In March, AFRICOM Commander General Stephen Townsend told senators that Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab represented such a severe threat that U.S. troops ought to return to Somalia. U.S. forces already work to counter Al Shabab but have done so from neighboring countries since the December 2020 withdrawal of 700 troops based in Somalia. In Townsend’s estimation, the results of “commuting to work” have been less than satisfactory. Transiting to Somalia from other countries adds additional risk to personnel, airstrikes haven’t been as effective as once hoped and partners in the fight against the group are faltering.
Instead of letting the Department of Defense (DoD) look for tactical solutions to strategic problems, policymakers outside of DoD need to play a bigger role. Other organs of the U.S. government can focus on a range of efforts including tackling Al-Shabab’s racketeering and illicit trading to disrupt the group’s financial networks. The intelligence community, including DoD, can work to disseminate actionable intelligence to Somali forces and other partners. The State Department and USAID can work to avert the country’s impending famine and push for more transparency in Somali governance.