The Trump administration is planning to draw down U.S. troops in Somalia by early 2021. In a statement released Friday, the Pentagon explained that "the majority" of the roughly 700 soldiers currently stationed in the country will be reassigned to positions in neighboring countries in East Africa.
"While a change in force posture, this action is not a change in U.S. policy," said the Department of Defense, which noted that President Trump had personally ordered the withdrawal. "We will continue to degrade violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition."
The announcement represents just the latest upheaval at the Pentagon, where President Trump has ordered a raft of changes since his loss in the presidential election last month. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replaced him with Christopher Miller, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, in mid-November, and just a week later, the Pentagon announced a reduction in forces in both Afghanistan in Iraq.
Now significant change is in store soon for troops stationed in Somalia. Those forces have been supporting the country's counterterrorism operations against al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked Islamist militant group, in a training mission that had been expected to continue for years. But the majority of U.S. personnel in the country is now expected to leave before the incoming Biden administration takes office on January 20.
The sudden shift comes just a week after Miller stopped in Somalia for a Thanksgiving visit with troops there. It also comes less than two weeks after the release of a report by the Pentagon's inspector general, which quoted U.S. Africa Command as saying that al-Shabab "remains adaptive, resilient, and capable of attacking Western and partner interests in Somalia and East Africa."
The announcement has left some U.S. partners in the country worried about what is to come in Somalia, where parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for this month and February, respectively. One Somali senator called the Trump administration decision "untimely."
"The fight against global terrorism is still ongoing and we must still win this battle for peace and security to prevail," Ayub Ismail Yusuf tweeted after the announcement of the drawdown. "We must not give up on our successes."