Biden approves plan to redeploy hundreds of ground forces to Somalia

WASHINGTON — President Biden has signed an order authorizing the military to redeploy hundreds of special operations forces inside Somal...

WASHINGTON — President Biden has signed an order authorizing the military to redeploy hundreds of special operations forces inside Somalia — largely reversing President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw the quasi- all of the 700 ground troops stationed there, according to four officials familiar with the matter.

In addition, Mr. Biden has approved a request from the Pentagon for permanent authorization to target a dozen suspected leaders of Al Shabab, the Somali terror group affiliated with al-Qaeda, three of the officials said. Since Mr. Biden took office, airstrikes have largely been limited to those intended to defend partner forces facing an immediate threat.

Together, Mr. Biden’s decisions, described by the officials on condition of anonymity, will reinvigorate an open-ended U.S. counterterrorism operation that has resulted in a slow-moving war across three administrations. The move contrasts with his decision last year to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, saying that “it’s time to end the eternal war.”

Mr. Biden endorsed Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s proposal in early May, officials said. In a statement, Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council, acknowledged the decision, saying it would allow “a more effective fight against Al Shabab”.

“The decision to reintroduce a persistent presence was made to maximize the security and effectiveness of our forces and enable them to provide more effective support to our partners,” she said.

Ms Watson did not say how many troops the army would deploy. But two people familiar with the matter said the figure would be capped at around 450. This will replace a system in which US troops training and advising Somali and African Union forces have made short stints since Mr Trump published what Ms Watson described as a “hasty decision to stand down”.

The Biden administration’s strategy in Somalia is to try to reduce the threat from al Shabab by removing its ability to plan and carry out complicated operations, a senior administration official said. These include a deadly attack on a US airbase in Manda Bay, Kenya in January 2020.

In particular, the official said, targeting a small group of leaders – particularly those suspected of playing a role in developing conspiracies outside Somalia’s borders or having special skills – aims to reduce ” the threat to a tolerable level”.

Asked to reconcile a return to a heavier engagement in Somalia with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, following a deal Mr. Trump struck with the Taliban, the senior administration official argued that the two countries presented very different complexities.

On the one hand, the official said, the Taliban has not expressed an intention to attack the United States, and other militant groups in Afghanistan do not control significant enclaves of territory from which to operate and plan.

Given that Al Shabab appears to pose a greater threat, the administration concluded that more direct engagement in Somalia made sense, the official said. The strategy would focus on disrupting a few Shabab leaders who are seen as a direct danger to “us, our interests and our allies”, and maintaining “a very carefully framed presence on the ground to be able to work with our partners”. .

Some outside analysts criticized the move, including Sarah Harrison, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, who is lead author of an upcoming report on US policy in Somalia. The United States had tried to rein in Al Shabab using military force for 15 years, and it hadn’t worked, she said; it might even have prolonged the conflict.

“Sending in more US troops and focusing on a small number of senior Al Shabab leaders is limited in its objectives and, by definition, cannot end the broader military struggle in the absence of diplomatic efforts and more concerted and effective policies by the United States and others,” she said. mentioned.

Intelligence officials estimate that Al Shabab has around 5,000 to 10,000 members; the group, which has formally sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012, sought to impose its extremist version of Islam on the chaotic Horn of Africa country.

While Al Shabab mainly fights inside Somalia and only occasionally attacks neighboring countries, some members are would have the ambition to strike the United States. In December 2020, attorneys in Manhattan accused an accused member of Kenya’s Shabab of plotting a 9/11-style attack on a US town. He had been arrested in the Philippines while training to fly planes.

Biden’s decision follows months of interagency deliberations led by the White House’s top counterterrorism adviser, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, on whether to accept the Pentagon’s plan, maintain the status quo or scale back. further engagement in Somalia.

While weighing these options, Ms. Sherwood-Randall and other senior security officials visited Somalia and neighboring Kenya and Djiboutiboth hosting US forces in October.

The administration’s deliberations on whether and how to return more vigorously to Somalia have been complicated by Politics chaos the, as factions of his fledgling government fought each other and elections were delayed. But Somalia recently elected a new parliament and this weekend leaders choose a new president, decide to return to power Hassan Sheikh Mohamudwho ruled the country from 2012 to 2017.

A senior official entering Mr. Mohamud’s team hailed the Biden administration’s decision.

It was both timely and a step in the right direction as it “coincides with the swearing in of the newly elected president who would plan his offensive against Al Shabab,” the official said.

For months, US commanders have warned that the short-term training missions US special operations forces have carried out in Somalia since Mr Trump withdrew most US troops in January 2021 have not gone well. worked. The morale and capacity of partner units has eroded, they say.

On each eight-week cycle, the senior administration official said, U.S. trainers spend about three unengaged with partner forces because the Americans weren’t in Somalia or focused on transit — and the outward journey. -back was the most dangerous part. Other officials have also called the rotation in and out system, rather than being constantly deployed there, expensive and inefficient.

“Our periodic engagement – also known as commuting – has caused new challenges and risks for our troops,” said Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command. told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. “My assessment is that it is not effective.”

Intelligence officials have raised growing concern about al Shabab in recent years as it has expanded its territory into Somalia. During its last year in office, the Obama administration considered Al Shabab to be part of the armed conflict authorized by the United States against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks.

Once Mr. Trump became president, he relaxation of controls on airstrikes thereand the Pentagon American combat activity increased dramatically. But shortly before leaving office, Mr. Trump ordered most US troops to withdraw from Somalia – except for a small force that kept US diplomats in a bunker near Mogadishu airport.

On its first day in office, the Biden administration suspended a permissive set of targeting rules put in place by the Trump administration, instead requiring strike requests — except in self-defense — to be channeled through the White House. (Africa Command has also invoked this exception for strikes undertaken as part of the “collective” self-defense of partner Somali forces.)

That pause was only supposed to take a few months while the Biden administration reviewed how the targeting rules worked under the Trump and Obama administrations and devised its own. But even though he has largely completed a proposed replacement Described as a hybrid between the two previous iterations, final approval of this one has stalled amid competing national security policy issues.

The army, for its part, tried to continue to train, advise and assist Somali and African Union forces without a persistent presence on the ground, but gradually increased the length of shorter stays. During a visit to Somalia in FebruaryGeneral Townsend warned of the threat Al Shabab posed to the region.

“Al Shabab remains al-Qaeda’s largest, wealthiest and deadliest affiliate, responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, including Americans,” he said. “Disrupting Al Shabab’s malign intentions requires Somali leadership and continued support from Djibouti, Kenya, the United States and other members of the international community.

Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting from Nairobi.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden approves plan to redeploy hundreds of ground forces to Somalia
Biden approves plan to redeploy hundreds of ground forces to Somalia
Newsrust - US Top News
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