MOGADISHU (Somaliguardian) – US President Donald Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all US troops from Somalia by 15 January, the Pentagon said in a statement on Friday.
“The president of the United States 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,” reads a statement issued by the US Department of Defense.
“The US is not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa. We remain committed to our African partners and enduring support through a whole of government approach,” the statement added.
The US has about 700 troops in the Horn of Africa country helping tens of thousands of African Union, Ethiopian, Kenyan and local Somali forces battle Al-Qaeda-linked militant group Al-Shabaab, which has been waging an insurgency war for more than 13 years.
US military officials said some of the troops would move to neighboring countries from where they could launch cross-border operations, while others will be reassigned outside of the region.
Over the past few months, US President Donald Trump has been mulling reducing US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has long called for American troops to come home and has criticized US military interventions for being costly and ineffective.
The troop pullout order – which would see troops redeployed just days before Mr Trump leaves office – reverses the policy of former US defense secretary Mark Esper, who was fired last month for favoring to maintain the US presence in Somalia.
During their stay in Somalia, US troops have trained a brigade of about 1,200 Somali special forces popularly known as Danab that operates alongside foreign troops in commando operations in the restive southern parts of the country.
Somali officials had earlier warned withdrawal of US troops could weaken the government’s efforts at restoring peace and may embolden attempts by the armed Al-Qaeda franchise to overthrow the western-backed administration based in Mogadishu.
It comes a few months to go until Somalia’s presidential election slated for February 2021 and fears that Islamists may disrupt the electoral process have been raised.
Last week, Djibouti’s President Ismael Omar Gele has added his voice to those pessimistic about Somalia’s upcoming elections and expressed fears that an Al-Shabaab-controlled parliament might be the outcome of the current electoral process since the group achieved spreading its influence over government-held cities including the capital and continues to raise an ever-rising revenue.
The Trump administration indicates that the move to pull out troops from Somalia “is not a change in US policy” and vows it will continue to degrade militant groups “that threaten our homeland” to maintain American strategic advantage in great power competition.
Last month, US government inspectors advised against a withdrawal from Somalia, saying local forces would not be able to resist attacks from the powerful militants without American support.
US forces left in Somalia will be based in the capital Mogadishu, the Pentagon said.
Somalia has suffered three decade-long conflict with no end in sight but in recent years African Union peacekeeping forces regained control of a number of cities from the militants, though defeating Al-Shabaab has eluded both Somali administrations and foreign partners.
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