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US naval armada sent to Somalia to relocate 700 troops and gear

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs with the15th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare to land on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island in the Indian Ocean, Dec. 18, 2020.

PATRICK CROSLEY/U.S. NAVY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 22, 2020

STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S. aircraft carrier group and a Marine expeditionary unit have joined a naval seabase off the coast of Somalia in a display of force as the military moves forward with efforts to remove 700 troops from the country.

The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and thousands of embarked Marines and sailors from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Group add “significant combat capability” to help protect U.S. forces as they transit in the region, Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson said in a statement Tuesday.

Anderson commands the newly formed Joint Task Force - Quartz, which was set up by U.S. Africa Command to oversee the repositioning of U.S. forces in eastern Africa. And as of Monday, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its escorts also were operating off the coast of Somalia, USNI News reported, citing defense officials.

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The U.S. military is in the process of pulling most of its 700 troops in Somalia following a Defense Department directive. While AFRICOM has declined to detail where forces will be relocated, it has said most troops will head to locations in eastern Africa.

Neighboring Djibouti, home to the military’s main hub in Africa, and Kenya where there is a smaller base, are possible destinations.

AFRICOM says cross-border operation in Somalia, targeting the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group, will continue as needed.

“To be clear, the U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa,” AFRICOM’s Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement Saturday. “We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future. We also remain capable of striking Al-Shabaab at the time and place of our choosing — they should not test us.”

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The Makin Island, which includes an array of support ships, joins the Navy’s USS Hershel “Woody” Williams off the coast of Somalia. The Woody, based out of Souda Bay, Greece, arrived last week.

The Makin Island and 15th MEU bring nearly 5,000 Marines and sailors, including aviation and ground combat elements.

“The arrival of the (Marines) and its significant combat capability demonstrates our resolve to support our partners and protect our forces through this transition,” Anderson said in a statement. ‘‘This is a great example of how the United States can rapidly aggregate combat power to respond to emerging issues.”

The Marine amphibious ready group, which lost eight Marines and a sailor during training off the California coast in July, had been operating in the Pacific region before arriving off the coast of Somalia.

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vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

The USS Makin Island conducts operations in support of Operation Octave Quartz in the Indian Ocean, Dec. 19, 2020.
JACOB D. BERGH/U.S. NAVY

U.S. Marines and sailors with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit board a CH-53E Super Stallion during a quick reaction force drill aboard the USS San Diego, in support of Operation Octave Quartz in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, Dec. 20, 2020.
DESIREE KING/U.S. MARINE CORPS

The USS Makin Island conducts operations in support of Operation Octave Quartz in the Indian Ocean, Dec. 19, 2020.
JACOB D. BERGH/U.S. NAVY