By Jeff Seldin and Wayne Lee
The United States is pulling hundreds of troops deployed to Somalia to battle al-Shabab terrorists even as military commanders admit the threat from the al-Qaida-linked terror group has not been eliminated.
“A threat remains,” Africa Command spokesman Colonel Chris Karns told VOA following the announcement late Friday that President Donald Trump had ordered U.S. forces to leave Somalia.
But Karns said that despite al-Shabab’s enduring presence, “it is contained.”
“It is contained via continued pressure on the network,” he added.
For months, U.S. defense officials have been raising concerns about the growing confidence and capabilities exhibited by al-Shabab commanders, and a recent report by the Defense Department inspector general warned that despite ongoing efforts, al-Shabab has not been degraded.
Africom also is saying that some U.S. forces are going to stay in the East African country. “A limited presence will still remain in Somalia,” Karns said.
Trump’s order is part of an effort to draw down U.S. forces globally, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, before he leaves office on January 20.
Some 700 U.S. troops are in Somalia, helping local forces in the fight against the al-Shabab insurgency. The mission has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S., but it has been a key component of the Pentagon’s campaign to combat al-Qaida worldwide.
Some troops pulled earlier
The U.S. withdrew some troops earlier this year from the Somali cities of Bossaso and Galkayo. As of last month, American troops remained in the capital, Mogadishu, in the port city of Kismayo and at the Baledogle airbase, 96 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.
The Pentagon said in an unsigned statement Friday that an unspecified number of U.S. troops would be moved to neighboring countries, while others would be reassigned outside East Africa.
Trump’s order to withdraw from Somalia comes as the country prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections, and weeks before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Somalia has been torn by a nearly 20-year civil war, but an African Union-supported peacekeeping force and U.S. troops have regained control of Mogadishu and large parts of the country over the last decade.