President Donald Trump may withdraw nearly all US troops from Somalia as part of a global pullback that could see major reductions in Afghanistan and a slight drawdown in Iraq, US officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that nothing had been finalized and that no orders have been received by the US military. However, there appeared to be a growing expectation on Tuesday that drawdown orders would be coming soon.
The Pentagon declined comment on future decisions on troop deployments. Reuters reported on Monday that Trump was expected to settle for a partial withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite promising to pull out all troops by Christmas.
He is also expected to order a small drawdown in Iraq, from 3,000 to 2,500, US officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The United States has about 700 troops in Somalia focused on helping local forces defeat the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgency, in a mission that receives little attention in the United States but is considered a cornerstone of the Pentagon’s global efforts to combat al-Qaeda.
Trump’s newly-installed acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, a former Green Beret and counter-terrorism official, is taking a hard look at Somalia and could opt for keeping a minimal presence there and stop relying on large deployments to combat the group.
Critics say such a radical change in approach carries significant risk.
Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who served for three years as the commander of the Danab special forces until 2019, said any such decision to pull back would not be based on the counter-terrorism threat in Somalia and could undermine trust in the United States.
“This is being dictated by politics,” he said.
The United States already pulled out of Bossaso and Galkayo around three weeks ago. They remain in the southern port city of Kismayo, a special forces airbase in Baledogle and in the capital Mogadishu, but a rapid pullout risks ceding ground to al-Shabaab, Sheikh said.
“It would create a vacuum. The Somali security forces have good morale because of the US troops … there’s the possibility of air support if they are attacked, they can have medevacs,” Sheikh said.
Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1991, but over the past decade the African Union-backed peacekeeping force has clawed back control of the capital and large swathes of the country from al- Shabaab.