“With the new government of President Farmajo, we have an opportunity here to move forward. We have a great opportunity to work with him, and we look forward to continuing our counterterrorism part.”
The US is deploying troops to train and equip the Somali National Army as well as forces participating in the African Union Mission in Somalia.
Charles Prichard, US Africa Command, confirmed the deployment Friday, saying that the deployment of “a few dozen troops from the 101st Airborne Division came at the request and in close coordination with the government of Somalia. The objective of this particular train and equip mission is to improve the logistical capacity of the Somali National Army, and the focus will be on teaching basic logistics operations, which will allow Somalia forces to better fight al-Shabaab.” There are approximately 50 counterterrorism advisers already in Somalia as part of the ongoing mission.
In 1993, 18 US service members were killed in the incident dramatized in the Hollywood film Black Hawk Down. The deaths and the shooting down of two US helicopters in Mogadishu shocked the US, and the rest of its military personnel were withdrawn from Somalia shortly afterward. During that engagement, hundreds of Somalis were killed in the 15-hour battle that was sparked when US forces tried to capture close allies of warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed.
This is the first-time regular US troops have been deployed back into Somalia since. Last month President Trump approved a directive allowing tougher action against al-Shabaab. The deployment of these additional troops to the region is part of that directive.
Who is al-Shabaab?
Al-Shabaab means The Youth in Arabic. The group started as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts. In the lawless area that is Somalia is where foreign jihadists go to join al-Shabaab. These foreign fighters come from neighboring countries, as well as the US and Europe.
Omar Shafik Hammami also was known by the pseudonym Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki was an American citizen who was a leader in the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. In November 2012, the FBI added Hammami to its Most Wanted Terrorist list. Hammami served as a commander, propagandist, and recruiter for the group. A faction within al-Shabaab killed Hammami on 12 September 2013.
Al-Shabaab is designated as a terrorist organization by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters. Al-Shabaab advocates for the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam. It’s a strict interpretation of Sharia Law, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves.
Al-Shabaab, part of al-Qaeda, has a strong presence in many rural areas of Somalia and often stages attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.
In the past, the US has also trained a highly effective elite Somali force. This new deployment of US troops will join the small number of Special Operations forces already there providing counterterrorism support to local forces battling the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab. Other countries, including the UK and Turkey, are also training Somali troops.
President Trump granted additional authority to US Africa Command to conduct counterterrorism airstrikes against the terror group last month. The new training effort comes as US military leaders see new opportunities to work with Somalia’s newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, a dual US-Somali citizen who has embarked on a series of aggressive military reforms amid an ongoing al-Shabaab bombing campaign that has repeatedly struck the capital, Mogadishu.
“With the new government of President Farmajo, we have an opportunity here to move forward. We have a great opportunity to work with him, and we look forward to continuing our counterterrorism part.” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of Africa Command, told reporters at the Pentagon last month.