President Biden has approved an order that authorizes hundreds of Special Operations personnel to be redeployed to Somalia. The order reverses a previous decision made by the Trump administration, which saw around 700 ground troops returning home from the country.

The move will see less than 500 soldiers back on full deployment in Somalia. There, the troops will be tasked to train and advise partner forces, mostly from the Somalian government. The decision was suggested to President Biden by the Pentagon over the growing threat from Al-Shabaab, a militant group in the country,

“This decision was based on a request from Secretary Austin and included advice from senior commanders and, of course, concern for the safety of our troops who have incurred additional risk by deploying in and out of Somalia on an episodic basis for the past 16 months,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a press briefing.

Kirby emphasized that US forces deployed in Somalia will not now or ever be used to engage in direct combat operations. He insisted that the troops are there only to provide guidance and to give US partners “the tools that they need to disrupt, degrade and monitor Al-Shabaab.”

The Pentagon spokesperson also noted that the decision would not affect the current deployment of US troops in the region. Rather, it simply replaces the rotating deployment of forces with a “persistent” presence. It will, however, imply longer tours for the soldiers.

“Shifting to a persistent presence will not change the mission, and it will not imply substantial changes in resources… And we’re engaging partners in the region, including the Somali government, to determine the best way forward, “Kirby said.

Members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated militant group Al Shabaab stand after giving themselves up to forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in Garsale, approximately 10km from the town of Jowhar, 80km north of the capital Mogadishu, 22 September 2012 (AMISOM Public Information, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A senior administration official said that the Trump administration’s decision to shift to rotational deployment, done during his last weeks of presidency, proved to be inefficient.

“It was an abrupt and sudden transition to a rotational presence,” the official said. “Since then, al-Shabaab, the terrorist group in Somalia that is al-Qaida’s largest, wealthiest and deadliest affiliate, has unfortunately only grown stronger. It has increased the tempo of its attacks, including against US personnel.”