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Trump tells Pentagon to devise a plan to leave Somalia, report says

Spc. Christopher Andres of the Oregon National Guard, provides security for a 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules during unloading and loading operations in Somalia on Feb. 6, 2020. President Donald Trump has reportedly told advisers that he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia.

CHRISTOPHER RUANO/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 14, 2020

STUTTGART, Germany — President Donald Trump has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia where they are fighting al-Qaida backed militants, Bloomberg News reported this week.

Trump has discussed the possible troop reduction in Somalia with his top advisers, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed administration sources.

There are between 650 and 800 American troops in Somalia at any given time, including special operations units, which are focused on helping Somalia’s military fight the al-Shabab terrorist group.

“While I won’t speculate on future force posture, I will tell you that U.S. Africa Command remains committed to working with Somali and international partners to enhance long-term regional stability by degrading violent extremist organization threats and organizations in Somalia,” AFRICOM spokesperson Kelly Cahalan said in a statement sent to Stars and Stripes.

The command continues to train Somali forces and monitor al-Shabab’s movements to prevent the extremists “from achieving their long-term ambitions, which include exporting violence more broadly and attacking the U.S.,” Cahalan said.

Trump’s reported directive to get out of Somalia comes weeks ahead of the Nov. 3 election in the U.S. and hard on the heels of a declaration he made on Twitter last week that all U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by Christmas.

Extracting the U.S. from foreign military entanglements has been one of Trump’s campaign issues as he seeks to win four more years in the White House.

Al-Shabab has been a force in Somalia for more than a decade, but in recent years it has been pushed from the swathes of territory it once held by the Horn of Africa country’s fledgling military with the support from the U.S. and other forces.

The militant group now holds less territory than it did in 2011 when it was on the verge of over-running the country’s capital, Mogadishu, but there are questions over whether Somalia’s military would be able to contain al-Shabab if U.S. forces withdraw.

Pulling out of Somalia could complicate AFRICOM’s ability to collect intelligence on the ground, which could in turn affect its airstrike campaign against militants. So far this year, AFRICOM has launched 47 airstrikes in the country.

The Pentagon is in the midst of reviewing AFRICOM’s mission, including whether operations in Africa should be scaled back. One key question that will affect the ultimate course of action taken will be whether the threat posed by militant groups on the continent could reach as far as the U.S.

AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement on Sept. 11 that al-Shabab, “a terrorist organization aligned with al-Qaeda, has expressed their intent to do harm to Americans.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

U.S. Army Spc. Cristobal Orozco and Spc. Robert Fisher of the Oregon National Guard listen to their patrol leader's instructions in Somalia in December 2019. President Donald Trump has reportedly told advisers that he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from the African country.
NICK KIBBEY/U.S. AIR FORCE