The Pentagon wants President Biden sign off on sending several hundred special operations troops into Somalia to help stop the spread of the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab terrorist group, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Defense leaders want Biden to reverse orders made by then-President Trump in his final days in office, when he directed roughly 700 Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine Raiders to withdraw from bases in Somalia, administration officials told the Journal.
The commandos, who had been training local fighters to defend against al-Shabaab, were mostly moved to nearby Djibouti and Kenya. Now the U.S. military wants to White House to move those forces back to Somalia, the officials said.
“Since U.S. forces have come out of Somalia last January, we assess there is an uptick in al-Shabaab activities,” as the group faces no current pressures and has “freedom of movement,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told the outlet.
“If there continues to be no pressure on [al-Shabaab], the concern would be that they would become a threat to the homeland.”
U.S. military counterterrorism operations have spread across the globe in the 20 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan, with troops targeting al Qaeda, its affiliates and, later, ISIS everywhere from Iraq and Syria to Libya to Yemen to Somalia to the Philippines.
But the Pentagon considers al-Shabaab to be al Qaeda’s most powerful offshoot, with an estimated strength of 5,000 to 7,000 fighters. To counter the group’s spread, the Defense Department since 2007 has conducted a largely secret special operations war against it.
That special operations war was largely delegated to the skies after Trump’s last-minute order, with airstrikes becoming the de facto way to beat back al-Shabaab.
But after Biden took office, the administration quickly reduced the number of U.S. drone strikes against al-Shabaab and put Trump’s decision under review. During the assessment, which was part of a larger look at where to redistribute U.S. forces overseas, U.S. commandos were allowed to visit Somalia to train the local elite fighters unit.
But senior defense officers argue it would be more effective to have local soldiers fight and train alongside U.S. special operations troops in Somalia. It would also be easier to coordinate air attacks with troops on the ground.
Though Biden hasn’t announced his decision, it seems likely the military will get most or all of the troops it wants in the country, the officials said.
“I believe we will be given permission in the near term to be able to have a more persistent presence in Somalia,” a senior military official told the Journal.
The Hill has reached out to the Pentagon and White House National Security Council for comment.