President Joe Biden signed an order Monday to redeploy hundreds of U.S. troops to Somalia to counter the radical Islamic terror group al-Shabab, an effort that American military leaders said had been hampered by President Donald Trump’s late-term decision to withdraw forces from the country.
U.S. troops will be repositioned from elsewhere in Africa to train and provide other support to Somali forces in their fight against al-Shabaab, which is considered the largest and wealthiest affiliate of the al-Qaeda extremist organization.
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The decision to station forces again in Somalia, rather than rotate them in and out, is intended “to maximize the safety and effectiveness of our forces and enable them to provide more efficient support to our partners,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in announcing the redeployment.
U.S. forces in Somalia will total “under 500” and are not being sent to engage in direct combat, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief journalists on the rationale behind the decision.
Instead, the troops will work with Somali forces and provide security to personnel from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development as they work with the government to emerge from years of turmoil, the official said.
Trump ordered the withdrawal of approximately 700 troops from Somalia at the end of his term in January 2021, an extension of a broader policy of seeking to pull the U.S. out of what he derisively referred to as “endless wars” around the world.
Critics pounced on Biden’s reversal, complaining that the largely unsecured U.S. Southern border was a priority —
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Can anyone explain to me why The Regime is deploying troops to Somalia while America is being invaded through our Southern Border?
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) May 16, 2022
Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command, told Congress in March that the rotations, which he called “commuting to work,” were not efficient or effective and put American troops at greater risk.
“In my view, we are marching in place at best. We may be backsliding,” Townsend told the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested the deployment “to reestablish a persistent U.S. military presence in Somalia to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabaab, which has increased in strength and poses a heightened threat,” said an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan before the White House announcement.
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Biden’s decision to sign the order was first reported by The New York Times, which also said the president had approved a Pentagon request for standing authority to target about a dozen suspected leaders of al-Shabab.
The terror group has made territorial gains against Somalia’s federal government in recent months, reversing the gains of African Union peacekeepers who once had pushed the militants into remote areas of the country.
Word of the deployment decision came after Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017, was announced on Sunday as the winner of a protracted election.
The Associated Press contributed to this article