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Biden approves return of US troops to Somalia

May 16, 2022

American military leaders said the soldiers would help counter the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa country.

A US soldier provides security for a Super Hercules during unloading operations at an unidentified location in Somalia
US forces in Somalia will total 'under 500' soldiersImage: Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano/AP Photo/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden on Monday authorized the return of several hundred American troops to Somalia, reversing a decision by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested the deployment "to reestablish a persistent US military presence in Somalia to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabab, which has increased in strength and poses a heightened threat.''

Around 500 US troops would help train and provide support to Somali forces in their fight against al-Shabab. The New York Times reported that Biden also approved a plan to target about a dozen suspected leaders of al-Shabab.

The decision came a day after Somali lawmakers elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the country's new president.

Hunger crisis in Somalia

Goal to 'maximize the safety and effectiveness of our forces'

The US had about 700 mostly special operations forces in the country helping local forces battle al-Shabab and other "Islamic State" militants before Trump ordered a withdrawal in late 2020.

Since then, US soldiers have been deployed to Somalia for short rotations but Pentagon officials did not see that as "effective long-term strategy.''

The decision to station forces in Somalia was intended "to maximize the safety and effectiveness of our forces and enable them to provide more efficient support to our partners," said Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokesperson.

Al-Shabab poses a 'heightened threat'

Al-Shabab, which has ties with al-Qaeda, opposes Somalia's federal government and frequently stages lethal attacks in the Horn of Africa nation.

The insurgent group that controls much of the country has made territorial gains against the federal government in recent months.

It reversed the gains of African Union peacekeepers who once had pushed the militants into remote areas of the country.

Austin said the group posed a "heightened threat."

Attack on Kenyan airfield

Al-Shabab has killed more than a dozen Americans in East Africa, including three in a January 2020 attack on a base used by US counterterrorism forces in Kenya.

Also in 2020, the US charged a Kenyan man who attended flight school in the Philippines with plotting to hijack a plane and fly it into a tall building in a US city on behalf of al-Shabab.

lo/msh (AP, Reuters)