How withdrawal of US troops from Somalia has affected fight against Al-Shabaab
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The decision to reposition US Africa Command troops from Somalia has affected the fight against Al-Shabaab militants, the US now admits, in what could inform a fresh review of the move, which was engineered by former President Donald Trump.
General Stephen Townsend, who is the commander of US Africa Command, told the Senate on Thursday that the move has created a lot of challenges, adding that pursuing Al-Shabaab militants has become a little bit difficult.
At least 700 troops who were serving in Somalia were relocated to Kenya and Djibouti, following an Executive Order signed by Trump. By January 15, just five days before he handed over to Joe Biden, Trump had relocated the troops.
“There's no denying that the repositioning of forces out of Somalia has introduced new layers of complexity and risk,” Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“Our understanding of what's happening in Somalia is less now than it was when we were there on the ground, physically located with our partners,” he told senators at a briefing to review the U.S. on Thursday.
Besides training and equipping the Somali National Army [SNA], the US Africa Command troops were responsible for giving aerial assistance to combat troops. They were launching airstrikes that had substantially weakened the militants.
And despite the Al-Shabaab threat, Townsend now believes political differences in Somalia could be the biggest challenge at the moment, given that it could erode gains made by SNA and other partners in the fight against Al-Shabaab militants.
"Al-Shabab is not the biggest concern in Somalia now, but rather the “political dysfunction that exists between the federal government of Somalia, and the federal member states … the extra-constitutional extension of the president’s term in office — that’s our biggest challenge," he added.
Lower House extended President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo's term for two more years in a decision that has attracted international retribution. The international partners among them the African Union now want immediate dialogue to end the impasse, which Townsend believes will give room for Al-Shabaab resurgence.
Al-Shabaab is said to be regrouping in different parts of the country and has been waging attacks against the government troops especially in Lower Shebelle where the Americans have established the base. The government had opposed the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia.
Elsewhere, In the past three days, Puntland court in Galkayo handed down death sentences to eight Al-Shabab assassins behind a series of murders between 2008-2021. Puntland is one of the most stable states in Somalia on matters of security.
In an interview with the Voice of America Somali service, the Governor of Mudug region Abdilatif Muse Nur said 16 others convicted of terrorism are on trial. Al-Shabaab activities in the state have been minimal and recently, Puntland and Galmadug signed a deal on mitigation of the Al-Shabaab menace.