The Lowdown Hub

The US pulls out 700 military personnel from war-torn Somalia

Diminished presence is likely to embolden violent Islamist insurgency

Marines load into a V-22 Osprey on the flight deck of the USS Makin Island (LHD8) as they conduct maritime operations off the coast of Somalia

The US has sent a group of navy ships to Somalia to safeguard the withdrawal of around 700 troops from the war-torn country, in a move that could strain the fight against regional terrorist group al-Shabaab. Nearly 5,000 sailors and marines arrived off the coast of Somalia earlier this week to escort US military personnel to “other East Africa operating locations”, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. A collection of amphibious ships, the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, and a rapid-response force, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, formed part of Operation Octave Quartz. President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia on December 4 in a move that accompanies the winding down of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stephen Townsend, commander of the US Africa Command (Africom), said that the relocation of troops should not be seen as the US pulling out of the region. “To be clear, the US is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa. We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future.” He added: “We also remain capable of striking al-Shabaab at the time and place of our choosing – they should not test us.” The US sent troops to Somalia in 2007 to fight al-Shabaab which had formed the year before. The Pentagon established several semi-permanent bases across the country that were used for airstrikes and training local forces.

People gather at the scene of a large explosion near a checkpoint in MogadishuIn 2019, US warplanes launched a record number of airstrikes in Somalia killing hundreds of al-Shabaab militants. Most of the 700 troops stationed in Somalia will be redeployed to Kenya or Djibouti where the US has its only permanent military base in Africa. While the US will be able to conduct cross-border drone strikes, the diminished presence is likely to embolden the violent Islamist insurgency which has so far proved impossible to defeat. “It wouldn’t be surprising if al-Shabaab beefed up attacks since the announcement and in the weeks to come,” said a European diplomat working in Mogadishu, speaking on condition of anonymity. The withdrawal adds to the redeployment of Ethiopian troops that were fighting al-Shabaab to an internal conflict in the country’s Tigray region.