Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all U.S. forces based in Somalia by January 15, the Pentagon has confirmed. There are currently around 700 U.S. military personnel stationed in the region training and supporting government troops in the fight against Al-Shabaab and Islamic State Militants. The Pentagon statement said that the Presidential order to “reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021” did not suggest a change in U.S. foreign policy. “We will continue to degrade violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition,” it said. U.S. officials have also stated that these troops, removed from Somalia, would be utilized in neighbouring countries allowing for better cross-border operations.
News of the removal of U.S. Troops from Somalia has been met with ‘regret’ by leading Military Officials. Senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf, has said U.S. Troops have made a “huge contribution” to the training and operational effectiveness of Somali troops. This is no more evident than in the Danaab – the ‘Lightening Brigade,’ an elite Unit of Somalian soldiers, trained by the U.S., who have proved to be a vital tool in combatting extremism within the country. When proposals for a U.S. withdrawal were indicated in October, Kamau Macharia, Kenya’s former ambassador to the United Nations and current foreign-affairs principal secretary, decried that a U.S. exit “will worsen the already fragile situation in the country.”
Macharia’s worries are not unfounded. For the last ten years it’s been no small task to control the spread of extremism and radicalization within this region, already made vulnerable by years if conflict and poverty. Ironically, Somalia has perhaps felt the greatest impact of foreign intervention on its security and prosperity compared to the likes of U.S. deployments in the Middle East.
A U.S. withdrawal from Somalia would undoubtedly leave it vulnerable to the resurgence of Al-Shabaab’s brutal Sharia control over the population. If Somalia falls into the hand of Al-Shabaab, it threatens for further destabilization across the country’s borders into the rest of Africa, already affected by other extremist groups such as ISWAP. Internationally, an abdication of U.S. leadership leaves the region open to be influenced by the growing powers of China and Russia, with the potential for Somalia to be used as a base for destabilizing regions in Africa and the Middle East.
Trump’s resolute drive to withdraw troops from Somalia flies in the face of policies formed by the previous U.S. Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, who was sacked last month and favoured maintaining the U.S. presence in Somalia. The President’s latest directive follows a number of similar orders aimed at bringing U.S. troops ‘home.’ This has included the scheduled withdrawal of some 2,500 troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by a similar date. Despite Trump’s determination to fulfil his goal before the end of his presidency, enthusiasm for his divisive foreign policy is waning within his own party. Senator Leader and Trump ally, Mitch McConnell called the plan at the time “a mistake” and warned the president against “any earth-shaking changes in regard to defence and foreign policy” before the end of his presidency.
Trump’s latest demand seems confusing, counterproductive and extremely dangerous. The exodus of U.S. Troops from vulnerable states appears to be a President’s last-ditch attempt to ‘leave his mark,’ one which he can boast in the future to substantiate either his worth as president or his right be re-elected. However, if left unchecked by his own party, the mark Trump is so desperate to smudge into history may in fact blemish his legacy and the United States’ reputation for decades after January 2021.