United States President Joe Biden has approved a request from the Pentagon to send hundreds of troops back to Somalia to support the fight against militant group al-Shabab.
The move reverses a decision by former President Donald Trump to withdraw all U.S. troops from the east African country in 2020, which an official has described as “abrupt and sudden.”
White House National Security spokesperson Adrienne Watson said that about 500 troops will be repositioned from elsewhere in eastern Africa to Somalia, keeping the total number of troops in the region the same.
The Pentagon “will not be restoring the full contingent of operators present in Somalia before” the Trump administration’s withdrawal, which was around 750 military personnel, an official said.
Watson said the reposition of forces will be “on an episodic basis” to help U.S. partners to better counter al-Shabab and the “heightened threat” the group poses to Americans in east Africa.
“The decision to reintroduce a persistent presence was made to maximize the safety and effectiveness of our forces and enable them to provide more efficient support to our partners,” Watson said.
Officials would not confirm if Biden had authorized targeted strikes against specific al-Shabaab leaders.
Officials noted that the al-Qaeda affiliate “has unfortunately only grown stronger” since the Trump administration’s withdrawal.
Officials also said that the reversal of Trump’s withdrawal “rationalizes an irrational decision” inherited by the Biden administration.
Biden’s decision further commits U.S. troops to global counterterrorism efforts despite his hopes of extricating the U.S. from “forever wars.”
The official said that the Biden administration believes that al-Shabaab remains “a notable priority given the threat it poses.”
The move comes as Somali lawmakers elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president.
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