The United States military has completed the redeployment of troops from Somalia to elsewhere in East Africa according to the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). AFRICOM spokesperson Colonel Christopher P. Karns, in a statement to the media, said that the repositioning of the troops, ordered by the president in December was completed ahead of the deadline. 

Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, said that, “no serious injuries or significant loss of equipment, despite significant efforts to target us by al-Shabab” occurred during the operation to shift the U.S. personnel from Somalia.

With a national election looming in Somalia in less than a month, many analysts believe that President Trump’s order to remove the American troops from the country couldn’t come at a worse time. The African Union will also be withdrawing its 17,000 peacekeeping troops beginning in February.

Somalia has been wracked by civil war since 1991, but the entry of the peacekeeping force in 2008 helped the fledgling national government. 

The al-Shabaab terrorist group, which is aligned with al-Qaeda, is being pushed back by Somalian military forces supported by U.S. airstrikes. But the terrorists are far from crushed and the withdrawal of American troops will be seen as a propaganda defeat of the U.S. at the hands of al-Qaeda.   

Nevertheless, most of the American troops will not be leaving the region. They have been redeployed to other countries in eastern Africa, including the permanent bases in Djibouti and Manda Bay in Kenya. 

Most of the 700 American troops in Somalia were Special Operations Forces that helped raise, train, and advise the Somali Special Forces “Danab” Brigade. While the regular Somali military is weak, poorly trained, and has frequently abandoned its posts due to governmental and regional entanglements, Danab has been a much more professional force. But it still hasn’t reached its full potential. Additionally, it is currently overtasked and not yet ready to take over the security of the country on its own. This is something that the Somalis acknowledge. 

If the U.S. withdrawal is permanent, “it will have a huge toll on counterterrorism efforts,” said Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who had served as the Danab commander for three years.

Without going into detail, Colonel Karns said the Somalia operation enters its “next phase of periodic engagement with Somali security forces.” Karns refused to speculate, however, if the decision to return to Somalia would be made by the incoming Biden administration. 

AFRICOM has constantly reiterated its commitment to Somalia, despite the troop withdrawal, and has conducted a growing amount of airstrikes against al-Shabaab and the Islamic State (ISIS).

Al-Shabaab is estimated to have between 5,000-10,000 fighters in the country.

So far in January, the U.S. has conducted three airstrikes against al-Shabaab. The latest airstrike in the vicinity of Buulo Falaay in the Bay region killed one al-Shabaab member and destroyed a compound, according to an AFRICOM statement.   

On Sunday, al-Shabaab ambushed a convoy of Somali forces escorting a regional governor and military officers to Ballidogle airfield where many of the U.S. SOF troops training Somali forces had been based. 

General Townsend, who visited Manda Bay on Saturday said that the U.S. remains committed to East African partner nations and is mindful of mutual threats.

“Our forces in East Africa are focused on and recognize the threats we face. We remain ready to help our partners and able to respond to any threat to U.S. interests in the region,” said Townsend.

“Al-Shabaab is a brutal enemy and a dangerous threat to America and Africa,” he added. “We continue to work closely with our partners to degrade al-Shabaab’s ability to conduct operations and spread violence. America’s and Africa’s security depends on it.”