How will U.S. military operations in Somalia evolve during the rest of the Donald Trump administration?
On June 4, the New York Times reported the Pentagon was likely to make cuts among the 1,200 U.S. Special Forces deployed to Africa because Special Forces contingents were “spread too thin.”
More specifically (via NYT): “The Africa Command has been asked how it would conduct its counterterrorism missions on the continent if the number of commandos there was cut by 25 percent over 18 months, and by 50 percent over three years..[leaving about] 700 troops.”
The death and casualties of American Special Forces in Somalia during a June 8 al-Shabaab attack north of Kismayo only will further embolden the Pentagon’s position.
But wait: In early May, Vice reported the U.S. military was actually expanding its forward operating base outside Mogadishu at Baledogle – where it houses and trains Somali special forces (aka Danab). An additional 800 beds were being added in an expansion that coincides with a more than triple increase in the number of U.S. drone strikes in the country.
All this support is intended to build capacity of Somali forces to secure the country on their own. But, last December, the U.S. suspended fuel and food aid to Somali forces over corruption concerns, and this week a U.S. senator called for further cuts to salary support.
This leaves a confusing picture of how U.S. assistance will evolve and whether it can achieve its goal of building a capable Somali army. To summarize:
- It is unclear how many troops the U.S. is willing to deploy on the ground.
- The U.S. has been slowly reducing funding to the Somali army.
- Increased drone strikes have not decreased al-Shabaab’s lethality.
Thinking ahead: What is the future of direct counter-terrorism assistance in east Africa?
- Don’t Expect Middle East Help: Gulf countries so far have not been involved in significant on-the-ground missions with Somali forces similar to what the U.S. has conducted; they have been more interested in providing training and equipment or using its footprint in the region as a launching pad for the war in Yemen.
- AMISOM Transition, Not Offensive: AMISOM is focused on transitioning responsibilities to Somali forces and is not prepared to conduct major new offensives, despite any such notions expressed in the media.
- Contractors Fill the Gap? Infamous military contractor Erik Prince and his colleagues are eager to catalyze the privatization of the U.S. intelligence andmilitary apparatus; a significant reduction of the U.S. military footprint in Africa and the sustainment of the terror threat on the continent are fuel toward that preferred scenario.
- Risk of Baledogle Closure: If the U.S. chose to close down Baledogle, it is highly likely the Somali government would not be able to sustain Danab forces and any associated equipment would be looted – similar to when the UAE vacated its base in Mogadishu in April 2018.
Categories: Int'l Community in Somalia