President Biden has approved a Pentagon request to deploy hundreds of Special Operations forces to Somalia, reversing former President Donald Trump's 2020 decision to withdraw all 700 ground troops stationed there, The New York Times reported Monday.
Before Trump left office in January 2021, he'd ordered most American troops to exit the East African nation, with the Pentagon explaining at the time that the troops would be "repositioned … into neighboring countries in order to allow cross-border operations by both U.S. and partner forces to maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia." Since then, American commanders have voiced their concerns, saying that the short-term training missions are no longer working as effectively.
In addition to Biden's plan to redeploy troops, the president also accepted the Pentagon's request to target leaders of the Somali terrorist group Al Shabab, hoping to suppress the group's overall threat. "Al Shabab remains Al Qaeda's largest, wealthiest, and most deadly affiliate, responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents, including Americans," U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend said during a visit to Somalia in February.
The terrorist group is estimated to have approximately 5,000 to 10,000 members, and over time, Al Shabab has expanded its territory inside Somalia. A senior Biden administration official who spoke with CNN said Al Shabab "has unfortunately only grown stronger" since Trump ordered the U.S. troop withdrawal and "we have seen, regrettably, clear evidence that Al Shabab has the intent and capability to target Americans."
National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson believes the Biden administration's move would allow "a more effective fight against Al Shabab." It is unsure how many troops will deploy exactly, but per the Times, "the figure would be capped at around 450."