In a move that reverses a Trump withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia, President Biden signed an order authorizing the deployment of hundreds of Special Operations forces inside Somalia.
Additionally Biden has approved a Pentagon request to target about a dozen suspected leaders of Al Shabab, the Somali terrorist group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda.
These combined decisions revive an open-ended American counterterrorism operation to try to reduce the threat from Al Shabab by suppressing its ability to plot and carry out complicated operations. The small group targeted are suspected of being capable of developing plots outside of Somalia’s borders.
The Biden plan is to restore a US military presence in Somalia in consultation with the Somali government, whose new parliament was recently elected along with a newly elected President. A return to power was given to Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was in power from 2012 to 2017. Mohamud’s team welcomed the U.S. announcement.
When asked to compare the heavier reengagement in Somalia to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan on a Trump deal made with the Taliban, an administration official argued the differences were complex.
For one, the official said, the Taliban have not expressed an intention of attacking the United States, and other militant groups in Afghanistan do not control significant enclaves of territory from which to operate and plan.
Shabab operates primarily within Somalia, but is said to harbor some members who seek to strike the United States. In December 2020, an accused Shabab operative was charged with planning a September 11 style strike on the U.S., and was arrested in the Philippines while training to fly airplanes.
Trump removed nearly all of the 700 troops there in January 2021, and officials familiar with the matter say Biden’s figure would be capped at around 450. American troops already stationed overseas would be moved to Somalia.