President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to withdraw nearly all of the 700 U.S. troops stationed in Somalia by early next year, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced Friday.
Trump “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.
Approximately 700 troops are deployed in Somalia where for more than a decade the United States has helped quell local al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab, and more recently the local ISIS organization. U.S. forces train and assist local security forces to fight the militant groups and also carry out airstrikes.
The move follows acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller’s surprise visit to Somalia the day after Thanksgiving, where — among rumors of a drawdown — he assured partner forces of U.S. help in fighting the terrorist groups.
The Pentagon on Friday stressed that the United States “is not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa” and officials “remain committed to our African partners and enduring support through a whole-of-government approach.”
DOD did not say how many troops would leave the country or where they would be moved, but that some forces “may be reassigned outside of East Africa.” Those remaining “will be repositioned from Somalia into neighboring countries in order to allow cross-border operations by both U.S. and partner forces to maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that forces would transfer to bases in Kenya and Djibouti and enter Somalia for shorter counterterrorism missions.
The announcement marks Trump’s latest move to pull troops from overseas conflicts before leaving office in January.
In November he ordered 2,000 U.S. troops to be pulled from Afghanistan and 500 from Iraq by mid-January, going against the recommendations of military and national security leaders.
The withdrawal from Somalia, meanwhile, goes against the plan of recently ousted Pentagon chief Mark Esper, who advocated for a leaner force presence in Africa by pulling troops from more northern countries in the Sahel region.
The inspectors generals of the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development had also advised against such a decision, last month warning that Somali forces are not able to resist terrorist threats within the country without the support of U.S. forces.
“Somalia’s security forces are unable to contain the threat from Al-Shabaab and ISIS-Somalia, which poses a smaller but still potent threat, without significant international support,” the three wrote in a joint report.