United States President Donald Trump has ordered the withdrawal of most American troops from Somalia, the defence department said in a statement on Friday, a move that is part of a global pullback of US forces before Trump leaves office next month.
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has between 650 to 800 troops on average in Somalia, Al Jazeera reported in November, including special forces helping to train Somalia’s army.
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The Pentagon said Trump ordered a withdrawal of “the majority” of US troops “by early 2021”.
“The U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa. We remain committed to our African partners and enduring support through a whole-of-government approach,” it said in its statement.
“While a change in force posture, this action is not a change in U.S. policy.”
The announcement comes after the Trump administration in mid-November said it planned to pull some US troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan before the Republican president leaves the White House in January.
The Pentagon said on November 17 that the number of US forces in Afghanistan would drop from 4,500 to 2,500, while troop levels in Iraq would go from 3,000 to 2,500.
Those reductions have drawn criticism from some in Washington, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said in November that “a precipitous drawdown in either Afghanistan or Iraq is a mistake”.
There was no immediate reaction from US legislators on the troop withdrawal from Somalia.
Abukar Arman, a former Somalia special envoy to the US, told Al Jazeera last month that “under Trump, American involvement in Somalia has been nothing short of a disaster.”
“There is no strategy; mercenaries and war-profiteers are running the show,” he said.
In its Friday statement, which was unsigned, the Pentagon sought to play down the implications of the withdrawal.
“The U.S. will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland,” the Department said.
The Pentagon also said some US forces could be reassigned outside of East Africa.
An unspecified number would be repositioned into neighbouring countries, allowing for cross-border operations, it said.