Six members of the Somali Danab Special Forces unit were killed when their truck hit an improvised explosive device (IED) late on Monday, according to local news sources. Several other wounded troops were taken to a hospital for treatment. The troops had just left their training base in the Belligodle Airfield located in the Leego area in the Lower Shabelle region.

Al-Shabaab’s propaganda radio station claimed credit for the IED attack and said that 12 soldiers were killed. 

Danab, which means “lighting” is an elite Somali unit that is battling al-Shabaab terrorists in the Horn of Africa. It is a brigade-sized special operations unit that was funded and is trained by the United States. Danab recruits are vetted through a non-profit organization paid for by the U.S. State Department. Their training is conducted by members of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), through the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). 

Originally stood up as a battalion, the plan is for the Danab Brigade to be deployed to over six different areas of Somalia and have 3,000 troops. AFRICOM’s plan is to train the unit until 2027. 

Back in September, al-Shabaab had planted another car bomb that killed three Somali SF troops and wounded a U.S. officer as they left their base outside of Jana Cabdalle village, about 37 miles from the port city of Kismayu.

For the past 10 months, Danab troops, supported by American troops from AFRICOM and the African Union, have been steadily pushing al-Shabaab terrorists from areas in southern and central Somalia.

Although the coalition has liberated many towns and villages, the security situation in the region remains fluid ahead of December’s parliamentary elections.

Al-Shabaab is trying to disrupt December’s parliamentary and February’s presidential elections in which President Mohamad Abdullahi will seek re-election.

The security of Somalia is at a critical juncture as President Trump has said that as part of his drawdown of troops from the Middle East (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria), he wants all of the 700-850 U.S. troops pulled from Somalia as well.

Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who served as the commander of the Danab unit for three years until 2019, told Reuters that the decision to withdraw U.S. troops isn’t based on the terrorist situation but on politics. 

Although no official order has been given to withdraw American troops from Somalia, they already withdrew from the Somali cities of Bossaso and Galkayo several weeks ago. They remain in the southern port city of Kismayo, in a special forces airbase in Baledogle, and in the capital Mogadishu.

Too quick a withdrawal could open the doors for al-Shabaab’s resurgence. Many security analysts believe that the progress that has been made with the Danab Special Forces unit will be lost and the unit would suffer from a precipitous U.S. withdrawal.

“[The withdrawal] would create a vacuum. The Somali security forces have good morale because of the U.S. troops… there’s the possibility of air support if they are attacked, they can have medevacs,” Sheikh said.

The prevailing sentiment is that the Somalis aren’t ready to stand on their own yet and a rapid withdrawal of American advisors would make an already tense security situation, even worse.