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Why is the U.S. Back in Somalia?

Updated: Mar 25

In December 2020, the Trump administration withdrew the U.S.’s overt on-the-ground presence—roughly 700 troops—from Somalia, with many redeployed to neighboring Kenya. Former President Donald Trump ordered this move as part of the American drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq. Between Trump's withdrawal and now, U.S. strategy has largely reversed, redeploying troops from Kenya to Somalia on an as-needed basis and launching airstrikes with drones from neighboring Djibouti and Kenya, as displayed by data from the Defense Department. Why the change?


The 2020 withdrawal from Somalia was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans. According to the New York Times, both parties claimed that the American presence was necessary. Somalia’s then-President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo also criticized the withdrawal, claiming that, “[the American military presence] has enabled us to effectively combat Al-Shabab [the prevalent terrorist group in Somalia] and secure the Horn of Africa.”


In May 2022, President Joe Biden announced the deployment of American troops back to Somalia, capping the number at around 450, according to two sources on the U.S. National Security Council. On the international stage, this redeployment has been praised by Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who wants to prioritize defeating Al-Shabab. Domestically, Democrats and Republicans appear united in combating Al-Shabab, according to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Pentagon says that stationing U.S. troops in Somalia will mean a safer environment for them to operate, as they have been incurring “greater risk” by constantly deploying from Kenya to Somalia and then traveling back to Kenya. Top American military leaders also support President Biden’s decision; former General Stephen Townsend, who was the head of the U.S. Africa Command, characterized the strategy employed from December 2020 to May 2022 as “not effective.”


Sources


Cooper, Helene. “Trump Orders All American Troops Out of Somalia.” The New York Times, 16 Dec.2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/world/africa/trump-somalia-troop-withdrawal.html


Feldscher, Jacqueline. “Biden Orders US Troop Back to Somalia, Reverses Trump Withdrawal.” Defense One, 16 May 2022, https://www.defenseone.com/policy/2022/05/biden-orders-us-troops-back-somalia-reverses-trump-withdrawal/366980/

McCaul, Michael. “McCaul on Admin Decision to Redeploy Troops to Somalia.” House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans Press Release, 17 May 2022, https://gop foreignaffairs.house.gov/press-release/mccaul-on-admin-decision-to-redeploy-troops-to-somalia/


Savage, Charlie and Schmitt, Eric. “Biden Approves Plan to Redeploy Several Hundred Ground Forces Into Somalia.” The New York Times, 16 May 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/16/us/politics/biden-military-somalia.html


Stewart, Phil and Holland, Steve. “Trump to withdraw most troops from Somalia as part of global pullback.” Reuters, 4 Dec. 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-trump-somalia/trump-to-withdraw-most-troops-from-somalia-as-part-of-global-pullback-idUSKBN28F04C

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