The decision is reportedly based on a request made by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to better rein in al-Shabab.
United States President Joe Biden has authorised the deployment of American troops to Somalia, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump last year to remove nearly all forces that had been operating there.
Biden’s decision was reported by Reuters news agency and the Associated Press on Monday and cited unnamed Biden administration officials. It was first reported by The New York Times (NYT).
According to the reports, the decision is based on a request made by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“President Biden has approved a request from the Secretary of Defense to reestablish a persistent US military presence in Somalia to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabab,” a senior administration official told Reuters.
“This is a repositioning of forces already in theatre who have traveled in and out of Somalia on an episodic basis since the previous administration made the decision to withdraw,” the official added.
Prior to Trump’s withdrawal, the United States had about 700 troops in Somalia focused on helping local forces defeat al-Shabab.
The NYT report cited an official saying the US decision was approved in early May and would include the deployment of no more than 450 troops. An official told Reuters it would be fewer than 500.
The move comes amid heightened concerns about the country’s al-Qaeda-linked armed group, al-Shabab. The group, which is seeking to topple the government and establish its own rule in the country, has made territorial gains against Somalia’s federal government in recent months. It reversed the gains of African Union peacekeepers who once had pushed the armed fighters into remote areas of the country.
Al-Shabab frequently carries out bombings in Mogadishu and elsewhere as part of its war against the Horn of Africa country’s central government.
Citing an unnamed official, the AP reported on Monday that US military commanders have been deploying US forces into Somalia for short rotations since Trump ordered American troops out during his final days in office in 2021.
But Pentagon officials did not see the rotations as “effective long-term strategy” and had been considering recommending the redeployment for some time.
The US military has also occasionally carried out strikes in the country and has had troops in nearby countries.
Somalia has endured conflict and clan battles with no strong central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The government has little control beyond the capital and the African Union contingent guards in an Iraq-style “Green Zone”.