President Biden will deploy up to 500 US troops to Somalia, reversing a withdrawal of most US forces from the country that was carried out at the end of the Trump administration.
“President Biden has approved a request from the Secretary of Defense to reestablish a persistent US military presence in Somalia to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabaab,” a senior Biden administration official told The Hill.
The Trump administration withdrew about 700 troops from Somalia, but most were redeployed elsewhere in East Africa, including in neighboring Djibouti and Kenya. “This is a repositioning of forces already in theater who have traveled in and out of Somalia on an episodic basis since the previous administration made the decision to withdraw in January 2021,” the Biden administration official said.
Biden is sending troops to Somalia to help the Mogadishu-based government, which has little control over the country, fight al-Shabaab. According to The New York Times, Biden also signed off on giving the Pentagon the authority to target about a dozen suspected al-Shabaab leaders, which signals US airstrikes in Somalia might ramp up.
US airstrikes against al-Shabaab had significantly declined under the Biden administration. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has announced five airstrikes against al-Shabaab since Biden came into office, compared with 52 airstrikes in 2020.
President Trump significantly escalated the US war against al-Shabaab by sending regular troops to Somalia in 2017 for the first time in decades and ramped up the air war by loosening the rules of engagement.
The US hypes up the threat of al-Shabaab due to its size and al-Qaeda affiliation. But the group did not declare loyalty to al-Qaeda until 2012, after years of fighting against the US and its proxies, including a US-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2006.