The Pentagon may add troops in Somalia to control the growing al-Shabaab terrorist organization, the head of U.S. Africa Command told senators Tuesday.
In the final weeks of his presidency, President Donald Trump ordered “the majority” of American troops to leave Somalia, sending some members of the U.S. military to neighboring countries, including Kenya and Djibouti, and continue their counterterrorism mission from outside the country.
Gen. Stephen Townsend said that al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in eastern Africa, is “among the world’s fastest-growing, wealthiest, and deadliest terrorist groups” that poses a threat to Americans, and that a U.S military presence relegated to neighboring countries is insufficient to combat it.
“My view is that our periodic engagement, also referred to as commuting to work, has caused new challenges and risks for our troops,” Townsend said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “My assessment is that it is not effective, it’s not efficient, and it puts our troops at greater risk.”
Townsend said he’s provided advice to his chain of command that is still being considered. He declined to go into more detail in the open portion of the hearing, saying that he’d “like to give them space to make that decision.”
Officials have also asked the White House to send several hundred troops to Somalia, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.
Lawmakers on Tuesday expressed support for boosting the American troop presence in Somalia. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he opposed the Trump administration’s order to withdraw nearly all American troops from Somalia and rely on over-the-horizon capabilities for counterterrorism.
“We’re seeing this play out on the ground in Somalia as things get worse and al-Shabaab gains strength,” Inhofe said.
Al-Shabaab, which was designated as a terrorist organization in 2008, has planned and executed a number of high-profile terrorist attacks across Africa, including one in 2019 against a hotel complex in Nairobi that killed 21 people. The group also claimed responsibility for a 2013 attack on a Nairobi mall that killed 67 people.
The Defense Department has continued its mission against the terrorist group from afar. On Feb. 22, U.S. Africa Command conducted an air strike that targeted al-Shabaab terrorists, the military announced in a press release. The strike, which was the first since August, killed more than 200 combatants, according to local reports.