported any drone strikes in Somalia under Biden, but it’s possible that the CIA is still conducting airstrikes and covert raids in the country.
US military officials often claim that al-Shabab is a threat to the US homeland due to its al-Qaeda affiliation. But the reality is, al-Shabab is a local group that only pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda after years of fighting the US and its proxies.
In 2006, the US supported an Ethiopian invasion to oust the Islamic Courts Union, a Muslim coalition that controlled Mogadishu at the time. The first recorded attack that al-Shabab claimed responsibility for was in 2007 when the group targeted Ethiopian soldiers occupying Mogadishu. It wasn’t until 2012 that al-Shabab pledged its loyalty to al-Qaeda.