ADDIS ABEBA – President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Somalia in the waning days of his presidency triggered dismay on Saturday from some Somalis, reports Reuters news agency on Saturday.
They are now appealing to the incoming U.S. president, Joe Biden, to reverse the decision.
“The U.S. decision to pull troops out of Somalia at this critical stage in the successful fight against al-Shabaab and their global terrorist network is extremely regrettable,” Senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf told Reuters in a statement, referring to the al Qaida-linked al Shabaab insurgency.
“U.S. troops have made a huge contribution and had great impact on the training and operational effectiveness of Somali soldiers,” said Yusuf, a member of Somalia’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
Trump’s decision on Friday would lead to the withdrawal of almost all the roughly 700 U.S. troops by Jan. 15.
Somalia’s fragile internationally backed government is due to hold parliamentary elections this month and national elections in early February, a precursor to the planned draw down of the 17,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.
U.S. troops have been in Somalia, mostly supporting Somali special forces known as Danab in operations against al Shabaab, whose attacks in nations like Kenya and Uganda have killed hundreds of civilians, including Americans.
According to Reuters, Danab punches above its weight because regular forces are often poorly trained and equipped, frequently desert their posts or become enmeshed in power struggles between the national and regional governments.
If the withdrawal is permanent, Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who served for three years until 2019 as the Danab commander, told Reuters “it will have a huge toll on counter-terrorism efforts”.
Both U.S. and Somali forces opposed the withdrawal, he said. The U.S. program to expand Danab to 3,000 men was supposed to continue until 2027, Sheikh said, but its future is unclear.
Reports say U.S.’s airstrikes will likely continue from bases in Kenya and Djibouti, which could also provide a launchpad for cross-border operations. Rights group Amnesty International says the airstrikes have killed at least 16 civilians in the past three years.